Track Lighting Primer
Four Steps to Designing a Track Lighting Installation:
Step 1 – Pick a Track Standard
Step 2 – Layout and Power
Step 3 – Choose Your Lamps
Step 4 – Pick Your Bulbs
Step 1: Pick a Track Standard
The foundation of any track lighting system is the track itself. The track is the part that attaches to the ceiling or wall and it’s what the light fixtures are affixed to. It’s important to keep in mind that not all track lights (fixtures) fit all track types. There are three standards and a bunch of proprietary systems. The three standards were developed by the early manufacturers of track lighting (Halo, Juno and Lightolier), and we carry fixtures that are compatible with all three systems. We refer to each by the first letter of each company’s name; if you already have track lighting installed, here’s a picture to help you figure out what you have. There are other track systems out there that are not compatible with the above standards; these tend to be the cheap systems of flimsy construction that are carried by the home improvement chains. Besides the low quality of the manufacturing, these track lighting systems defeat the purpose of track lighting by taking away the flexibility: once you buy a proprietary system, you are forever restricted to track light fixtures made by the same company. To avoid problems, we recommend you pick one of the standards, H, J, or L, and stick with it. You will ALWAYS need to buy fixtures and accessories that are of the same standard.
Step 2: Layout and Power
After you’ve decided where you want to install track lighting, there are a range of track lengths and connectors at your disposal to let you create the ideal layout (see more information on connectors below); once you have the parts, you’ll find that they connect easily, kind of like an erector set. One of the most important considerations is the need to bring electrical power to your track lighting. There are two main methods: a power supply attached to a junction box or a power cord from the track to a standard electrical outlet. In order to connect the track to the junction box with a connector, you can either use a Floating Canopy Connector (if you need power anywhere along the length of the track, excluding the ends) or a Live End Connector (if you need power at an end of the track). You may need to use a Canopy Plate to completely cover the junction box underneath the Live End Connector. Using either a Floating Canopy Connector or a Live End Connector will create the finished designer look that you seek in professionally-designed interiors. However, if you do not have an existing junction box in your ceiling, you will need the services of an electrician to position one for you. If you want an easier approach, you can also use a Plug and Cord Set [for L-series][for H- and J-series] to connect a Live End Connector to a plug on a wall. Make sure that you use the right Plug Set and remember that you will still need a Live End Connector. The corded solution may not look as clean as a junction box connection, but you will not need an electrician to install it.
Step 3: Choose Your Lamps
After you have decided between, L, H, or J and have designed your track layout, you will need to make sure that you buy track fixtures that fit your track. Track fixtures come in two main types: low voltage and line voltage. Line voltage is the raw voltage that you will find in standard outlets and junction boxes - 120 volts in the US. Low Voltage Fixtures, which consume less electricity and provide a whiter light than Line Voltage Fixtures, use 12 volt power and therefore require a transformer to convert the raw 120V to the desired 12V. This transformer is a rectangular block about 4" long that serves as both the base of the fixture and the connection to the track, and comes as an integral part of any Low Voltage Track Fixture we sell. Since the conversion from 120V to 12V happens on the fixture itself, the track remains at the line voltage, meaning you could theoretically have both Low Voltage and Line Voltage fixtures on the same track, though few people choose to do this. You can have a large number of fixtures on a track; this number is dictated by the total wattage of the fixtures you plan to use and you can find the formula at answer 34 of our Frequently Asked Questions.
Step 4: Pick Your Bulbs
Bulbs differ in the diameter and brightness of the light that they create. There are spot lights which create a focused bright light for illuminating specific things or places such as a picture, piece of art or workspace. Many Low Voltage Fixtures use MR 16 and MR 11 bulbs. We provide a description of the beam angle produced by each bulb in order for you to determine which bulb you want. Large beam angles (25 and up) are floods. Smaller beam angles (under 25) are spots. Combining floods and spots enables you to light both specific objects and general areas from the same track. The Line Voltage Fixtures use a variety of bulbs; however, we don’t carry these bulbs because we consider them too fragile to ship.
That’s all you need to put together a professional track lighting set-up. There are numerous ways that you can now modify or accessorize your track lighting. Here are some ideas:
Track Suspension Kits – These kits allow you to hang the track from the ceiling. This looks great in exposed high ceiling environments like lofts or creative spaces.
Connectors – You can connect tracks together into straight lines, ninety-degree turns or any angle for that matter. You can create closed loops and boxes without short circuits by using dead connectors.
Special Lenses – You can use special lenses to change the shape of the light (honeycomb louver, spread lens, beam elongating lens) or the color (color lenses, color dichroic lenses).
Feel free to ask us any questions. You can find general track lighting installation instructions on the Internet at sites such as this one; however, we cannot be responsible for the accuracy of their content. If in doubt, we always recommend you consult a qualified electrician.