Recessed Lighting Housings

The typical recessed downlight includes three parts allowing you the flexibility to create your own “custom-made” recessed ceiling light fixture – a light bulb of some kind, a trim of your choice, and a recessed housing that sits above the ceiling. The recessed housing is also sometimes called a “can” or, if you are in Canada, a “pot” light. Your specific ceiling light project will help you to choose the right recessed housing type. There are housings for new construction or remodel projects, cans for when the recessed housing is touching insulation, air tight for increased energy-efficiency, low-profile when your inside ceiling space is at a premium, or housings for sloped ceilings. Since housings are used in a great variety of residential and commercial settings there are a number of choices.

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Recessed Housing Types

There are different types of recessed light housings designed for specific needs. Your project will help you to determine what kind of can you will need to use.

Will Ceiling Drywall Already Be Installed?

If so, then you want to look at a recessed light housing for remodels. These cans are designed to sit on top of the ceiling drywall inside the ceiling cavity. To install, you would cut a hole in your ceiling and slide the remodel can through the hole until it is completely inside the ceiling cavity.

If there is no ceiling drywall in place because it is a new construction project or a big remodeling job then you could choose a new construction recessed can. Instead of resting on top of the ceiling drywall, this type of housing includes adjustable length T-bars that attach to the ceiling joists.

Will There Be Any Insulation Touching the Housing?

The exterior of a recessed housing will get hot when the light source is turned on, especially if it is an incandescent light source like halogen. So, if any insulation is in direct contact, or even within 3 inches of any part of the housing, then you will need to use an ic-rated recessed can. This type of housing has an exterior heat shield to ensure that the insulation does not catch on fire when the recessed ceiling light is turned on.

Limited Space Inside Your Ceiling Cavity?

Sometimes the space inside your ceiling where a recessed housing is going to be installed is limited. In these situations, a shallow recessed lighting housing might just be exactly the solution you are looking for. These low-profile recessed pot lights are less than six inches in height so they can fit inside that shallow ceiling cavity.

Do You Have a Vaulted or Sloped Ceiling?

A vaulted ceiling looks fantastic in a great room or family room. The room becomes spacious and airy. If this describes your space, then make sure to install a can for sloped ceiling recessed lighting.

Want to Be Energy Efficient?

So, let’s state the obvious. Adding recessed lighting to a room basically punches holes in your ceiling. If you want to ensure that no conditioned air gets into the non-conditioned spaces, like an attic or ceiling cavity, then you should explore a sealed or air tight recessed light. As the name suggests, the housing is constructed so that no air from the conditioned space below transfers into the non-conditioned space above. This can increase your heating and air energy-efficiency, especially if you have a lot of recessed downlights in a room.

Do You Have a Drop Ceiling?

Many offices and commercial spaces, including some basements in homes, have drop, suspended, or acoustic ceilings. If this describes your project, then you will want a new construction can. Since these types of housings have adjustable T-bars, the pot light is not installed directly on the ceiling which is not possible for a drop ceiling. If you did, I guess the ceiling tile would, well, “drop” to the floor below from the weight of the recessed fixture.

Recessed Housing Parts and Installation Tips

A recessed can housing consists of multiple parts.

  • Some type of socket for the light bulb to fit into.
  • A type of enclosure for all of the necessary wire connections.
  • A mechanism to firmly attach the housing on the ceiling.
  • Another mechanism that allows the recessed trim of your choice to be installed inside the housing.
  • If the pot light is low voltage, then it will also have an integral transformer to step down the voltage from 120 or 277 volts to 12 or 24 volts.


Perhaps the easiest type of recessed housing installation is when there is no ceiling drywall in place. For example, in a new construction project or a drop or suspended ceiling. In these situations you just attach the housing to the ceiling joists using the adjustable T-bars and then wire the housing to the electrical power. With no existing ceiling in place there is a lot of room to work.

However, while adding a recessed light when there is an existing ceiling is a little more involved it does not mean it is too difficult. You will need to cut a hole in the ceiling, bring the wiring from the ceiling into the room through the hole, wire the housing to the electrical wire, and then maneuver the housing through the hole until it is in place resting on the ceiling.