Recessed Lighting

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting is a trendy, stylish way to light up both the exterior and the interior of your home. It is popular because the fixture does not take away space from the room yet it adds a lot to it. Recessed lighting adds a modern look to your home hence making it more marketable yet it transcends over any style and fits well in with any of them.

 Types of recessed Lighting Fixtures:

Recessed lighting fixtures have been in use since the 1950′s, however, they come a long way since. The square recessed lights went completely out of style. Most of them are old and rusty and when the owner gets a chance replaces them with a more modern round fixture (some dry walling is involved because of the different shape and size). The modern recessed fixtures come in many different shapes and sizes.

 The most popular is the 6 inch recessed lighting fixture. It is the most suited for general lighting. Often 5 inch recessed lights are also used for the same purpose.

 For accent lighting, the 3 inch and 4 inch recessed fixtures are best suited. They can be placed right at the area where the light is needed.

 Components of recessed lighting Fixture:

 Most recessed fixtures consist of the following parts: housing, bulb and trim.


 The housing is the main part of the light. It holds the fixture in place as well as encapsulates all the other elements (wiring, bulb, trim). The important features to look for when it comes to housing are IC (In-Contact) Rated, Insulated, UL Listed.


 There are countless trims made by the manufacturers. Different colors, materials and functions are available. The most commonly used trim is a white cone trim for the 6 inch size. It helps to make the fixture virtually “disappear” into the ceiling with most paint jobs. The cone shape avoids the situation where people can see the inside of the housing from below. Black trims can be found in many older homes. Try to avoid it as much as you can. Even if you love the look, most others (including potential buyers of the home) will hate it and consider it as “so yesterday”.

 The most popular trims for smaller recessed fixtures are the metallic look. However, it changes over time more dramatically. Copper and bronze is not as “in” any more as brushed aluminum right now.

 Many of the smaller diameter recessed lighting fixtures can be directed somewhat. At least they can be tilted by about 20 degrees and rotated around the housing. This way the fixture can light up exactly the area that it was intended to illuminate. That is good to have if the target may move a little over time or it is just not possible to install the fixture exactly above the desired area. Eyeball trims are useful in cases where there is a vaulted ceiling. The housing has to be installed aligned with the ceiling. Since the ceiling is in an angle to the floor, the light will also illuminate the floor in an angle. It may not be desirable, as the light can shine into people’s eyes. The eyeball trim makes it possible to correct the angle. However, the look of the eyeball trim for recessed can lights is not popular. The majority of home owners opts to live with the glare but not the look of the fixture. The price is also higher compared to a more common cone trim. The elbow trim is the most dramatic as far as the angle goes. It is especially made to illuminate objects on the wall, like paintings. Some of them can be set to the exact size of the object but the look is more like something used in a theatre. The more attractive looking recessed elbow fixture can be also tuned in to the actual needs by calculating the optimal the distance from the wall before installation as well as selecting the right bulb and / or lens to achieve the desired effect.


 If you ever looked at the light bulb selection in a specialty store you know that the variations are almost endless. However, most recessed lighting fixtures operate with one or the other type of bulbs. The wattage of the bulb may change within a certain range. People who are more light sensitive may select a lower power bulb. Usually there is a maximum the fixture can handle. That limit cannot be exceeded safely. It has to do with the power dissipation the housing can handle. The bulbs can be categorized based on their way of generating light. The most often used type of bulbs are: incandescent, fluorescent and LED.

 Incandescent Bulb

 Incandescent light bulbs have a filament or some other element that heats up because of the electric current going through. As the element heats up it also emits light visible to the human eye. However, it emits most of the energy in the invisible (infrared) spectrum as heat. That is why it is the least efficient way light is generated. However, incandescent light bulbs are still the most popular bulbs used in recessed light fixtures. They are less expensive. These bulbs can be easily dimmed. Another disadvantage is their shorter life span compared to the other type of lighting technologies. Typically they work for 1,000 hours with some of the higher end working for 3,000 hours.

 Fluorescent Bulb

 A fluorescent lamp or fluorescent tube is a gas-discharge lamp that uses electricity to excite mercury vapor. The excited mercury atoms produce short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing visible light. Fluorescent light bulbs use about a third to a fifth of the power of an incandescent light bulb for the same light output. Their life span is 5,000 to 15,000 hours.

The other side of the equation is that they are significantly more expensive, their color is not considered attractive compared to the incandescent bulbs and their mercury content makes them hazardous when the bulb breaks. Some of these facts have been changing recently. There are different type of white color bulbs available (usually temperature is used in Kelvin to determine the color). However, for most users it will never be the same.

There is a lot of political will behind pushing their use versus incandescent bulbs. This applied pressure on the manufacturers to bring the factories overseas and lower costs as much as possible. Consequently quality suffered and many of the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs fail very quickly after purchase. Proponents also argue that the mercury content is very low but at the same time the clean up procedure recommended by the government looks more like something used for radioactive materials.

In California, “Title 24″ mandates the use of fluorescent recessed can lighting fixtures in certain locations. Therefore, people building a new home or doing significant remodeling, do not have choice any more. The biggest disadvantage of these fixtures, besides the color, is that they are more expensive and cannot be dimmed. There are dimmable versions available. However, the cost and the fact that only expensive special dimmer switches can be used make their application almost non-existent.


 A light-emitting-diode lamp is a solid-state lamp that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as the source of light. Since the light output of individual light-emitting diodes is small compared to incandescent and compact fluorescent lamps, multiple diodes are used together. Light emitting diodes work by electrons changing their energy levels and in the process emitting photons with the desired wave length. It is a direct way of generating light and not as a byproduct of something else. Although there are solutions where the diode is just the primary source and it is used phosphor to fluoresce similarly to fluorescent bulbs.

The efficiency of LED bulbs rapidly increased in the last decade from about 20 lumens per Watt in 2002 to about 150 lumens per Watt recently. It is difficult to predict where the improvement will stop but 150 lumens per watt is already about a 50% increase over fluorescent bulbs. The life expectancy is usually stated between 25,000 hours and 100,000 hours. A typical product gives 50,000 hours of life expectancy that is 50 times of a typical incandescent bulb and 5 times of an average fluorescent bulb. The biggest disadvantage is the price. A Cree recessed can lighting fixture is around $100. That is not counting housing and installation.

Considering all of the parameters, LED lighting has been improving at a rapid pace and it reached maturity. In some applications the significantly lower maintenance cost can be the biggest advantage. If a mechanical lift is necessary to replace a burnt out bulb than the cost of the bulb can be less significant. Longer life means less bulb replacement.

The color and light distribution can be a disadvantage similarly to fluorescent. However, new solutions can decrease those factors and make it even more desirable than incandescent. For example properly designed lens placed in front the fixture can produce a perfectly even lighting pattern.

Most applications at the moment are designed to replace traditional bulbs. However, as time goes by more and more designers can think outside the box. LED tape lights are the best illustration of that. These thin tapes can be places under shelves, inside crown molding or under a counter. The lighting effects are great and cannot be duplicated by any other lighting technology. Did I mention that the color of the light can also be changed between many different shades?

 Low-Voltage Lighting

 Low-Voltage lighting proponents claim that the smaller filament size allows the bulb and housing to be constructed such a way that more of the light is focused in the beam and there is less spill out, ergo they are more efficient. That seems like somewhat of a hand waving argument. Low-voltage fixtures have to include transformers. That makes these low-voltage recessed can fixtures bigger (more difficult to install) and more expensive. If they still use the same technology (incandescent), the efficiency of the conversion from electrical power to light is still the same. However, now we also lose some power in the transformer. So overall we not only did not gain anything but even lost. Power is power. If the voltage is lower the current is just going to be proportionally higher, there is no gain there (that seems to be the reason why some people purchase low voltage fixtures, they think low voltage means, low power). Especially if the fixtures are used for general lighting purposes, the focused beam just means another disadvantage.

When it come to fluorescent and LED lighting the transformer is essential to those technologies to work. In the case of LED technology, the power has to be low-voltage DC. However, we gain efficiency that we lost because of the power conditioning back (and some more) because the technology itself is a lot more efficient.

 Other Posts on Recessed Lighting:
Recessed Lighting Design

Recessed Lighting Safety

Recessed Lighting Manufacturers

Recessed Lighting Installation

Recessed Lighting Summary

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