Install Recessed Lighting

Brighten a dark hallway, accent a focal point, or light the kitchen with recessed lighting. Better Homes and Gardens' contributing editor Danny Lipford shows you how to install recessed lighting in a weekend or less.

Danny Lipford


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Versatile lighting solution
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Versatile Lighting Solution

    Recessed light fixtures are one of the most popular and versatile types of lighting today. They are available in a variety of styles and sizes.

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Recessed Lighting

    As the name implies, recessed lighting fits into a cavity cut into the ceiling of the room, with the face of the fixture flush with the ceiling and the bulb mounted inside.

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Uses for Recessed Lighting

    Recessed lighting can be used for general room lighting, to illuminate a path such as a hallway, as task lighting in the kitchen, or for directional lighting to accent a focal point in a room.

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Recessed Lighting Housing

    Recessed lighting consists of a housing (commonly called a can) mounted in the ceiling cavity. Housing labeled as rated for insulated may be allowed to come into contact with attic insulation without presenting a fire hazard. A number of different types of cans are available depending on whether they will be installed in new or existing construction.

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Attach Recessed Lighting Housing

    Adjustable metal arms on each side of the housing get nailed or screwed to the ceiling joists to hold the can in place. If you don't have attic access, slide 14 will explain what to do instead.

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Wiring Connections

    A box mounted on the side of the housing contains the connections for wiring the fixture. A flexible metal conduit carries the wires between the box and light socket.

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Recessed Lighting Trim

    The final component of a recessed lighting fixture is the trim cover (also known as a baffle), which clips to the housing and fits over the opening. It serves to hide the rough edge of the hole and provide a finished look to the fixture. Baffles are available in various finishes as well as specialty applications, such as accent lighting or adjustable "eyeball" lights that swivel in any direction.

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Recessed Lighting in New Construction

    In new construction or major remodeling where the ceiling has been removed, the housings for the recessed lighting fixtures are attached to the joists from below and the wiring connections made before the ceiling is installed.

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Cut Holes Using Rotary Saw

    Once the housings are in place and the electrical connections have been made, the drywall ceiling is installed over the housings, and a rotary saw is used to cut out the openings. This is a much faster method with less chance of making mistakes than trying to mark and cut the holes in the drywall before the ceiling is installed. Once the drywall has been finished, and the ceiling painted, the baffle is installed to complete the unit.

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Recessed Lighting in Existing Ceiling

    Recessed lighting can also be installed in an existing ceiling. Start by determining the location of the ceiling joists (if you can get into the attic, you can see the joists). While in the attic, remove insulation and tap a nail down into the ceiling to mark the center of where the housing will go.

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Cut Hole Using Keyhole Saw

    Use a compass or cardboard template to mark a circle of the correct diameter for the housing. Use a drywall keyhole saw to cut the hole in the ceiling.

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Mount Recessed Lighting Housing

    Fit the recessed lighting housing between the joists in the attic, making sure it is centered on the hole, and attach it in place.

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Connect Electrical Wires

    Complete the wiring connections to the fixture and replace insulation following the clearance requirements listed in the instructions. Finally, install the baffle and bulb.

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Limited Access Recessed Lighting

    If there is no access to the area above the ceiling, a remodeling housing is used. This style unit is used when installing recessed lights between floors in a home or near an outside wall. Metal spring clips hold the fixture in place without requiring attachment to ceiling joists.

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Mount Remodeling Housing

    To install a remodeling can, mark and cut the proper diameter hole in the ceiling using a drywall keyhole saw, fish the electrical wire to the opening and through the hole, then attach it to the house. Finally, push the housing into the hole until the metal clips lock it in place.

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