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Recessed Lighting 101: Five Things You Need to Know About Your Lighting Project


Recessed lighting is an easy and affordable way to make a room feel brighter, bigger, and more beautiful. In fact, these lights can significantly improve a space’s look, and in turn, that means they could even add to your home’s value. If you’re interested in adding these lights to your home or business, here are a few important questions you can answer to formulate a better plan for your project.

Where Will Your Lights Will Be Powered From?

Recessed lighting needs to be powered from somewhere. This means finding a place to safely connect your lighting into your home’s current electrical system. A safe connection is one that can be contained within a proper junction box to a circuit that won’t be overloaded or overburdened by the addition of extra light fixtures to it. Generally, modern recessed lights use so little energy that they add very little strain to your electrical system on their own, but that strain does add up in larger projects with a higher number of light fixtures.

This is where having an electrician help you with your planning can be extremely valuable. Electricians can inspect your space and look for potential electrical connection points. They can also test those connection points to make sure they are safe and capable of supporting the electrical demand your new lights will place on them. Experience and training make sure the job is done right and your new lights will be safe to use.

What Type of Lights Do You Want?

Recessed lights are not created equal. Some lights are brighter. Some are dimmer. Some cover a wider area, while others are designed for lower ceilings or limited space. Other lights are on a swivel so they can be mounted into sloped ceilings and still project downward properly. Once you know where you want to install lights, you can then start to consider what type of lights you need and then what type of those lights you want.

There are two sizes of light that you will find are used commonly for most situations. Four-inch lights are generally used in spaces with lower ceilings or accent lighting applications. Because these bulbs are generally smaller, their smaller light output makes them not an ideal solution for rooms with large ceilings. Six-inch lights are more of a general-purpose choice for ambient lighting, but they generally aren’t the best for accent lights because of their high output and tendency to flood whatever space they are aimed at.

How Many Lights Do You Need?

Once you have an idea of what type of lights you want to install, the next question becomes how many of those lights will you need? While there are calculators available online, no simple formula is going to tell you exactly how many lights you should have. Every room is different, and different room shapes, sizes, ceiling heights, and feature placements will all influence how many lights you will need to properly illuminate your space.

A general rule of thumb to follow is you should have one recessed light fixture for every 25 square feet in a room. However, that should not be considered a hard-and-fast rule and rooms may require fewer fixtures or even require more of them depending on other factors in place. Likewise, brighter fixtures with larger beam widths will require fewer fixtures to properly illuminate a space.

Where Will Your Lights Be Placed?

Once you know how many lights you need, you’ll need to figure out where to place them. A large, flat, featureless ceiling is the easiest to plan for, and online tools can help you plot out exactly where each light should be placed based on a few simple measurements. However, feel free to customize your placement based on any needs you might have. For example, you might not want to place a light over where your television sits in order to avoid glare. If you have a ceiling fan with a light fixture, consider installing your lights around this fan if you know that it rests in the center of a room.

Don’t hesitate to be creative with your light placement, but remember a few key things:

  • Symmetry is attractive: Your first and last light on each row and column should be the same width from the wall as its counterpart on the other side of the room.
  • Don’t leave dark corners: Lights that are too far away from a wall will leave the upper corners of a room dark and shadowy. This creates an effect that makes a room feel more cramped with a lower ceiling, even with the added lighting.
  • Avoid ceiling joists if necessary: If your lights require a housing to be installed above your ceiling, avoid placing lights where joists run. However, most modern low-profile lights that are rated for insulation contact can actually be installed directly below a joist without issue.

What Features Do You Want?

Finally, do you want your lights to be on a dimmer switch? Do you want to be able to adjust and control light temperature? Do you want to be able to change the light color completely to set a mood in certain situations? This will determine what fixtures you should buy (or what bulbs you buy, at the very least), and what switch you should buy in order to control them.

Get help with your recessed lighting project from a skilled, local electrician you can count on! Call Mel Carr Electric at (518) 500-3042 and let us be part of your planning and installation process.
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