How Far from a Wall to Install Can Lights to Light a Picture

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Can lights, also known as recessed lights, are used for many different purposes, including lighting entryways and hallways, providing task lighting in the kitchen and spotlighting a picture on the wall. For this final purpose, proper placement of a can light is necessary for a visually pleasing appearance. Learn how far from a wall to install recessed lighting so that your picture is properly lit from the best angle.

Select the Housing

The can light’s housing contains the electrical components of the light and is hidden in the ceiling behind the bulb. There are two kinds of housings to choose from: a new-construction housing for insulated or uninsulated ceilings and a remodel housing for insulated or uninsulated ceilings. In a home being built, use the new-construction housing for your can light. For a renovation with an existing ceiling, use the remodel housing for easier installation below a finished ceiling. An insulated ceiling (IC) rating is required for housings used on the top floor where the ceiling is often blanketed with insulation. Uninsulated housings can be used on the first floor or in the basement where this isn’t the case.

Select Aperture Size

This indicates the diameter of the can light’s opening. You can find can lights with apertures ranging from 4 to 6 inches. A larger aperture spreads the light onto a larger surface, while a smaller aperture targets the light more directly onto the object at which it's aimed.

Choose the Trim

This is the decorative ring around the can light opening. Your choice is based on personal preference, but there are three that are most appropriate for accent lighting. An "open eyeball" trim can be aimed at a specific object, such as your picture, which gives you more flexibility as to where the light can be installed to illuminate the artwork. It’s the least expensive eyeball trim option. A "baffle eyeball" trim can also be adjusted, but it features grooves to minimize glare on the surface illuminated by the light. An "adjustable cone" trim can be aimed, and the walls of the can light are cone-shaped to reduce glare.

Set Up the Correct Angle

The ideal angle to light a picture on the wall is 30 degrees, meaning if you tilt an eyeball or adjustable can light 30 degrees to the right or left, it lights up the picture at eye level. To calculate the appropriate distance from the wall to install the can light, multiply the distance from the ceiling to the center of the picture by 0.5774. For example, if the center of the picture is 4½ feet from the ceiling, multiply 4.5 feet by 0.5774 to get 2.6 feet. This is the distance from the wall you should install your can light to properly light the picture.

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