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Recessed Lighting Guide

Looking to update and illuminate your home? Recessed lighting is key. Recessed lighting offers the advantage of having a hidden and energy-efficient light source, but can often be unsightly and unflattering if done wrong. We’re sharing the information you need to know if you’re thinking about tackling this project.


What are recessed lights?


Also referred to as can lights, pot lights, or high hats, recessed lighting is a type of light fixture that is hidden within the ceiling. Recessed lighting usually is composed of the trim and the housing. The trim, which is decorative, comes in a range of finishes, sizes, and shapes, can be seen from below. The housing sits above the ceiling line and is the part of the light that isn’t visible. If you’re working with incandescent lighting, there is also a third piece—the light bulb.


View our selection of Recessed Lighting here!

recessedlighting Recessed Lighting Guide

Image via Tech Lighting


How do I choose the trim and housing?


Make sure the components you choose will work together. Just because the trim and housing are the same size, it doesn’t mean that they work together. Even trims and housings made by the same manufacturer may not be compatible. One of our lighting specialists can help determine if your components will work together.


Why do I need recessed lighting?


Recessed lights are a practical and elegant way to illuminate spaces that might not have been designed or built with enough lighting. Recessed lighting can provide an ambient layer of lighting over an entire room; spotlight or highlight architectural details or features; and wash a wall with light to create a dramatic effect.


What are some important words to keep in mind when it comes to recessed lights?


Aperture: This is an opening or hole on a recessed lighting trim where light is visible.
Housing: The protective safety covering around a recessed down light.


IC rated: IC means “Insulated Contact.” An IC rating is required for light fixtures that will be installed in direct contact with a building’s insulation material in the wall or ceiling.


Trim: The decorative molding around the opening of a recessed light.


Baffle trim: A style of trim with large grooves that absorbs excess light and reduces glare. Baffles typically are available in black (which reduces the most glare) and white (which reduces the appearance of holes in the ceiling).


Gimbal trim: A style of trim that allows control of the direction of light with a pivot inside the housing.


Reflector trim: A style of trim that uses a smooth, polished interior to maximize the amount of light.


Can I use recessed lighting?


Today’s recessed lighting options meet almost every need, and they are also easier than ever to install. Be sure to consult a contractor or electrician to help you with your lighting plan; to ensure your lights meet local codes; and to install the fixtures.


What if I’m tight on space?


Newer designs are becoming smaller but have the same light output. Even spaces with a few inches of clearance now can accommodate a recessed light.


What size recessed lights should I use?


Recessed lights are available in a range of sizes. The trim depends on your application. When looking at trim sizes, you are generally looking at the aperture measurement. Remember that this dimension is not the overall dimension of the trim.

The standard size used in many residences was previously a 6-inch aperture, but due to the popularity and widespread use by contractors and builders, this size can look outdated. Newer trends indicate that a 3-inch to 4-inch aperture is the new standard.


What type of recessed housing do I need?


There are two main types of housings: Remodel and new construction. What you need is dependent on how the recessed lights will be installed. New construction housings are meant for spaces where the ceiling line (sheetrock or drywall) hasn’t been installed or has been removed. These housings are meant for installation between ceiling joists. Remodel housings are for installations with an existing ceiling. They enter the ceiling through the hole cut in the drywall or sheetrock and are held in place using clips.


What type of recessed trim should I use?


The trim you choose should be determined by your application and design aesthetic. Round trims are the most popular, but square designs are also coming into style. Some options even include a decorative flange or lens that can be glass, metal, or crystal. If you’re illuminating a specific object or feature in a room, go for an adjustable or gimbal trim designed to provide control in aiming the light. If you need a recessed light for a shower or outdoor space, make sure you look for a wet-rated or shower trim designed to keep the fixture safe and functional in a wet space. If you’re using recessed fixtures for general lighting, even with down light, keep in mind the color and shape of the baffle, which helps diffuse light better than an open trim.


Should my recessed lighting be LED?


It depends on your project. Some states and municipalities require LED or high-efficiency lighting for projects that require a permit—so always check your local code before ordering. If it’s not required, it’s still a great choice. Generally, LEDs will have a higher initial price point due to the technology involved. They are more expensive, but they will also require much less energy to run and far less maintenance since they have incredibly long lifespans.