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How to Install Recessed Lighting

An image of a living room seating area with a fireplace and recessed lights in the ceiling.

Updated January 5, 2022

Brian G.

By Brian G.

Replace your existing lights with recessed lights. Recessed lighting can provide ambient lighting for the room and highlight decorative elements.

Note

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

Note

Product costs, availability and item numbers may vary online or by market.

Planning Your Recessed Lighting

An image of a coffered ceiling with recessed lights.

Before you begin installing recessed lighting, think about the effect you want to achieve and how to best obtain it. Then ask yourself the following questions:

What Type of Light Do I Want?

Recessed can lights with baffle trim provide a full, wide beam of light. Recessed lights with eyeball trim allow the light to rotate so you can focus it on a specific area.

What’s Above the Ceiling?

Measure the ceiling hole to determine the housing size and trim you need. If an attic is above the ceiling, the project is pretty straightforward, as you’re working with an existing light fixture. You’ll need a remodel housing. If the housing will be surrounded by insulation, however, you’ll need one that’s insulation rated. Look out for products labeled IC or IC-rated, which stands for Insulation Contact.

Installing can lights is more involved if there’s another floor above. You may need a shallow ceiling housing, and the wire may have to be fished through the ceiling frame.

What Kind of Wiring Do I Have?

Is the existing wiring aluminum or copper? Use wiring that’s the same material and gauge (thickness) as the existing wire. If the existing wiring is fabric insulated or has no ground wire, have a qualified electrician inspect it to determine if the wiring should be replaced.

How Many Lights Do I Want to Add?

You can add lights that draw as many watts as the existing fixture can accommodate without overloading the circuit.

For example: The existing fixture uses four 100-watt bulbs, so the total capacity is 4 x 100 = 400 watts. You can safely install up to 400 watts of lighting on the circuit.

Keep in mind your option to go with LED recessed lighting. Recessed light kits will specify on their product page if they are LED compatible.

If you plan to use more watts than the existing fixture can handle, have an electrician determine what the circuit can carry.

Caution

If you aren’t comfortable doing electrical work, contact a qualified electrician.

Installing Recessed Lighting

Four images showing the steps to install recessed lighting.

When working with electricity, always:

  • Turn off the electricity at the main fuse box (or the circuit breaker box) that controls the power to the fixture or the room you’re working on.
  • Test the wires to ensure the power is off.
  • Place the wall switch in the off position.
  • All electrical connections must be in agreement with local codes. Check with local authorities to see if a permit is required.
  • If in doubt, consult a qualified electrician.
  • Don’t use bulbs with wattage greater than specified for this fixture.

Instructions

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