Recessed Lighting – A Hidden Treasure for Your Home

Recessed lighting is without a doubt one of the neatest things you can do to improve the lighting in your house. When it gets dark, these “hidden” lights really shine through.

When not in use, it tends to disappear. Maintenance is a breeze as there are no lampshades to dust and nothing hangs down or sticks upward to draw your attention to the fixture.

The light it generates can be soft to give a warm glow for general illumination or focused to draw your attention to an object or a work space. With the addition of a dimmer, you can easily control the amount of light they provide.

Recessed lighting is very easy to install when the ceilings are not in place. Open joist and open wall studs are the easiest as you:

  • simply mount the light cans;
  • run the wiring and test; and
  • cover everything but the openings to the light fixtures and the switches.

New construction is the easiest way. However, remodeling or old construction can be accomplished with minimal destruction depending, of course, on your particular situation.

New construction is simply mounting the recessed lighting light fixtures in the desired locations, running the electrical wiring and finishing the ceiling.

Old construction depends on variables like:

  • Can you get to the area above where you want the recessed lighting light fixtures placed?
  • How much insulation is there?
  • Can you get to the area where you want the switch?

Getting to the area where you want the switch is where skill, experience and luck come into play.

If the ceiling is open above the space you want to install the light fixtures, installation is relatively easy.

    • Determine where you want the light fixtures.
    • Use a stud finder to make sure there are no ceiling joist directly above the location you selected to mount the light fixture.
    • Take a screwdriver and push through the ceiling;
    • Pull the screwdriver out and then push a wooden dowel rod through the hole. (Never use a piece of wire as you may hit some electrical wiring.)
    • Go in the attic and locate the rod.
    • Determine where the center space is between the joists and mark that location.
    • Push the screwdriver through the ceiling at that location.
    • Pull any insulation back from around where the hole will be.
    • Go downstairs and use a circle cutter set to the diameter of the light fixture opening.
    • Place some plastic sheeting over the area below where the hole will be. This will catch any debris.
    • Cut the hole where the fixture will go.
    • Go back in the attic and mount the recessed lighting light fixture in the hole and secure the adjustable brackets with screws to the ceiling joist. The opening for the light should extend through the hole in the ceiling, but not into the living space.

This will be covered by the trim pieces. I like to use caulking to fill any gaps as this will reduce air leakage into the attic.

If you use IC (insulated ceiling) fixtures, you can replace the insulation as these fixtures allow full contact with the insulation.

If you use NIC rated fixtures, the insulation must be at least 3 inches away from the fixture. (I like to use an additional heat shield to ensure the insulation does not come in contact with the fixture.)

    • At you local big box, purchase a roll of aluminum flashing in the roofing department.
    • Form into a circle and place around the lamp housing.
    • Lift the electrical box out and place the shield.
    • Cut a slot in the shield to allow the flexible metal conduit to pass through from the top of the shield to the height of your fixture. Keep the bottom of the shield as solid as possible.
    • Extend the shield several inches higher than your insulation to ensure adequate air circulation.
    • Replace the electrical box where it clipped onto the light fixture.
    • Run the wiring from the light to the light switch or from light to light as necessary if there are multiple light fixtures.

Wire according to NEC (National Electrical Code) and your local code requirements.


A really tough installation of recessed lighting is in areas where there is no access above where you want to place the lights. The light fixtures themselves are easy as they simply snap in place from below. These particular fixtures are called Remodel housings.

Getting the wiring to these fixtures can make life interesting. We did a job once where there was very poor lighting in a basement. The ceiling was slightly less than 8 feet and all the current lighting were table lamps. No ceiling light fixtures at all.

It turned out to be simple once we figured we could drill into the space between the ceiling/floor joist and fish the wiring through.

There was a closet at the bottom of the stairs where the light switch could be easily accessed. All we did was run some wiring from the circuit panel to the light switch, from the light switch into the unused part of the basement and along the main beam to the location of the first light fixture.

We drilled a 3/4 inch hole through the main beam into the space where the fixture was going. Using a Greenlee fiberglass fish stix pole system, we were able to pull the necessary electrical cable through the fiberglass insulation to the locations where the recessed lighting light fixtures were going to be located.

The next cable was pulled from the location of the first light to the location of the second light and so on until all seven light fixtures were installed. The wiring is completed before the light fixtures are installed, tested and then the fixtures are snapped into place.

The ones we used had some hefty spring clips to hold the fixture in place that were able to be unlocked from inside the light fixture. I broke it trying to remove the fixture, just to see if I could. When will I learn to leave things alone?


A new addition to the lighting scene are low voltage and LED lighting. I have not tried these, but the idea is sound.

I have tried the newer energy saving bulbs. The fluorescent bulbs that are rated at 75 watts of light output, but use only 20 or the 60 watt equivalent that use only 14 watts. A dimmer can not be used if these light bulbs are used.

 

Dave Altman
 

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