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on September 23, 2015

Track Lighting 101

Track lights are one of the most versatile lighting systems because the individual fixtures can be positioned anywhere along the track and then swiveled, rotated, and aimed in any direction. Whether you are accenting decorations with spot light track heads or illuminating the kitchen with pendant fixtures, it's possible to create a variety of different effects and tailor the lights to best accentuate your room.

However, this also means it’s hard to know where to start! Consider this your how-to guide for using track lights to create the perfect effect.

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Types of Track Lighting Fixtures

Departing from the traditional utilitarian aluminum track, monorail track lighting delivers versatility and functionality with a more aesthetically pleasing look. Monorail systems are excellent for residential spaces. They look great with pendants hanging over kitchen islands or accenting the most important places in the heart of the home.

There are also fixtures that fall under the category of flexible track lighting. This is a great option for creating a unique monorail shape for your unique space. But remember, "flexible track lighting" is not always bendable by hand. Some require a special track bending device. If you are not interested in customizing a monorail yourself but are still interested in unique track lighting, you are in luck because many come pre-formed into cool shapes.

Ways to Use Track Lighting

Track lights are typically used in one of three ways:

  • Accent lighting, highlighting a particular object such as a work of art.
  • Wall washing, evenly illuminating a wall. Should be used for non-textured vertical surfaces.
  • Wall grazing, dramatically highlighting the texture in a wall. Should be used for textured vertical surfaces like brick, stone, or draperies.

Accent Lighting (Best used with halogen light sources):

Measure the distance from the ceiling to the middle of the object being lit. Multiply that number by 0.55 to determine how far away from the wall you should place the track fixture. For example, if you are providing accent lighting for a painting that is three feet below the ceiling (measured from the ceiling to the middle of the painting), you should place the track fixture 1.65 feet away from the wall.*

After you’ve determined the distance from the wall, position the track fixture so that the light makes a 30-degree angle with the wall/vertical surface you are trying to light up. This is the optimal distance to prevent glare and minimize shadows.

*If you are lighting any object that has the potential to produce direct glare (such as a photograph with a glass frame), do not place the track lighting any further than three feet from the wall.

Wall Washing (Can be used with either fluorescent or halogen):

Mount the track fixture parallel to the wall. If your ceiling height is 9 feet or lower, place the track about two to three feet from the wall. If the ceiling is between 9 and 11 feet, place the track about three to four feet from the wall.

Then, space the fixtures the same distance apart as the track is from the wall.

Wall Grazing (Can be used with either fluorescent or halogen):

Any time you are aiming for the wall grazing effect, mount the track 6 to 12 inches from the wall. Space the track fixtures 6 to 12 inches apart and aim them downward.

The light source recommendations are based on how well various light sources produce easily-focused light. Wall washing and wall grazing does not require as much of a controlled and focused light source, but this quality is very important in accent lighting.