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How to Install Recessed Lighting

How to Install Recessed Lighting

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Installing recessed lighting can help to add general light to a room, direct more light to specific areas and upgrade the ambiance of your home. In addition, you can install recessed light fixtures wherever you prefer a more discreet and low maintenance lighting option. Let's go through the steps of how to install recessed lighting.

Before you even get started, there are several things you can do to make this project go smoothly.

Note: This article assumes there is an existing power source (ex. old light fixture) to draw the necessary wiring from. We do not go into fishing wires from a circuit for a new fixture here. A discussion on this type of wiring and renovating can be found in our diy lights article.

Now let's take a closer look at what you'll be doing in this project:

1. As always, use safety when dealing with electrical equipment. Shut off the power at the main circuit breaker before you begin any work. For best safety measures, use a wire tester to ensure that the electricity running to these wires is off.

2. Remove the old lighting fixture. Measure (if you haven't already) and cut holes for the lighting cans. You can use a drywall saw or a drywall circle cutter to make these cuts.

3. Depending on the style of light fixture, you may need to drill holes in the joists (support beams) for the mounting hardware to attach to. Also depending on your positioning, you will probably have to cut holes in the joists to run the wires from one fixture to the next. This should also be done now. Don't go drill happy here. Make as few holes as possible, and never cut holes larger than 1/4 the width of your joist.

4. Install the mounting hardware with the electrical boxes, and run the existing wires from the old fixture to the closest new fixture's electrical box. From this fixture, run a cable to the next fixture and so on until all the light fixtures are equipped with wires. Have about a foot or a foot and a half of wire dangling from each hole.

5. Use wire nuts or twist on connectors to connect matching colored wires (white to white, green to green, black to black).

6. Finally, install the new hardware, including trim pieces and light bulbs. Push the fixture housing into the mounting hardware until the tabs click into place.

7. Turn the power back on to test your work.


- Hardware that is mounted to the joists themselves are more durable, but also more difficult to install into a finished ceiling.

- 6-7 feet apart is an ideal distance for recessed lighting fixtures. This distance ensures that the entire area is covered within the light span.

- Areas that have insulation within the ceiling (an attic, for example) require special recessed lighting canisters labeled I.C. (insulate ceiling). These cans can be used in areas where insulation will come in close contact to the lighting housing. If not your cans are not labeled IC, fixtures need at least 3" of space surrounding them. Most experts will tell you that using IC cans is a good idea regardless of where you are installing them as they are safer, more energy efficient, have fewer technical issues, and save money in the long run.

- Eyeball lighting fixtures will help you direct light to specific areas such as work surfaces and countertops while down lights will give the general area more light.

- Running wires between joists is much simpler than running it through the joists. Think about this when planning the location of each light, and try to keep lights between the same two joists as often as possible.

Read our other installing lights articles for more DIY lighting projects.

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