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Written by Emily Widle on August 16, 2015

How To Layout Recessed Lighting in 4 Easy Steps

We received a question on Twitter about how to layout recessed lighting and realized it was a great topic for a how-to.

If you're using recessed lights (aka cans, high hats, pot lights, or downlights) to provide the general lighting in a room, follow these tips to create the ideal level of brightness:

1. Ready your sketchbook.

Use a blueprint of the room to pencil in exactly where you want the recessed lights to go. Before you start, take measurements of any furniture in the room and create paper shapes that are correctly scaled for the blueprint. This way, you will be able to see where the light will fall.

2. Decide if you want to choose a focal point.

If you know of a particular spot in the room that needs a recessed light directly above it, that should be your starting point. Laying out recessed lighting in a kitchen? You might want to be sure there is a light directly above the stovetop or sink. Planning for recessed lights in the living room? You might have a specific reading chair that you already know needs extra lighting. If you fall in this category, center that first recessed light exactly where you want it and space the rest of the lights around it (see Tip #2 for spacing).

If you prefer to simply space the recessed lighting evenly around the room without any particular focal point, place your first light in the center of the room and go from there.

3. Follow the ceiling height rule of thumb.

To determine how far apart to space your recessed lights, divide the height of the ceiling by two. If a room has an 8 foot ceiling, you should space your recessed lights approximately 4 feet apart. If the ceiling is 10 feet, you'll want to put about 5 feet of space in between each fixture.

Use this rule as a base line, though. Depending on the brightness or darkness of the décor in the room, the type and wattage of light being used, and the purpose of the recessed lights (general, task, or accent lighting), you may want to space the lights either closer together or further apart. To compensate for these issues, a smart strategy is to "overlight" the room with dimmable lights and then control the brightness with dimmers.

4. Avoid shadows in the corners.

Make sure to place recessed lights approximately three feet away from the wall. You must be careful to avoid creating shadows in any corner, as this will have the visual effect of lowering the ceiling. As long as the lights reflect on the wall at the appropriate distance, they will make the room seem brighter and larger.