How to Install Recessed Lighting

recessed lighting installed along edge of ceiling
What You'll Need
Circuit tester
Stud finder
Drywall saw or hole-cutting saw
Recessed-lighting fixture
Fish tape

Recessed lighting is a chic, modern alternative to traditional lighting. With a wide variety of housing and trim options to choose from, recessed lighting can meet almost any lighting need in your home. This type of lighting can serve as the main light source in the living room, or as spot lighting in the kitchen over work areas.

It works for accent lighting, ambient lighting, and wall washing — a technique that diffuses light over an area to draw attention to it. However, because recessed lighting is set into the ceiling, you can't install it as you would regular lighting. Instead, follow the steps below to get started.

Step 1 – Choose Your Fixture

Which fixture you choose will depend a lot on where you will be installing it. There are two basic types: “new-construction” and “remodel" lighting.

Choosing Your Model

Use a new-construction option if you have access to the space above the ceiling, such as an attic. Use a remodel option if you don’t have access to the space above. For example, if you’re installing the fixture into a ceiling between stories, you should use a remodel type, as the housing on remodel fixtures is typically more compact for fitting into these areas.

Choosing an IC Fixture

In addition, you should consider whether the fixture housing will be exposed to insulation. If there is insulation within 3 inches of the housing, choose an insulation-contact rated fixture, or an IC fixture.

Choosing Trim

There are many different trim options. The trim is the part of the fixture visible from below, which surrounds the light bulb. Some trims are more for design, and others are more for function.

A baffler trim is the most common. This type has grooves that reduce glare, and it’s best for general lighting. A reflector trim is smooth, polished, and metallic, and, as its name implies, reflects light to make it more intense. These types work well in kitchens. Adjustable, or “eyeball” trim, allows you to pivot the bulb in a chosen direction, which makes it ideal for spot or accent lighting.

Step 2 – Turn off the Electricity

Before installing, make sure the electricity is turned off. Check it with a circuit tester to be sure.

Step 3 – Select a Location

Next, select a location unobstructed by ceiling joists or other impediments. You can use a stud finder to make sure. However, some heavier new-construction fixtures should be attached to joists or onto hanging bars. If this is the case, follow the manufacture’s instructions.

Step 4 – Cut the Hole

Use the template supplied with your fixture to trace its outline on the ceiling. Then, cut the hole precisely, using a drywall saw or a hole-cutting saw.

Step 5 – Run the Wires

Next, install the recessed-lighting wiring system. Run new cable from the power source and the switch box to the new hole. If you’re installing the light into an attic space, this part is fairly easy. If you’re installing it between stories, however, you will have to fish the wire through the walls and ceiling.

Allow about 1 1/2 feet of extra cable length to hang from the hole. Then, wire the new fixture’s junction box to the cable. Wire all black wires together, all white wires together, and all ground wires together. Use wiring connectors to cap the connections.

Step 6 – Secure the Outer Housing

Insert the outer housing, called the “can,” into the hole and secure according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Most remodel types have clips inside the can that bend in to hold the housing above the ceiling drywall.

Step 7 – Secure the Body

Insert the body of the light and the trim, and screw in the lightbulb. Repeat these steps for each fixture. After all the fixtures are installed, restore power and test out your new recessed lighting system.