How to Choose Recessed Lighting? Sizing and Spacing Techniques.

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lights are the most versatile lighting options you could opt for. Whether you’re using them for downlighting, wall lighting or uplighting, as you can even recess lights into the ground; recessed lights work great.

They’re excellent for providing ambient light in residential and commercial spaces, as well as accent lighting to highlight furniture, artwork or be the wall. With so many different applications and looks, it’s tough to know where to begin. This article will give you an outline of what you need to know about getting the right recessed lights for your needs and incorporating them into your space.

Also read: Lighting Ideas: How to Choose Lighting for Your Living Room?

Types of Recessed Lighting:

Recessed lights usually work well with ceilings, but you can stick them in walls and in the ground too.

  • Ceilings: The most common use of recessed lighting, and what we’ll focus on here, is recessed downlighting from the ceiling.
  • Walls: When recessing a light into a wall, you’ll want to use an angled flange to direct your light down to illuminate a pathway or onto steps.
  • In-Ground: Usually used in outdoor applications to illuminate a pathway or uplight landscaping.

The Components – A recessed light consists of two components – the housing and the trim.

The housing is what is recessed into the ceiling/wall/ground and consists of the light source, mounting and other electrical parts.

The trim is what’s visible to people in the room and gives the light its aesthetic and, depending on what you choose, can be used to direct the beam if you’re spotlighting artwork or wall washing.

Note: Trims and housing are sized to correlate with one another, so make sure you’ve got a match when purchasing both together.

Selecting the Housing – What housing you choose starts with knowing whether it will be used in new construction or a remodel.

New Construction: New construction housings are specifically designed for locations with visible ceiling joists and without drywall–usually, that’s new construction, but these can be used for remodels if you’re gutting the space.

Remodel: If you want to upgrade your current system to LED, a remodel housing is appropriate. These housings are installed through a small opening in the ceiling and held in place with clips.

Retrofit: Playful and retro, like a piece of pop art. You may also consider a retrofit housing, arguably the most economical option. An existing trim is removed from its housing, and the retrofit is attached to the housing with clips.

Read more: What are the Different Types of Lighting Systems?

When and Where to Use Recessed Lighting?

Recessed Lighting

Sometimes you want ambient or general lighting, sometimes you want to focus your light on a piece of art or create an effect like – wall washing.

  • Ambient/General Lighting: When you want to brighten up a room that sees a lot of traffic like your kitchen or living room.
  • Accent/Spot Lighting: If you have a focal point like a piece of art or fireplace mantle that you want to spotlight. The optimal angle to reduce glare when spotlighting art is 30 degrees.
  • Wall Washing: By placing your recessed downlighting near a wall–effectively bathing it in light–you’re bouncing light into a space in a less harsh way than direct downlighting.

Tip: Whenever possible, add a dimmer to your recessed lighting to gain more control of your lighting scheme.

How to select the trim?

Choosing the right recessed lighting trim comes down to your aesthetic taste and desired effect.

  • Choose a flangeless trim to fit seamlessly with the surface, or a flanged trim for a more prominent look.
  • A square aperture for a more modern look, or a circular one for a more classic aesthetic…
  • A bevel trim for depth, or a flat trim for a minimalist finish.

In addition to aesthetic variations, there are a variety of functional differences between trims that customers should look out for in their search.

  • Wet location trims are appropriate for areas where water could come in contact with the trim, such as a shower or sauna. Damp location trims are suitable anywhere else.
  • Adjustable trims are suitable for sloped ceilings or walls that will be washed; otherwise, fixed trims are the way to go.
  • Of the adjustable trims, directional trims give the most flexibility in directing light while gimbal trims still offer plenty of flexibility, but not quite as much.
  • Open reflector trims emit the highest amount of uncontrolled light possible, while baffle and specular trims reduce glare.

Selecting the Lamp

Lamps are usually sold separately from the housing and trim. Most lamping in recessed lighting today is integrated LED-no bulb needed. But if you’re working with non-LED recessed lighting, there are plenty of different styles of lamps to fit the specifications of any configuration.

  • The A Lamp is the most common type of lamp, useful for a variety of applications. It has no glaring weaknesses, nor exceptional strengths.
  • Perfect as spot, flood and display lights, R Lamps contain a reflector and excellent beam control.
  • With their long beams and widespread, PAR Lamps are excellent for task lighting, as well as general lighting.
  • MR16 are ideal for accent lighting due to their excellent beam control.

Also read: 25 Attractive LED Ceiling Lights to Enhance Your Living Room!

Recessed Lighting Layout Tips: 

Recessed Lighting

To take full advantage of what recessed lighting has to offer in terms of both functionality and aesthetic charm, it’s essential to get the layout just right. And we have some recessed lighting layout tips you should know before you begin.

Recessed lighting is a light fixture that’s installed into the hollow area of a ceiling. And to be completely forthright, getting the layout of your recessed lighting just right will take a bit of research and simple calculation on your part.

Start By Defining Your Goal

Before you start, you need to define what goal you have in mind for your recessed lighting. For example, you will need to determine whether you want to highlight specific items in the room to create a visual focal point. Or perhaps you simply want to incorporate lighting to brighten the entire room with warm light.

The overarching goal of your lighting will determine the layout style and individual calculations that you will use. Here are three primary types of lighting goals that will likely alter the layout calculations that you use:

1. Ambient Lighting:

Ambient lighting is used to illuminate your entire room. It should offer a comfortable, evenly dispersed glow without being overpowering in its brightness. Ambient lighting generally begins with a lighting source in the centre of the room that you can then use to evenly space your recessed lighting around.

2. Accent Lighting:

Accent lighting can be used to highlight a specific item or wall. For example, you might want accent lighting to illuminate that gorgeous piece of abstract expressionist fine art you recently purchased with a wall-wash of light.

3. Task Lighting:

Task lighting is used in areas where you work so that you can reduce eye strain. For example, you might want to install recessed lights under your kitchen cabinets or a decorative stove hood. After all, you want to be able to fully see what you’re doing as you prep that balsamic-tinged chicken Caprese dish.

Sketch the Room:

Once you fully understand the goal of the recessed lighting, it’s time to start sketching out the room and the rough layout on paper.  This sketch will serve as a rough guide for you. Use graph paper to make your sketch more accurate, and be sure to take measurements with your trusty measuring tape. Then, use a scale on your graph paper so that you understand the actual dimensions.

Make certain to take plenty of time as you sketch your room and its major contents. During these planning stages, accuracy is highly important. It’s helpful to make several photocopies of your sketch. This can aid you by allowing you to sketch several different patterns without having to take measurements of your room each time.

Recessed Lighting Layout Formulas:

The following formulas and rules of thumb are keys to getting your layout right:

Ceiling Height Formula: Taking stock of your ceiling height is important for a well-lit room. It can provide you with a solid understanding of both the number of lights and how far apart to space them. Take the height of your ceiling and divide it in half.

For instance, if you have a 10-foot ceiling, you will want to space your light fixtures approximately five feet apart. This will give you a baseline idea. However, you can make adjustments based on the decor of your room and its general brightness and place your lights a bit closer together or further apart, accordingly.

Distance Between Lights:

Recessed Lighting

This is one consideration where the goal of your lighting becomes important:

1. Ambient Lighting:

To determine the distance between your recessed lights when you plan to provide ambient lighting in a room, you will first need to determine the length of the room (L) and the total number of lights per row that you need to illuminate it (N). You will then divide the room length by the total number of lights per row (L / N) to obtain the exact distance between the lights in the row. You should then complete the same steps for the width of the room (Wd).

Wattage: To determine the wattage that you will need to light your entire room, you can use this general formula: Length x Width x 1.5 = Wattage (W). So, for a room that is 15 feet long by 10 feet wide, the total wattage needed would be 15 x 10 x 1.5 = 225 watts.

For a room this size, the number of bulbs that you will use will depend on the wattage of the bulbs you choose. If you will be choosing 40-watt bulbs, you would need six bulbs so that you have at least 225 watts lighting up your room (6 x 40 = 240). In this case, A five-bulb layout would not sufficiently light your room at only 200 watts.

Length of the Room: For the length of the room, the 6 total lights need can be broken out into two rows of 3 lights. With this lighting layout, the distance formula for your 15 x 10 room would look like this:

15 (length) / 3 (total lights per row) = 5 feet between lights along the length of the room.

Distance from the Walls: Now, to get the distance from the wall, you can divide the length between the lights in half, which would equal 5 feet / 2 = 2.5 feet.

Width of the Room: You would then apply the formula to the width of the room. This would be Width / Number of lights in the row or 10 feet / 2 lights = 5 feet between lights across the width of the room. As before, the distance from the wall would be 2.5 feet.

2. Task Lighting:

If your goal is to use your recessed lights as task lighting, you will use the same formula as for ambient lighting unless your task area is close to a wall. If it is, measure the distance from the ceiling to the surface that you want to illuminate rather than to the floor. Then, divide this distance by four to determine how far away from the wall to place your lights.

3. Accent Lighting:

If you plan to illuminate an entire wall or accent particular architectural features or pieces of art, the rule of thumb is to place your recessed light fixtures between 1.5 feet and 3 feet from the wall. If your fixtures are fixed, they should be placed a bit closer to the wall. If they are adjustable, it is fine for you to place them a bit further from the wall. From there, the individual fixtures should be spaced evenly from each other.

A Few More Tips on Recessed Lighting:

Dimmers work great:

Don’t overlook your dimmers. Dimmers allow you to choose the amount of light in the room to match the mood that you are trying to create at a given time. When you use dimmers, you also have the added benefit of extending the life of each bulb since you are using less energy when the lights are dimmed.

Be Mindful of Your Shadows In the Corners:

Make certain that you will not accidentally create shadows in the corners of your room when you plan your recessed lighting layout. If your corners are shadowy, it can make your ceiling look as if it is lower. This can detract from the visual spaciousness of your room and in turn, can even detract from your home’s value. This is why using the formula to space out your lights from the walls is essential.

Match the Trim Style with the Room’s Decor:

You should choose the trim style for your recessed lighting that complements your room’s decor. If you want a refined appearance with some versatility for your decor style, perhaps consider a trim style in an alabaster hue. Perhaps you are looking for adjustable recessed lights.

You might consider a stamped metal fixture that looks terrific as an accent light on wooden ceilings, in offices or in other places where you seek an elegant touch. This versatile lighting option can be used nearly anywhere, including in showers. It can even be used on concrete ceilings, where traditional recessed lighting is not recommended due to structural considerations of the building. The look and feel of the trim need to be as per your tastes. 

Adding recessed lighting to your home can help to create the ambience and beauty you’ve been looking for in your room. As long as you plan, recessed lighting will be the perfect addition to your overall lighting design. Now that you know how to choose your recessed lighting, it’s time to pick them. 

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