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Install Recessed Lighting

Install Recessed Lighting

Replace your existing lights with recessed lighting. Recessed lighting can highlight specific areas in a room or accentuate decorative elements. Since the lights are hidden, the ceiling lines aren't broken and your rooms feel more open and spacious.


Planning Your Recessed Lighting

Before you begin, think about the effect you want to achieve and how best to obtain it. Then ask yourself a few questions.

If no existing fixture exists, you may pull power from another circuit or add a new circuit to the main electrical panel. Consult a licensed electrician before adding lights to a new circuit to ensure that the added power requirement does not overload the circuit.

What effect do you want from the lighting?
  • Down lights project a cone of light straight down. The cone for a 100-watt light in an 8-ft ceiling is usually 8-ft in diameter at the floor. The cones of light should overlap for maximum effect. Space the down lights so the distance between lights is no more than 75% to 95% of the ceiling height. In an 8-ft ceiling install the lights no more than 6-ft to 7-ft 6-in apart. 
  • Eyeball lights are mounted on a swivel and can be positioned to highlight different areas. Eyeball lights are very good for task lighting or focusing attention on particular items in the room. 

What's above the ceiling?

If an attic is above the ceiling, the project is pretty straightforward. You can probably use recessed light cans with standard housings and running the electrical cable is very simple. If there's another floor above, the project is more involved. Special, remodeling cans are needed and the wire has to be fished through the ceiling

If you aren't comfortable performing electrical work, hire a licensed electrician.

What kind of wiring do you have?

Is the existing wiring aluminum or copper? Use wiring that is the same material and gauge (thickness) as the existing wire. If the existing wiring is fabric-insulated or has no ground wire, have a licensed electrician inspect it to determine if the wiring should be replaced.

Insulated ceiling cans cost a little more initially, but easy installation and added fire safety make them a good investment, that pays for itself in the long run.

How many lights are you adding?

You can add lights that draw as many watts as the existing fixture without overloading the circuit. If you plan to add lights that use more watts than the existing fixture, have an electrician determine what the circuit can carry.

Example: If the existing fixture uses (4) 100-watt bulbs.

4 x 100= 400 watts total capacity

You can safely install up to 400 watts of lighting on the circuit. To use more than 400 watts consult an electrician.



Installing Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting

When working with electricity always:

  • Turn off the power.
  • Test the wires to ensure the power is off.
  • Lock out the panel box, so no one can accidentally turn the power back on while you are working.
  • Check with local authroties to see if a permit is required.
  • Have your work checked by an inspector.
  • Wear eye goggles and a dust mask.
  • To avoid overloading the circuit, consult a licensed electrician.

Step 1

Shut off the power to the circuit before you begin any work. Lock out the circuit or the panel so no one can turn the circuit on while you are working.


Step 2

Identify the location for each light. Use the manufacturer's template to transfer the opening for each fixture to the ceiling. Drill a 1/4 in. hole in the ceiling at the center of the proposed opening. If the attic is above the ceiling, visually check the attic for obstructions. If a finished area is above the ceiling, use a fish tape or coat hanger to probe for obstructions.


Step 3

Use an appropriate saw to make the openings for the light cans.


Step 4

Disconnect the existing fixture from the power source.


Step 5

Pull cable from the power source to the first recessed light. Leave about 18-in of the wire hanging from the ceiling. Continue to pull wire to each light fixture leaving 18-in of wire hanging from the ceiling. The excess wire allows enough slack to wire the new fixtures. If the attic is above the ceiling, run the wire from the attic. If the area above the ceiling is a finished floor, use a long flexible drill bit to drill through the joists and fish the wire through the framing.


Step 6

Wire the first light to the power source and the cable leading to the next can. There should be three black wires together, three white wires, and three ground wires. Cap the connections with wire connectors. Continue connecting the fixtures until you reach the last one.


Step 7

Mount the cans and trim pieces according to the manufacturer's instructions.


Step 8

Screw in the light bulbs.

Keep an eye out for bulbs with the Energy Star logo and enjoy saving money and helping the environment.


Replacing the Existing Light Fixture

There are several things you can do in the location of the old light fixture. Here are a few options:

  • If the circuit supports the extra load, keep the existing fixture and add the new wiring for the recessed lights to the junction box. The switch for the existing fixture will control the recessed lights.
  • Replace the existing fixture with a recessed light.
  • Install a ceiling fan in place of the old fixture.
  • You can install a decorative coverplate over the old fixture.
  • If the area above the fixture is an unfinished attic, turn the junction box face up, put a coverplate over the open face and patch the ceiling. The junction box must remain easily accessible.
  • If the area above the fixture is another floor or finished space, you must pull new wire from an accessible junction box or the panel box. All junction boxes must be easily accessible.