Recessed Lighting Guide & Information
What Are Recessed Lights?
As the name suggests, it is a light fixture, or luminaire for the technical lighting crowd, that is recessed. A traditional recessed light fixture is installed into a ceiling and is composed of three main parts. One, a housing that rests above the ceiling. Two, a trim which can be seen at the ceiling opening. Three, a light bulb which, obviously, provides the illumination. They can be halogens, fluorescents, traditional incandescents, or even replacement LED lamps.
Speaking of LED, the last couple of years has seen the introduction of a wide assortment of high-quality LED recessed lights and LED retrofit modules. A retrofit module replaces your existing recessed fixtures trim and light source and improves its energy efficiency. Normally, LED recess lights consist of just two parts - a housing and a trim (which includes the LEDs).
Using Recessed Ceiling Lights
Recessed can lighting typically provides most or all of the general lighting in a room. They can also be used as good task lighting when directly focused over a particular area. For example, a good tip when installing recessed lighting in a kitchen is to place some, or all of them, directly over the counter. This way the can is illuminating not only the entire kitchen but also providing direct light over the counter where a lot of kitchen-related tasks are performed (e.g., cutting, chopping, cleaning, etc.).
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Types of Recessed Lighting
Reflector and remodel and wall wash, oh my! There are many different types of can recessed lighting options available. Different light sources (e.g., LED and halogen), shapes (e.g., round and square trims), trims (e.g., baffle and adjustable), and different housings (e.g., news construction versus remodel) are available based on your project needs.
Check out our recessed lighting guide infographic to help learn about what kinds of housings, trims, and lights are out there, and which ones will work for you.
- New Construction - As the name suggests, this housing is used during new construction before the ceiling drywall is in place. You can also use this kind of housing, which includes adjustable length T-bars, in a drop ceiling, acoustic ceiling, or suspended ceiling installation.
- Remodel - Used when the ceiling drywall is already in place. A hole will need to be cut in the ceiling at the installation location with the provided template. The housing is then pushed through the hole and rests on the ceiling.
- IC-rated - Designed for use in ceilings when the housing will be in physical contact with the insulation. You can only use a non-IC housing when the insulation is at least 3 inches away from every part of the housing.
- Air Tight - This type of downlight housing prevents most of the air flowing through the fixture either from the space above to the room below, or the room below to the space above. Use an airtight housing when you want to minimize the cost of heating or air-conditioning a room.
- Sloped Ceiling - For use when you have a sloped or vaulted ceiling.
- Low Profile - Housings that are less than six inches in height.
- Adjustable - This trim allows you to aim the light at a piece of artwork, like a sculpture or a wall hanging.
- Baffle - The concentric circular grooves inside this trim that surrounds the light source minimizes glare.
- Glass - Looking to add some "sparkle lighting", flare, color or some sort of light patterning to decorate your room? Look no further than a glass trim for recess cans.
- Pinhole - This kind of trim has a very narrow opening for the light to pass through.
- Reflector - As the name suggests, reflectors have a smooth, shiny cone surrounding the light source that reflects the light allowing you to maximize the amount of illumination into your room.
- Shower - It has a glass diffuser and a special rubber gasket that together prevent most of the moisture in the space below, like tubs and showers, from passing into the recessed downlight.
- Square - Pretty simple. These are square-shaped.
- Wall Wash - This kind of trim has a partial opening so that light is emitted only through that opening of the ceiling can light thus producing an asymmetrical light beam that will "wash" the wall, drape, wall hanging, fireplace, etc. with light.
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Finally, there are a number of varying light sources that can be used. For smaller low voltage recessed ceiling fixtures (miniature, 2-inch, 3-inch, and some 4-inch) the most likely light source choices are LED or MR halogen. You could either choose an LED recessed fixture that includes the LEDs built into the housing or trim, or use a traditional housing and trim and then purchase an MR halogen or MR LED replacement light bulb. To use line voltage you could choose either an LED recessed can, again with the LEDs built into the trim or housing, or a halogen, compact fluorescent, traditional incandescent, or an LED replacement lamp. These kinds of lamps have PAR, BR, or R light bulb shapes.
Recess lights are available in a number of different diameters, or sizes, ranging from two to six inches. In both residential and commercial construction 6-inch large recessed lighting seems to be the most common. However, this does not mean that the smaller sizes are not popular. For example, one of our employees has both 6-inch and 4-inch ceiling recessed lighting in their home. In fact, he wrote a post on our blog about adding seven 4-inch adjustable recessed ceiling lights to two different rooms in his home to accent wall pictures. You can check it out at http://blog.pegasuslighting.com/2012/01/new-home-project-remodel-recessed-lights/.
Miniature recessed lights are most commonly used to illuminate smaller areas, like the inside of a cabinet, bookshelf, or niche. These recessed lighting kits include both the housing and trim and range in size from two to a little less than four inches in diameter. After these small recessed down lights you have 2-inch, 3-inch, 4-inch, 5-inch, and the previously mentioned 6-inch sizes. These are the sizes that are mostly used in ceilings. With all of the larger downlight fixtures you will need to purchase a housing and trim separately. Please note that it is not recommended to use a housing from one manufacturer and trim from another. Doing so will probably negate the warranties as well as the UL listings. Finally, trims from one manufacturer may not always fit the housings from another.
What's In A Name?
Recessed lights are known by many names. Maybe you call them pot lights? If you do, then most likely you are from Canada, eh. Others also call them can lights, downlights, and high hat lighting. We tried to find out why recessed lights are also called high hats but could not find anything. Do you know why? Let us know. We are curious.
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Recessed Can Light Installation & Layout Tips
For general lighting applications a good rule of thumb is to space recessed ceiling light fixtures a distance that is equal to about half the ceiling height. For example, if a room has an 8-foot ceiling, you should probably space the lights about four feet apart. This rule of thumb should be used only as a baseline. Depending on the lighting needs of the space you may want more or less illumination.
Wondering what your recessed lighting layout should look like? Well, we get this question a lot. So, we wrote about it. Not only do we provide four easy steps to help you figure it out, this post has a number of comments from others about their specific layout questions with answers from one of our lighting specialists. Definitely make sure to check out this post.
Looking for a visual guide to help you with your layout? We aim to please. Make sure to view our infographic about laying out recessed lighting in 4 easy steps.
Bottom line, when determining your recessed lighting plan first take some measurements of your room, decide if you want to highlight anything in the space and how bright you want specific areas, take into account the spacing guidelines mentioned above, and finally, try to avoid any shadows in the corners of the room.
Recessed Lighting Installation Tips
If you are looking to add can ceiling lights to a room or you want to know how to update recessed lighting we have included directions in our Learn Center. Have no fear! Whether you have access to the area above the ceiling or will be installing from below, it really isn't too difficult of a project. However, cutting through drywall will make a dusty mess, so our biggest piece of advice is to use a drop cloth. Please note that our install steps assume that you already have an existing power source in your ceiling at the locations where you will be installing the can recessed lights. If not, then first wire the location with electricity. We recommend hiring a licensed electrician.
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Customer Recessed Lighting Project Photos
Every now and then our customers like to share their lighting project photos with us and we love it! In this example, one of our customers used adjustable can lighting to highlight an authentic Thomas Kinkade painting hanging over their fireplace.
After: Very nice!
To learn more about this customer's lighting project please visit http://blog.pegasuslighting.com/2009/07/customer-lighting-project-4-inch-low-voltage-trims-with-adjustable-eyeball-housing/.