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Why Recessed Lighting?
Recessed Lighting (also known as can lights, pot lights, downlights or high hats) has a wide range of uses from task lighting, decorative lighting, and shower lighting. Recessed Lighting fixtures are designed to install into the ceiling and sit flush with the ceiling saving space rather than protruding into the space like a chandelier or flush mount light fixture. The recessed installation into the ceiling or wall helps these lights visually expand a room especially in rooms with low ceilings. The clean lines and low visual impact of these fixtures pair perfectly with sleek, modern styles and go well in any room of the home or business. Recessed Lighting fixtures are commonly paired with decorative lighting fixtures to provide more useable general lighting than many decorative lighting fixtures can provide. The decorative lighting fixtures can often provide great ambient lighting to set a mood, however the addition of recessed lighting fixtures on a separate switch will provide even, general lighting for when you need bright useable light.
Recessed Lighting fixtures can provide even flood lighting to generally illuminate an area or come with narrow beam angles to help spotlight a work of art or visual accent within a room. They are great for wall washing a wall with light to highlight interesting architectural features within a room. With the right water ingress ratings, recessed lighting fixtures can be used even outdoors or above a shower.
Recessed Light fixtures are extremely versatile and can be installed in many places where other many light fixtures can't be installed. There are recessed lighting fixtures that can be installed in sloped or vaulted ceilings and some can even be installed into walls. They are lightweight and require less structural support than other fixtures as well.
Recessed Lighting requires ample forethought and planning to ensure the space is illuminated properly within your expectations. Use our How to Layout Recessed Lighting in 4 Easy Steps learning center post to help start the planning process.
Types of Recessed Lighting
Traditional Recessed Lighting has traditionally consisted of three different components that would be purchased separately and installed together - recessed housing, decorative trim, and bulb. We will refer to this as Traditional Recessed Lighting.
The recessed housing (also known as a 'can') is unseen in the final installation hidden in the ceiling plenum. There are new construction recessed housings which install into the ceiling joists and remodel construction housings which can go into a finished ceiling by cutting a hole and popping the fixture into place in the ceiling with built-in clips.
The bulb and the decorative trim are what you see from the outside once installed. Traditional Recessed Lighting requires not only properly planning out the lighting layout but ensuring all of the parts are compatible with each other and rated properly for the location where they will be installed. Traditional Recessed Lighting traditionally used incandescent and halogen light bulbs which generate a lot of heat. Being able to manage and disperse the heat is vital to traditional recessed lighting since there could be insulation in the ceiling where the lights will be installed. Different housings and trims have IC or non-IC ratings which indicate if the recessed housing can be installed with insulation contacting the housing (IC Rated) or not (Non-IC Rated). Traditional Recessed Lighting comes in various sizes with each size able to produce a certain amount of light or lumens. The smaller sizes are typically used for accenting or spot lighting while the larger sizes produce more general or task lighting.
LED Canless Downlights are the newest form of recessed lighting on the market. LED Canless Downlights take advantage of the cooler-operating performance of LEDs and remove the traditional recessed housing altogether. In traditional recessed lighting, the housing is primarily to safely manage the heat that is put off by the light bulb to lower the chance of a fire. LEDs are much more energy-efficient than incandescent or halogen and much of the energy consumption of LEDs is converted to light rather than heat like incandescent or halogen. With no housing to worry about, LED canless downlights can fit into spaces where traditional recessed lighting cannot. Since these are all-in-one units, they are much easier to select the right unit and install. Canless LED downlights install in less than half the time a traditional recessed light would take to install making canless LED downlights the more practical solution to recessed lighting today. Even though canless LED downlights produce less heat than incandescent or halogen, they still do produce some heat that needs to be considered when placing around insulation. Like traditional recessed lighting fixtures, look for the IC rating to determine if the LED canless downlight can be installed touching insulation (IC rated) or not (non-IC rated).
There are two types of LED canless downlights currently on the market - remote driver or built-in driver on back.
The remote driver LED canless downlights have a driver box that is separated from the light panel that you can wire into. There are a couple of advantages to having a remote driver that provide more flexibility on where it can be installed. With the driver being remote, the light board can remain ultra-thin allowing it to be installed in tight places such as a ceiling with a structural beam or HVAC ducting in the ceiling plenum that would typically block a normal recessed housing. The remote driver allows you to place the driver away from the light fixture in a more optimal location that could save the amount of wire that would need run as well.
The built-in driver on back LED canless downlight has the driver built onto the back of the LED light board. This makes the product deeper thus requiring more space which isn't a problem in most situations. This type of canless downlight more closely resembles traditional recessed lighting fixtures in look.
LED Recessed Retrofits are trim and bulb replacements for Traditional Recessed Lighting fixtures. LED Retrofits are great for updating your existing traditional recessed lighting setup by removing the old bulb and trim and replacing with an LED retrofit. LED retrofits come in modern finishes and can improve the look of your recessed fixture by adding a clean all-in-one design. Not only will it improve the look, but it will increase the energy efficiency of the fixture if you are using an incandescent, halogen, or CFL bulb currently. These retrofits are very easy to install, simply remove the old bulb and trim, screw in the medium base adapter of the LED retrofit, then push the retrofit into place via spring clips or friction clips and you are done and ready to enjoy the cost savings and longevity of the LED retrofit! Note, it is important to check if the recessed housing the LED Retrofit is going into is IC rated or non-IC rated and make sure the LED retrofit matches to ensure safety compliance.
Gimbal/Adjustable Downlights are directional downlights which allow you to adjust the trim to direct the light to a certain location to wall wash, highlight artwork or a display, or for sloped ceilings. Gimbal Downlights are available as trims that install into traditional recessed housings as well as canless LED options and LED retrofits.
Recessed Lighting Product Ratings
Recessed Lighting has several different product ratings to know about while planning and selecting products. It is important to know the space you are installing the recessed light in to know what ratings to look for. Ask yourself these three questions when planning your recessed lighting project:
- How much moisture will be expected in the space?
Wet Location and Damp Location Ratings are important to look out for as this tells you the level of moisture protection the light has. Wet rated fixtures are sealed and protected from direct contact with water and are perfect for use in outdoor eves, above showers, or anywhere else where the fixture is subject to direct contact with water. Damp rated fixtures are standard in recessed lighting and have some protection from moisture but cannot be subjected to direct contact with water. Damp rated fixtures are great for outdoor covered porches, bathrooms (not directly above showers), kitchens, and workshops. If a fixture is dry rated, then it is only recommended to be used in a location where no moisture would be present.
- Is there insulation in the ceiling where the lights will be installed?
Another big consideration is insulation contact. Before you buy, verify if the ceiling where the recessed light will be installed has insulation. Exterior walls and ceilings between conditioned and non-conditioned space will typically have insulation to help keep the conditioned space stable and prevent heat/AC loss. If there is insulation, you will want to make sure you pick a recessed lighting fixture that is Insulation Contact Rated (IC Rated). IC rated fixtures can have insulation packed up against the fixture in the space and are tested as being safe. Non-IC rated fixtures cannot be touching insulation as the temperature is deemed too high and could cause a fire. Non-IC rated fixtures should maintain at least 3 inches of space between the fixture and insulation if they are installed into an insulated ceiling. Installing a Non-IC recessed fixture into an insulated ceiling will drop the heating and cooling efficiency of the space by creating thermal gaps. It is always best to purchase an IC rated fixture if you are installing the fixture into a ceiling with insulation to avoid thermal gaps where heat or AC can escape. Non-IC fixtures are great for ceilings that are between two conditioned spaces such as between the first floor and second floor of a home since it will be unlikely to have insulation between conditioned floors. IC fixtures will be recommended in a ceiling between a conditioned and non-conditioned space such as the top floor of a house and an unfinished attic.
- What space is directly above the ceiling space where the lights will be installed?
Airtight rating (AT Rating) is another important rating to look for. Like IC rating, Airtight rating signifies if the fixture is sealed against air leaks. This is important where you are installing a recessed lighting fixture in a ceiling between a conditioned space and a non-conditioned space. An airtight fixture means no air can get through the fixture and into the ceiling plenum whereas a non-airtight fixture will be subject to air leakage through the fixture. This is important in terms of heating and cooling a space. You may be subject to loosing heat or AC through a non-airtight fixture thus increasing your heating and cooling bills. Look for an airtight rated fixture when you are planning to install recessed lighting between a conditioned and non-conditioned space.
Look for Energy Star Certified fixtures that have been tested to be the most energy-efficient solutions available on the market. Energy Star products must meet a certain lumen per watt efficacy so only the most highly efficient products get this rating. Some Energy Star Certified product is eligible for rebates in certain municipalities. Use the Rebate Finder tool on Energystar.gov to find if the product is eligible for rebates in your area. Our LED rebates finder is also a great tool for finding rebates in your area!
How to Shop Recessed Lighting
Now that we have discussed the different types of recessed lighting and what the different product ratings mean, we can look at the other factors that will help you pick out the best recessed lighting product for your project. Here are some additional questions to ask and things to consider when planning your recessed lighting project:
- What is the primary function of the room?
- There are a lot of recessed lighting options out there. Determine what the room will be used for as a starting point in narrowing down your selection. If the room will be more task oriented, you may want brighter light and cooler color temperatures to help you focus on the work at hand however, if it is a leisure space, you may want a dimmable light with warmer color temperatures to set the mood accordingly.
- Decorative trims and finishes are available in rooms where you want to coordinate your style. Otherwise, white trims blend beautifully with white ceilings.
- What are the dimensions of the room?
- Sketch out the room and start jotting down lighting layouts. Think about what activities happen in the space and if any area needs light directly above like a sink or counter.
- Does the light need to be task light or ambient light? Task light would require a more narrow beam spread while ambient light will be a wider spread.
- What is the height of your ceiling? The higher the ceiling, the higher the lumens needed to properly illuminate your space. With higher ceilings, the lights should be spaced further apart whereas lower ceilings should be closer together to evenly spread light and reduce the amount of light overlap from each fixture. At least 2 foot spacing on low ceilings will help reduce the amount of light overlap.
- Ensure lights are installed at least 2 feet from the wall to prevent shadowing.
- What are the Installation Requirements?
- If this is a new construction project with exposed beams/joists or if this is a remodel project with a finished ceiling will determine what kind of fixtures and components you need to purchase.
- New construction projects are often easier due to direct access to ceiling joists where you can install the recessed housing or lighting fixture to. Some canless LED downlights will require additional mounting plates to mount the lights in new construction applications.
- Remodel construction projects can be a little more involved in that you will need to cut a hole into an existing ceiling in locations where you want the lights. Most remodel construction fixtures will snap directly into the ceiling hole and hold onto the sheetrock.
- What type of Bulb do you want?
- Do you want something that doesn't need replaced ever after it is installed? Go with an integrated LED fixture. With lifespans up to 50,000 hours or longer, these fixtures will run for years without you ever having to think about them.
- Traditional Recessed Lighting fixtures require a bulb. There are many types of bulbs available with different brightness, color temperatures, or other options. If you don't mind changing a light bulb from time to time, this setup allows you more options on what to put in there.
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All brands, other than the domestic suppliers listed here, are covered by the Lightup.com/Lumegen (Seller) limited warranty. (Sylvania, Euri, Maxlite, Keystone, GE, Phillips, Energetic, Feit, Curtis Mathes, Progress, Morris, Mr. Beams, Light Efficient Design, Maximus, Globalux. These suppliers' products are covered by their manufacturer warranty). Visit our Warranty information page for more information.