Electricity: Recessed Lighting

Lighting Direct (formerly Improvement Direct)

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Recessed lights can provide general illumination, focused task lighting or decorative accent lighting. They clean up a ceiling by eliminating fixture clutter and even make a ceiling feel higher. Good planning is the key. Make sure the housings will fit into the ceiling spaces where you plan to install them. If you plan to use an existing ceiling electrical box as a power source and get rid of the fixture, you’ll need a blank cover for the box so it can be accessed after the project is finished.

A recessed light assembly consists of the housing, trim and bulb. Labels inside the housing list the compatible trim styles, as well as bulb types and wattages for each. Special remodeling housings, like those shown being installed (above right), allow you to install recessed lights with minimal patching and repairs. See “The Right Type of Light” (below) for information on housings installed in insulated ceilings.

Lighting Direct (formerly Improvement Direct)

Key Installation Steps

Find a convenient power source for the new lights. Determine the joist locations with a stud sensor. Try to anticipate obstructions, especially water and drain lines, and mark the fixture locations. Before permanently installing the trim kits, plan to paint the entire ceiling.


1. Cut housing openings, using caution to avoid plumbing and electrical lines. Run cable from power source to the nearest opening, then continue running cable to remaining openings. Use access holes and cable protector plates where necessary.

2. Fasten cables to junction boxes with plastic cable clamps. Make connections at the power source and each housing junction box. Secure all connections with wire connectors, and fold the wires into the junction box.

3. Install a junction box cover and slip housing through opening. Mount housing to ceiling or framing using built-in clips. Adjust housing so its lip lies flush against the ceiling surface. Install bulb and attach trim kit.

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Recommended Products

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Recessed Lighting icon

Examples from Catalog:

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WAC Lighting HR-8402H icon
120V to 12V New Construction Can. Max 50W. Fixture is thermally protected. Snap out magnetic transformer ensures controlled voltage to lamps, maximizing life. Designed for MR16 lamp. UL listed for through branch circuit wiring. If insulation is present 3" area is required.

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Shopping Smart: The Right Type of Light

If you’re installing recessed lights in an existing ceiling without attic access, buy remodeling housings that mount to the drywall or other surface rather than the framing. Buy insulation contact (IC)-rated housings if they will be touching insulation. For extra energy efficiency in insulated ceilings, buy IC-rated airtight housings. Select the fixture trim style (right) based on your needs.


Down-light trim pieces cast a cone- shaped beam of light. The area lit will roughly equal its distance from the light.

Wall washers cast an arc of light down a wall to accent a painting or fireplace or to softly light a room.
Eyeballs have a protruding, movable port that lets you focus light on a countertop, desk or other work space.  

Last modified: Saturday, 2007-11-03 1:20 PST