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Learn More About Recessed Lighting

What is recessed lighting?

LED recessed lighting commonly referred to as can lights, pot lights or high hats, is one of the most versatile lighting systems available. Not surprisingly, the term 'recessed' comes from the way this type of lighting is mounted. LED recessed lighting is one of the most affordable ways to update and illuminate your home or commercial building. However, if not properly placed they can create an uncomfortable appearance.

While recessed lighting systems of years past were often thought of as being clunky and complicated, today's options are designed to meet almost every need. With the evolution of lighting technology, new LED systems are not only able to perform at higher standards, they're easier than ever to plan and install.

LED recessed lighting can achieve a wide-range of different lighting outcomes in both indoor and outdoor applications. Its perfect for rooms that have limited ceiling space to work with, or for instances where a large fixture would be too obtrusive.

How to choose the best recessed lighting?

When you are considering the installation of new or replacing existing recessed lights in your home or business, its important to new what is available. LED downlights come in a variety of different styles, wattages, and color temperatures. Many of them with their own unique fixtures that may suit your application's needs better. Below we will go over the most common types of LED can lights so you can make an informative decision before you are ready to purchase.

New Construction and Remodel Projects

When it comes to new construction and remodel projects, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration in order to select the right fixture including function, operation, and appropriate layout. Typically, recessed lighting has been composed of three pieces, a trim, housing and lamp type.

Trim

The trim is the finished portion of the recessed fixture that is seen from the room below. There are a variety of different trim styles that can provide different aesthetics or manipulate how the light will be dispersed.

  • Reflector trims have a mirrored surface that amplifies the beam spread of light to make it appear bright and vibrant. They are recommended for spaces that require high lumen output, such as kitchens and rooms with high ceilings. Reflector trims are often are available in metallic, black or white with a polished interior.
  • Baffle trims have large grooves that help absorb excess light, and are designed to reduce glare for a softer glow. They typically are available in black (which reduce the most glare) and white (which reduces the appearance of holes in the ceiling).
  • Gimbals allow you to control the direction of the light, providing unique displays of illumination. With an adjustable swivel body that lets you guide the light beam as desired for your application. They are great for highlighting certain elements of your space such as architectural features, accent walls, and artwork or as display lighting. Gimbals are available in diameters of 2 to 6 inches, with varying degrees of tilt and beam angle. Directional recessed gimbals are also great for sloped ceiling applications and creating wall wash effects.

Housing

The housing is the part of the light isn't visible, it sits neatly above the ceiling. As previously mentioned, the housing is either a separate component or often is integrated into the full fixture. Below we'll go over the different types of housings, their ratings and where they are used.

  • New construction housings is often used in new homes before the ceiling has been installed.
  • Remodel housings is intended for use in areas with an existing ceiling already in place.
  • Insulated (IC rated) housings means the recessed light is safe to be in direct contact with the insulation that is above the ceiling.
  • Non-IC housings requires at least 3 inches of spacing from insulation.
  • Airtight (AT) certified recessed lights, can either be IC or non-IC rated, reduces air flow between the unconditioned space above (usually the attic) and the conditioned room below. This is very important to keep heating and cooling costs low, as well as preventing moisture problems from occurring. Most LED recessed fixtures that are available today have both IC and AT ratings.

Super Thin (Canless)

Even though traditional recessed lighting setups are still often used, they are not the most popular. Many home and commercial building owners are choosing super thin 'wafer style' LED downlights, where no housing is needed. These fixtures, commonly referred to as canless, are perfect for ceilings with a shallow plenum (the space that facilitates air circulation for heating and cooling), and are available in sizes ranging from 3 to 12 inches. Their compact design allows you to install them where most fixtures can't go; like under overhangs and eaves, and directly under joists for maximum layout flexibility. With many only being a half inch thick, not only is a housing not required, but you also don't need direct access above the ceiling for installation. Super thin and ultra thin LED downlights are IC rated, they emit barely any heat to require a gap between the fixture and insulation. This means they are suitable for new construction and renovation projects.

Installation is simple and only takes a few minutes once the hole is drilled, making them great for use in bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms. You'll also get all of the benefits of LED lighting including decreased maintenance costs, energy savings, and longer lifespans. Some models have a remote driver box while others are a single unit.

Retrofitting

One of the fastest and most affordable ways to upgrade your current recessed fixtures to LED is by retrofitting. You can install an LED downlight retrofit kit into an existing housing by simply removing the original bulb and trim, and screwing in an LED module adapter into the socket. LEDs are not only 85% more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, they also produce way less heat. Also, since LEDs have a much longer lifespan than other bulbs, sometimes up to ten times longer, they're virtually maintenance-free. Determining which size you need is easy, simply measure the diameter of your existing cut-out, not including the trim (the visible portion of the fixture). Most of the models on the market today can be used for both new construction and retrofit applications, which gives you a greater selection of options.

Other Options

Regressed

Fixtures with regression means that the light source is seated higher up into the housing and the surrounding trim is deep. A full, or 'deep' regressed fixture provides less distracting glare since the light is less visible when observing the downlight from a distance.

Dimming and Special Features

You should pay close attention to color temperature and intensity since they both can have an effect on the overall look of your space. If addressed properly, these spaces will be where you actually spend the most time. To help, we carry many LED recessed lights that are dimmer compatible, white tunable, and color changing, and we continue to add more and more products that are functional with today's smart technology.

What is the appropriate spacing and layout for recessed lighting?

Determining what size your fixture should be will depend on the ceiling height and square footage of your space. You should keep in mind there are no set rules when it comes to fixture placement. In fact, personal preference and design aesthetic is often enough to go on. A good rule of thumb is to use one recessed light for every 4 to 6 feet of ceiling space. Typically, fixtures should be placed 24 inches from a wall or cabinet with 2 to 5 feet of space between them. However, not all rooms require the same amount of brightness. For example, a bedroom doesn't need as much light as a kitchen, so in this case you would use less fixtures.

The most common size for residential recessed downlights is 4 to 7 inches in diameter. The most popular size used is a 6-inch fixture. For that reason, there typically more 6-inch styles to choose from. Higher ceilings require larger diameters, typically 6 inches or above. Generally, the larger the diameter of your fixture, the wider wash of light it will deliver. Below we'll take a look at how recessed lighting should be installed in kitchen and bathroom.

When it comes to kitchens, 4 and 5-inch is an ideal size for providing enough lighting output above countertops for food prep and cleanup. When you begin to laying out recessed lighting in a kitchen, you'll need to focus on areas that aren't covered by other fixtures like under cabinet lighting and pendants. You need to consider where your high-traffic areas are, and focus on lighting that space. For example, gallery-style kitchens or walkways around an island should have a single row of appropriately spaced downlight that will enhance your ambient lighting scheme. Whereas wall-to-wall kitchens that have nothing in the center, a grid pattern would be your best option for even illumination throughout the space.

In bathrooms, LED recessed lighting can add both style and function to your space. Recessed lights can be installed in shower stalls or over tubs, unlike decorative wall or ceiling mounted fixtures. It's important to consider recessed lighting as part of an overall bath lighting layout. When recessed lights are used in combination with bar lights or wall sconces around vanity spaces and mirrors, you'll end up with a layered lighting system that is hard to achieve with just ceiling fixtures alone. Keep in mind for bathrooms, you should always choose a waterproof downlight that's rated for wet and damp locations. For instance, steam that is generated by a shower, it can create problems for fixtures that are only rated for dry locations. Whereas, an air-tight waterproof fixture is able to resist corrosion and is less likely to short circuit over time. You should always check the product page or on the hyperlinked PDF for a fixture's UL listing.

The same spacing guidelines previously mentioned for the kitchen area should be applied here. It's good practice to install downlight fixtures at least 2 feet from walls and cabinets to avoid a spotlight effect on vertical surfaces. If there is too much spacing, shadows can be created throughout the room, so we recommend placing them about 4 feet apart. You should also consider using a dimmer for added control. In bath areas, dimming gives you ambient, task, and accent lighting all at the touch of a button.

Need additional recessed lighting design & layout tips?

We are to provide the guidance you need in selecting the most appropriate and energy efficient LED recessed lighting trim that best suits your needs. If you are unsure of how many lights you need, let us give you a free lighting layout to put your mind at ease and know you get the right amount of lighting you need for your application. If you have any additional questions about LED Recessed Lighting feel free to reach out to one of our customer service specialists.

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