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Recessed Lighting Buying Guide

Recessed lighting can be a stylish and functional addition to your home. Learn how these sleek, hidden lighting fixtures can brighten your home.

Recessed lighting in a kitchen.

Types of Recessed Lighting

Recessed light fixtures are flush with the ceiling, making them great for rooms with low ceilings. Sometimes called can lights or downlights, these fixtures have three main components that can define the type of recessed light — housing, trim style and bulb or lamp type.

Good to Know

You can use recessed lighting in the bathroom, kitchen, living room or office. For more information on lighting your home, check out Home Lighting Tips.

Recessed Lighting Housings

The housing is the actual light fixture. It sits above the ceiling and holds the trim and the light bulb. Find the housing that suits your needs:

  • New construction housing is used in new homes or when adding a room onto your house, before the ceiling is installed.
  • Remodel housing is designed to allow installation in an existing ceiling.
  • Insulation-contact (IC)-rated housing is designed for direct contact with insulation.
  • Non-IC housing must have at least 3 inches of clearance from insulation.
  • Airtight housing reduces the airflow between the unconditioned space above (usually the attic) and the conditioned room below.
  • Shallow ceiling housing is used in ceilings with 2-inch by 6-inch joists.
  • Slope ceiling housing allows space for the light to be angled in a sloped ceiling. Check angles before purchasing.

 

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Recessed Lighting Trim Types

The trim fits inside the housing and extends to form the outer ring you see when looking up at the ceiling. Below are the most common types of recessed lighting trims.

Baffle Trim

Bronze baffle trim
  • Ribbed interior minimizes glare
  • Bulb fits up inside the fixture and is not flush with the ceiling
  • Most common recessed lighting trim
  •  

    Shop Baffle Recessed Lighting Trim

    Reflector Trim

    Gold-Tinted Reflector Trim.
  • Bulb is inset as with baffle trim style
  • Mirrored surfaces make the most of illumination
  • Tinting is available on some fixtures
  •  

    Shop Reflector Recessed Lighting Trim

    Open Trim

    Nickel Open Trim.
  • Bulb is flush or nearly flush with ceiling
  • Offers unrestricted illumination from the bulb
  •  

    Shop Open Recessed Ligthing Trim

    Eyeball Trim

    Nickle Eyeball Trim.
  • Pivots to focus light where you want it
  • Can function as accent or wall-wash lighting
  •  

    Shop Eyeball Recessed Lighting Trim

    Gimbal Trim

    Bronze Gimbel Trim.
  • Functions much like eyeball trim
  • Lamp does not extend below the ceiling as much
  • When fully pivoted, housing blocks some of the light
  •  

    Shop Gimbal Recessed Lighting Trim

    Pin Hole Trim

    White Pin Hole Trim.
  • Narrows the light to a tight beam
  • Can spotlight areas or items
  •  

    Shop Pin Hole Recessed Lighting Trim

    Wall-Wash Trim

    White Wall-Wash Trim.
  • A shield over half the light restricts light to a specific area
  • Useful for highlighting features such as a fireplace or a painting
  •  

    Shop Wall-Wash Recessed Lighting Trim

    Shower Trim

    White Shower Trim.
  • Has a tempered glass lens
  • Wet-location listed for use over a shower and in bathrooms
  •  

    Shop Shower Recessed Ligthing Trim

    Good to Know

    A dimmer switch can let you change the mood of the room with recessed lighting — just ensure the fixtures and lamps are listed as dimmable and that you use the appropriate switch.

    Light Bulbs

    When considering recessed lights, pay attention to the type and size of bulb or lamp the fixture uses. Some recessed lights work with screw-in bulbs while others use pin-base bulbs. Factors such as color temperature, lumens and wattage all affect the quality of light in a room. Halogen and LED bulbs are the most common bulbs for recessed lights. LED lighting helps lower energy costs and the bulbs are cool to the touch. In general, look for a warm white color temperature for living rooms and bedrooms, a bright white color temperature for kitchens and workspaces and a daylight color temperature for reading nooks and studies. For more information on light bulbs, check out the Light Bulb Buying Guide.

    Caution

    Never exceed the maximum wattage recommended for your light fixture. Read the inside of the housing to determine what wattage and bulb type to use.

    Recessed Lighting Kits

    To get the housing and trim in one convenient package, look for a recessed light kit. Kits are available for many sizes and types of recessed lighting.

    • Line-voltage kits are the standard light kit. They run on household current.
    • Low-voltage kits use a transformer to reduce household voltage and help with energy costs, but are more expensive. Some kits have a built-in transformer, while others require a transformer that is sold separately.
    • LED retrofit kits let you convert incandescent recessed lights to LED and work with existing housings.

    Recessed Lighting Sizes

    Recessed lights are typically available in sizes ranging from 3 to 6 inches in diameter. The size you need depends on the planned function and location of the light.

    Small recessed lights fit well with modern decor styles. They are good for highlighting areas and work as accent or task lighting. Larger lights work with more traditional looks and can be useful for room lighting. Keep in mind your ceiling height. Lights installed in a higher ceiling will cast wider — but more diffuse — light.

    Recessed Lighting Finishes

    Recessed Lights Paired with Wall Sconces in the Same Finish

    Take a cue from the existing finishes in your home. If the door handles and cabinet hardware are all in brushed nickel, choose a trim in a complementary finish. White is usually your best option if you want the trim to blend in with the ceiling. Popular trim finishes include:

    • White
    • Black
    • Nickel
    • Chrome
    • Bronze
    • Silver

     

    You can also change the trim for a different finish or style at any time without changing the housing. 6-inch trim comes in more varieties, but 3-inch and 4-inch trims are also available in other finishes.

    Installation

    Refer to the manufacturer’s instruction manual for step-by-step instructions and safety information. If in doubt, consult a licensed electrician. For general instructions, see Install Recessed Lighting.