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Install Recessed Lighting

Replace your existing lights with recessed lights. Recessed lighting can provide ambient lighting for the room and highlight decorative elements.

Recessed lights in a kitchen.

Tools & Materials

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

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Planning Your Recessed Lighting

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

What type of light do I want?

Recessed lights with baffle trim provide a full, wide beam of light. Recessed lights with eyeball trim allow the light to rotate so you can focus it on a specific area.

What's above the ceiling?

Measure the ceiling hole to determine the size housing and trim you need. If an attic is above the ceiling, the project is pretty straightforward. Since you're working with an existing light fixture you'll need a remodel housing; however, if the housing will be surrounded by insulation you'll need one that's insulation rated. If there's another floor above, the project is more involved. You may need a shallow ceiling housing, and the wire may have to be fished through the ceiling frame.

What kind of wiring do I 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 qualified electrician inspect it to determine if the wiring should be replaced.

How many lights do I want to add?

You can add lights that draw as many watts as the existing fixture without overloading the circuit.

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. If you plan to use more watts than the existing fixture, have an electrician determine what the circuit can carry.

Watch our Video: How Do I Strip a Wire?


If you aren't comfortable doing electrical work, contact a qualified electrician.

Install Recessed Lighting

When working with electricity always:

  • Turn OFF electricity at the main fuse box (or the circuit breaker box) that controls the power to the fixture or the room you’re working on.
  • Test the wires to ensure the power is OFF.
  • Place the wall switch in the OFF position.
  • All electrical connections must be in agreement with local codes. Check with local authorities to see if a permit is required.
  • If in doubt, consult a qualified electrician.
  • Do not use bulbs with wattage greater than specified for this fixture.

Watch our DIY Basics video: What's In My Breaker Box?

Step 1

Identify the location for each light. Use the manufacturer's template to transfer the opening for each fixture to the ceiling.

Step 2

Drill a 1/4-inch 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 a hole saw to make the openings for the light housing.

Step 4

Disconnect the existing fixture from the power source. Watch our Video: How Do I Connect Two Wires?

Step 5

Pull cable from the power source to the first recessed light and leave approximately 18 inches of wire hanging from the ceiling. Repeat this for each light fixture.

The excess wire gives you enough slack to wire the new fixtures. If an attic is above the ceiling, run the wire from the attic. If a finished area is above the ceiling, 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 housing. 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 housing and trim pieces according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Step 8

Screw in the light bulbs.

Step 9

Turn the power back on and test the lights.