How to Determine What Size Recessed Lighting to Use


Recessed lighting is meant to enhance the decor in a room, not be part of it. In other words, recessed lighting differs from other lighting forms such as chandeliers or lamps, which are chosen to add to a room's accents. There is no magic formula to determine the proper size for recessed lighting. Factor that will help you determine size include how many units you want to install and the role the lighting will play. For example, are you adding supplemental accent lights or using recessed lighting as the main luminescence source? Once you create a lighting plan, you can better determine the size of recessed lighting that will best fit your needs.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Sketch out a diagram of the room you are lighting and measure the length of each wall. Write this information down on your diagram.

  • Measure the height of the ceiling and make notes about the style. For example, is the ceiling flat or sloped?

  • Estimate how many lights you want along each wall. A small wall in an alcove may require only one light. A wall in a living room will need more units. Note these numbers on your diagram. Assume each light will be between 5 to 6 feet apart.

  • Mark any features in the room that require focused lighting such as artwork or seating arrangements.

  • Carry the diagram with you to lighting or home improvement stores. Look through the styles of recessed lights available and select what you want for your decor. Use the installation instructions on the product to determine proper apertures for your needs. Aperture is the size of the opening in the light fixture. High ceilings require larger apertures than low ceilings. Some styles of lights have reflective trim and use varying sizing standards. Choosing the style of light you want first will help you select the proper size.

  • Purchase a sample light of your favorite style and install it. Once you are satisfied with the size and effect of the light, you can buy enough for the entire space or project.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid placing lights directly over seating areas. Place lights slightly behind sofas and chairs.
  • Spotlight feature accents, such as artwork, in a room by focusing two recessed lights on the piece.
  • Rooms with insulation in the ceiling require lights that have an IC, or insulated ceiling, rating.

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