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Recessed Lighting Buying Guide

Recessed lighting is all about light output. Learn how these sleek, hidden light fixtures can brighten your home.

Recessed lighting in a kitchen.

Types of Recessed Lighting

Recessed lights are flush with the ceiling, making them great for rooms with low ceilings. Sometimes called can lights or downlights, recessed lights have three main components: the housing, the trim and the light bulb (or lamp). 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 inside 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 used to install recessed lighting in an existing ceiling.
  • Insulation Contact (IC)-rated housing is designed so that surrounding insulation is not disturbed.
  • Non-IC housing must be installed with insulation at least 3 inches away from the housing.
  • Airtight housing reduces the airflow between the space above (usually the attic) and the room below the light fixture.
  • 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

The trim fits inside the housing and extends to form the outer ring you see when looking up at the ceiling. Find the trim that fits your decor:

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Baffle Trim

Baffle trim
  • Baffle trim has a ribbed interior and is the most common recessed lighting trim.

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Eyeball Trim

Eyeball trim
  • Eyeball trim allows you to focus the light where you want it. Use eyeball trim for accent lighting or wall wash lighting.

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Wall Wash Trim

Wall wash trim
  • Wall wash trim has a shield over half the light to evenly focus light on a specific feature such as a fireplace or a painting.

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Shower Trim

Shower trim
  • Shower trim has a tempered glass lens for safety. Shower trim recessed lights are also wet-rated, making them good to use over a shower and in bathrooms.

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Good to Know

For flexibility, install a dimmer switch to change the mood of the room. Check the packaging to see if the recessed light is dimmable.

Recessed Lighting Kits

To get everything in a one-stop shop, look for a light kit. Kits are available for all sizes and types of recessed lighting.

  • Line-voltage kits are your standard light kit.
  • Low-voltage kits have a built-in transformer and help with energy savings, but are more expensive. Low-voltage recessed lights also require a special dimmer switch (sold separately).
  • LED retrofit kits let you convert recessed lights to LED and work with existing housings.

Recessed Lighting Size

Selecting the proper recessed light depends on where you plan to install it and the function of the light. Recessed lighting is available in 3-inch to 6-inch-diameter lights. Locate the ceiling joists, and measure the amount of space in between. This will tell you what size light fixture you need.

The 6-inch recessed light projects a wider beam of light and provides ambient lighting. It’s best to use as a main light source such as in a kitchen or living room. Smaller recessed lights are better for accent and task lighting. Use 3-inch to 5-inch recessed lights to highlight a painting or light a kitchen island.

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 your best option if you want the trim to blend in with the ceiling. Popular trim finishes include:

  • White
  • Black
  • Nickel
  • Bronze
  • Bronze with frosted glass

You can also change the trim for a different finish or style at any time without changing the housing. Six-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, safety, and warning and caution information. If in doubt, consult a qualified electrician.

Interior Lighting Install

Light Bulbs

Don’t forget light bulbs. Things like color temperature, lumens and wattage all play a factor in your room’s quality of light. Halogen and LED bulbs are the most common bulbs for recessed lights. LEDs help lower energy costs and 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 find out what light bulb type to use.