How to Choose Recessed Lighting

There are two main components to recessed lighting: the housing and the trim. While choosing the right trim is largely based on your personal taste, choosing the right housing can be a little more technical. You might find that you have a few questions for your electrican on choosing the right one. Having an understanding of the different elements and components involved is the key to getting the right recessed light:

Choosing the Housing

Remodel or New Construction

In order to choose the correct recessed lighting housing, you will need to know whether to use a remodel or new construction style housing. Although these terms seem straightforward, they are somewhat of a misnomer.

New Construction housings are appropriate when you have accessible space around where the light is going to be placed. These are used when:

  • You are building in a new space where you have full access to the wall/ceiling/floor without sheet rock or plaster hindering your access to beams, etc.
  • You have access to the space due to an overhead attic, a pop out ceiling panel, etc.

The reason you need all this space is because new construction housings are bulkier and are installed in between joist beams or onto hanger bars from T-Bar or drop ceilings.

Remodel housings are less bulky and appropriate when you have limited or no access to the space above the new fixture. This is common in apartments or homes without crawl spaces or attics. Remember, even though Remodel housings are less bulky, it does not mean that you won't have to remove sheetrock or make holes in your ceiling to accommodate your new lighting plan.

IC or Non-IC Rated

IC Rated vs. Non IC Rated

Understanding whether you need IC or Non-IC rated components is the other critical aspect to choosing the right housing. An IC, or insulation contact, rating means that the fixture can come in direct contract with thermal insulation.

Non-IC, or non insulation contact, rating means that the fixture can't come in direct contact with thermal insulation and should be kept at least 3 inches from any insulation.

Line or Low Voltage

The final technical component of choosing recessed lighting is to determine whether you want line or low voltage. Line voltage operates directly off of the normal household 120 volt current. No transformer or special modern-dimmers are needed. Line voltage is recommended when you have high ceilings and/or the need to provide general illumination to a room, as you can use up to a 150W bulb.

Low voltage recessed lighting is a more energy efficient alternative that uses a 12 volt current instead of a 120 volt current. A special transformer is needed to reduce the voltage and special modern-dimmers are required if you want a dimming feature. Low voltage is recommended when you want to create high contrast and/or are using the recessed lights as a form of task or accent lighting.

Choosing the Trim

Trim Size

Trim Sizes

The trim is the visible part of the light, therefore it should reflect your style and the application for which it is gong to be used. First you need to pick the size. Recessed lighting trims come in multiple sizes ranging from 1" to 6" in diameter. The size of the trim is a personal preference; however, larger sized trims are able to produce broader amounts of light. Obviously, smaller trims are less conspicuous and are hence often seen to be more modern and architecturally desirable. Again, while the trim size can be based on your aesthetic, some common applications include:

  • 6" trims are still the mainstay for general residential downlight and wall wash illumination, due to their ability to accommodate a wide range of lamps, wattages, and efficient optics.
  • 5" trims have become popular for task lighting and even general lighting in smaller scale settings.
  • 4" line voltage trims are useful for task and accent lighting with short throw distances and/or lower light level requirements, such as over a bar or counter.
  • 4" low voltage MR16 trims have become the choice for inconspicuous yet powerful precision accent lighting.

Trim Style

After you have decided on the size, it is important to understand the style of trim you want. The appropriate style is largely based on the application and the desired effect you are going for:

  • Baffle Trims are the most popular choice of all recessed lighting trims. They are the perfect choice for use in living spaces such as living rooms, dining rooms, dens, bedrooms, etc. These trims feature large uniform grooves which are designed to absorb excess light. Baffles help to reduce glare and are typically offered in two color choices, black or white. Black baffles reduce the most amount of glare from the bulb, while white baffles help to reduce or eliminate the appearance of dark holes in the ceiling.
  • Reflector Trims are the preferred choice for use in kitchens, very high ceilings and commercial applications. Reflector trims use a highly polished smooth interior trim to maximize the amount of light produced from the bulb. These trims are available with multiple tints which can aid in either obscuring the bulb from view, or warming the room.
  • Adjustable Trims are used in a variety of applications. They can be used in general lighting, task lighting, accent lighting and wall washing. These types of trims allow the bulb to "float" in the housing and give the user the ability to position the bulb to reach a desired area. A benefit to using adjustable trims is that the housing can be installed off center and the trim can compensate for the housings position and still accomplish the desired lighting technique.
  • Lensed Trims are designed to protect the bulb and the interior of the housing from moisture or taking direct hits of water. They are the preferred choice for use in bathrooms, showers, eave lighting and in closets.
  • Wall Washed Trims are combinations of a directional reflector and a light "scoop" direct light toward the wall. Most scoop wall washers utilize A-lamp or CFL lamps. Higher wattage commercial style scoop wall washers utilize R/BR Lamps. Scoop wall wash trims are generally spaced 20"- 30" from the wall and 20"- 30" apart.
  • Decorative Trims have become very popular over the last few years. They combine the ability to provide a pleasing look on the ceiling while utilizing a powerful and efficient low voltage halogen bulb.

Note: Not all trim sizes and styles work with all housings. Therefore, it is important to understand the type of housing you need before falling in love with a certain trim. Similarly, some trims are suited or line voltage and some low voltage; therefore, make sure you understand all of your other constraints before picking your trim.

If you still have questions, visit our Recessed Lighting FAQ or talk to one of our lighting experts by calling 866 428 9289. We would be glad to help you find the right recessed lighting.