Recessed Lighting 101: Proper Recessed Lighting Layouts

Recessed lighting can breathe new life into a space. Poor lighting can make a room feel cramped and closed off while high-quality and well-designed lighting can make your room feel open and beautiful. However, recessed lighting is a pretty big project that requires careful consideration and planning, and there may be no bigger step in the planning process than determining your lighting layout.

How many lights do you need? Where should you place them? We’ll answer these questions and more in this blog.

What Type of Lights Are You Using?

Not all recessed lights are created equal, and establishing what type of lights you wish to use is a crucial first step in creating an effective and beautiful layout.

There are a few things to consider when choosing the lights you wish to use:

  • Beam angle: Every recessed lighting fixture projects light downward in the shape of a cone. Some cones are ultra-wide and cover an expansive area, while others are more focused into a defined circle. Generally, for ambient lighting, you’ll want a pretty wide angle of at least 100 degrees. However, with more fixtures, you may want to reduce the beam angle with a baffle.
  • Brightness: How much light your fixtures emit is also a pretty important consideration. Ultra-bright fixtures will produce more light, but higher intensity isn’t always best. For living rooms and bedrooms, you may not want as intense of a light as you might want in a space like a garage or kitchen.
  • Light temperature: LED lighting has made a variety of different light colors possible. Brighter, daylight-type whites are great for workspaces and rooms with certain color palates. Softer, more golden-yellow whites are typically better for spaces with warmer color palates and spaces where light intensity is a concern. Ideally, buying fixtures that allow you to set the light temperature will help you solve this concern during the installation process.
  • Ceiling height: Higher ceilings need larger fixtures to produce more light. Lower ceilings can use smaller lights to avoid over-lighting the space. As a general rule of thumb, if your ceiling is over 10 feet tall, you should be using six-inch fixtures. Ten feet and shorter can use four or five-inch fixtures, but bear in mind you will need to install more of them to produce the same amount of illumination.

How Many Fixtures Should I Buy?

When it comes to recessed lighting, you’ll want to find the right balance. Not enough light can be disastrous—leaving dark shadows along walls and in corners creates a visual effect that can make your room feel smaller and your ceiling lower, giving an overall sensation of a cramped space. It can also create weird shadows or odd spotlighting on various points in your room. And to make matters even more difficult, rectifying bad recessed lighting can involve having to move or relocate lights, and that could mean significant amounts of drywall patching and painting as well as removing or relocating electrical wires.

Too much light is slightly less of a problem. You can always back off on the amount of light you have by buying dimmable fixtures and a dimmer switch—something we tend to advise for bedrooms and living areas, where you may not always want the full brunt of what your lights can deliver. However, there is also such a thing as installing too many fixtures as well—it’s a waste of money and can cause uncomfortable eye strain. Ideally, you want the cone of light from each fixture to lightly overlap for evenly distributed light and no odd shadows, so your layout should attempt to accommodate this.

An Easy Formula

Here’s an easy way to figure out what your layout should look like (and allow you to draw it on paper for a better visual reference). If you’re planning on utilizing fairly standard recessed lighting fixtures (six-inch fixtures with standard ~120 degree beam angles), then take the height of your ceiling and divide it in half. That should be the distance between fixtures.

Second, take that value and divide it in half again, and that will tell you how far away your edge fixtures need to be from the closest wall. Ideally, your fixture shouldn’t be more than three feet away from the wall, but that isn’t always the case. Just make sure you don’t go closer than around two feet or you’re going to start running into issues with wall washing and reflectivity.

Looking for professional help with installing high-quality light fixtures in your home? Turn to the pros at Lightning Bug Electric! Dial (404) 471-3847 today.