Installing Recessed Lighting

A kitchen with recessed lighting.
What You'll Need
Stud finder
Recessed lighting fixture
Drywall saw
Cable clamp
Drywall circle cutter
Twist-on wire connectors
Adjustable wire stripper
Long-nose pliers

Recessed lights will do wonders for any place you want good lighting and an uncluttered look. They can brighten dark corners, highlight art, or turn your dining room table into a dramatic setting. Unlike track lights, recessed lights are inconspicuous until you turn them on.

Nowadays, you have an array of recessed lighting styles to choose from. These styles are available in both low voltage (small but bright halogen bulb) and line voltage (traditional reflector bulb) verions.

Should You Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?

Installing recessed fixtures yourself is not too difficult of an undertaking. It is the easiest if you have dropped ceilings or access from above (from the attic, for example). The job is a bit trickier when you don't have access, but fortunately, most manufacturers offer special "remodeling" fixtures, also called "cut-in cans." These tools are rated for safe contact with insulation (indicated by the letters "IC"). They are the best kind to use if you will be putting your fixtures in from below, regardless of whether or not there is insulation.

Before you make your decision you will need to take into consideration the proximity to power. If there's already a ceiling box where you want to place your fixtures, simply disconnect the wires from the box and reattach them to the cut-in can. (Cut-in cans come prewired to their own junction boxes.) As you will see below, you simply cut a circular hole into the ceiling, attach the lead wires to the junction box, and slide the fixture up into the ceiling until the fixture's mounting clips catch. With a power source in the ceiling and a switch in the wall, you are ready to proceed.

If there is not an electrical outlet handy, you may want to hire an electrician to run wire to the new fixture. Take a look at How to Fish Electrical Cables to see if this it is something you can do on your own. With a little spunk, you can save a bundle and have the satisfaction of doing it yourself.


Ensure that you are buying an insulation-contact (IC) rated fixture. This is important because when insulation touches an improperly rated recessed light it can start a fire. If you run cable into a new junction box and to the new light from there, the junction box must be in an accessible place (usually the attic or basement) and cannot be covered with drywall or the like.

Step 1 — Turn off the Power

Make sure the power to the room in which you will be working is off to avoid injury and damaging circuitry.

Step 2 — Cut an Opening

Use the electronic stud finder to locate ceiling joists. Trace the outline of the fixture onto the ceiling. Then, with a tarp beneath, use a drywall saw to cut the opening (or enlarge an existing opening) for the recessed light between the joists. A jigsaw with a plaster-cutting blade will make the job easier, but be careful not to cut through existing cables hidden in the ceiling.

Another handy tool, especially if you are putting in several recessed lights, is a drywall circle cutter. It is precise and easy to use.

Step 3 — Wire the Light

Insert the electrical cable into the fixture's junction box and fasten it with a cable clamp. Strip the wires as needed, then splice them to the fixture wires with twist-on wire connectors. Connect the fixture's black wire to the black house wire, then the white to the white, and the ground to the ground (it is the green or bare wire). Stuff the wires into the box and fasten its cover.

Step 4 — Install the Fixture Housing

Step 4 — Install the Fixture Housing

Rotate the fixture housing into place in the ceiling until the mounting tabs engage the ceiling and the fixture is secure. Because the housing and its integral junction box are lightweight, there is no need to secure the junction box to a joist.

Step 5 — Install Inner Baffle and Trim

Step 5 — Install Inner Baffle and Trim

Once the housing clips are snug, attach the inner baffle and any other trim to the fixture housing according to manufacturer's instructions. The baffle is typical of recessed fixtures, and it attaches with springs.You are all set to install the bulb and restore power to the room.

Congratulations on successfully installing your new recessed lighting!

Congratulations on successfully installing your new recessed lighting!

Content provided by Ylighting