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How to Choose the Right Recessed Lighting

Hello everyone,


Today I'd like to go over on of the best ways to illuminate inside (and sometimes outside) your home by way of using recessed lighting. Also known as can lighting, this type of lighting fixture is always a perennial favorite with customers and contractors. Whether you are in the market for a new home, or you just want to update your lighting with remodeling, using recessed lighting is really the way to go. This kind of lighting is popular due to the fact that the fixtures are recessed, or installed into the ceiling and not surface mounted, leaving you with a clean and sharp light without seeing the entire fixture.


You can install recessed lights in all rooms of your home, giving the exact lighting you need for any given space.

Recessed Lighting from The Home Depot


The purpose of this post is to inform you of 4 key takeaways that will get you started when it comes to choosing recessed can lights:


  1. How to Identify and Plan Your Lighting Application
  2. How to Select Your Housing (Can) Type
  3. Selecting Your Housing (Can) Size
  4. Selecting Your Trim

Keep in mind that when it comes to choosing and installing your new recessed lighting, always refer to your local electrical codes and consult a licensed local electrician in your area for any specific wiring questions. Even before you get to the planning stage of wiring up your lights, always make sure that you turn power off at the circuit panel when working with any electrical job. 

turn off power at main circuit panel


While this can be a simple DIY project, The Home Depot can install recessed lighting for you if you feel you can't tackle this project by yourself. Our licensed and insured electricians can do any electrical job in and outside your home.

Electrical Services by The Home Depot


With that said...lets get started!


1. How to Identify and Plan Your Lighting Application


One of the benefits of recessed lighting is the versatility that it can bring to illuminating an area. Chandeliers can bring a nice focal point to a dining room or entrance to a home, and shoplights can give great task lights,  but recessed can lights are able to do all this and much more.


When it comes to planning out where you want your recessed lights to go, you'll also need to consider how and why you want those areas to be lit. For example, you'll need a much more open light to give proper illumination for a kitchen, but it would be too much for a fireplace that you just want to highlight. 


Therefore, I've broken down the 4 main ways you can approach planning out the kind of lighting you'll need for your home:


  1. General- This kind of lighting gives uniform light patterns that are bright and comfortable, you could call this really your 'everyday' light. Examples: living room/den/family room/hallway/stairs
  2. Accent- When you want to draw attention to an object or design element. Examples: Bookcase/entertainment center/artwork
  3. Task- The 'working-with-you' light as I like to call it; used to accomplish a specific task. Examples: kitchen island/bathroom counter/above the stove
  4. Wall Wash- use this kind of light when you want to emphasize vertical surfaces. Examples: above fireplaces and wall hangings

Having knowledge of the kinds of lighting applications for your home, its time to plan out where and how many recessed lights you'd like to install. The basic rule of thumb I have traditionally seen is placing recessed lights no greater than 6 feet apart. They key thing at this stage is the visual planning. Take note of where on the ceilings you'd want the future fixtures to be, and be aware of how you are going to get accessibility to power up everything



proper spacing of recessed lighting

At this stage in planning, you'll most likely need to consider how much electrical wire you'll need for the job, as well as installing dimmers to control your lights. Always pay close attention to amperages and wattages when it comes to adding or doing new work in your home, preventing any overloads on a circuit. Be sure to add up all the lights total wattage and always have the proper wire, connections, and fasteners for the installation to be effective and safe. By identifying and planning out where your recessed lights are going to be, you are ready for the next step.


2. How to Select Your Housing (Can) Type


At this stage, you'll need to ask yourself 2 questions when it comes to putting in recessed lights. 



1. Do you have ceiling access? 

If you do have access to the ceiling, if its exposed joists or you get to it from the attic above, you can use new construction housing. This kind of recessed lighting housing is installed by nailing in the adjustable brackets provided with the fixture. A few of our in-stock recessed housings have features such as nails already on the brackets and wire holders that securely hold the electrical cable in place even after the install is done. Shown in an Air-Tite model below, this is a very efficient light housing.

New Construction Recessed Housing


If you do not have access to the ceiling, the drywall or another substrate is already there, you can use remodeling housing. This kind of fixture works by cutting a hole in the ceiling (template is provided w/ housing).

Remodeling Recessed Housing

In between floors usually calls for 8 inches of clearance space, so make sure your recessed fixture will accommodate this. To check the height of your clearance, you can cut a hole in the ceiling and measure it with a piece of wire. If you have less than 8 inch height, be sure to purchase low clearance aka shallow housing. Also, you'll need to make sure the fixture has proper clearing between the joists, so tracking down where they are with a stud finder will assist you greatly in the install. After getting your remodeling housing, affix the template to the ceiling with tape, so you can see exactly where you are cutting.


Next, carefully cut the outline of the template, either with a drywall saw or a hole-cutting saw. No matter which option you choose, be sure not to cut over the manufacturers instructions, as this could lead to the fixture not mounting properly.

2 options to cut into a ceiling

You will need to cut holes into the joists to accommodate the wires to run through it. At this stage, working with a long flex bit helps you to not have to cut additional holes into your ceiling for the electrical work.


Give yourself a little over an extra foot of wire to allow for easy connections and afterwards you simply snap in the housing with the clips located on the bottom of the can, shown in the remodeling housing above. It provides a very firm and secure install. 


Keep in mind that with either type of housing, that it is up to you if you would like to purchase the trims together all at once, or at a later date. Some kits do have the trim and light bulbs included, but its something to consider.


2.   Will the housing be in direct contact with insulation?

 be sure to find out if your ceiling has insulation in it

While you may not know the answer to this if you don't have ceiling access, going with a IC (Insulation Contact) Housing is a safe bet over the NON-IC (Non-Insulation Contact) version. In fact, our stores mainly carry IC-rated and Air-Tite can types. While you may not need Air-Tite or a IC rated housing, it can and will help you in the long run.


While IC refers to rating of the housing having insulation touching it, Air-Tite refers to a design element that prevents airflow between the attic and existing living spaces. When you do decide to purchase recessed lighting, be sure to check on the housing whether it says IC-rated (usually a solid aluminum silver finish; an all white finish usually denotes its NON-IC rated) and that is Air-Tite. You'll need to purchase Air-Tite trims to go along with your can housing to ensure no drafts (heat/air loss) will occur, thereby saving on your energy bill!



3. Selecting Your Housing (Can) Size


Once you've established where and what kind of housing type you'll need, now you can decide on what size housing you'd like to get. This is the part of the process where it comes down to personal preference, so I'll break each of the 4 most common sizes we sell. recessed housing sizes


Be aware when choosing recessed housings, that some are sold with the trim and housing sold together in a kit. Also, consider purchasing a kit that contains both the trim and housing together. If it is the trim you like, this can save you time and money when it comes to installing new lights.


4. Selecting Your Trim


We're almost done! Depending on what kind of trim you buy will depend on how it is installed. For most 4-6 inch housings, the trims are installed 2 ways, either by a coil spring or by squeezable rod springs, shown below.

springs on recessed trims

If you are in the middle of construction work in the room where the trims are going to be placed, I'd highly recommend to install the trims after all drywall and painting has been completed. In fact, most housings have a red cap that allows for paint overspray. 


In terms of the trim to use will depend on what we discussed in part; your lighting application. Below are the most common ones found at your local store.

trim selections

Now that you've picked out the light, you will now need to pick out the correct light bulb. Depending on what size housing and trim you purchased will determine the kind of bulb you'll need. Luckily, there is always a listed sticker on the trim as well as the housing to eliminate any guesswork when it comes to wattages and sizes of the light bulb to get. Never exceed your wattage or put in another shape bulb that is not shown on the fixture sticker, failure to do so can lead to a fire hazard.

different trims require different bulbs


Lastly, consider another trim that I haven't mentioned yet. It is less than a year old on our shelves, but its already making a big impact in the industry. That would be using an LED 9.5 Watt Downlight replacement trim. It replaces or can be used as a 6" trim, but this has the LED light already included. It lasts 35,000 hours and is great for areas that are very high or inaccessible to change out the bulbs every time they go out. Compare that to incandescent recessed lighting bulbs that last only 3000 hours! Only this kind of trim/light alongside the shower lens trim are the only 2 that are rated for exterior use, as the gasket inside the trim will block any moisture from coming in. Below are some specs as well as a link that will take you to a demonstration video showing the features of this amazing product.

EcoSmart LED Downlight



And there you have it, how to successfully choose the right recessed lighting for your home. Hopefully with this information, this has assisted you in making the best choice for your lights in and outside of your home.



Not what you were looking for ? Try posting a question
Posted 2012-03-19T20:07:23+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL Joseph_HD_ATL

A few questions about EcoSmart 9.5 watt downlight kit for recessed lighting housings:

  1. What is the equivalent/comparable incandescent wattage?
  2. What color temperature choices are available?
  3. Are these lamps dimmable with a conventional dimmer?
  4. There is no heat insulation involved in this proejct, but is there a good reason to use an airtight  housing instead of a non-ic housing?
  5. What trim diamters are available?  Large project.   I need 6 in or 5 in, plus 3 inch and 4 inch
Posted 2013-06-20T05:06:27+0000  by Bibbilator

Hello Bibbilator,


Thanks for your questions and for joining us here on the community!


I will attempt to answer your questions regarding EcoSmart LED downlight kits for recessed lighting in the manner you asked them.


  1. What is the equivalent/comparable incandescent wattage?

No matter which housing diameter you pick, all with be a 65 watt equivalent. Equally important as that, these do come in various color temperatures and sizes, which leads to....



2.   What color temperature choices are available?


So far only two. In all sizes, we carry the lower (and warmer) 2700K temperature soft white. Click below for more information.

6 in. 9.5-Watt (65W) Soft White (2700K) LED Downlight (E)*

We also carry the higher (and brighter) 5000K daylight version. Click on the image below for more information.

6 in. 9.5-Watt (65W) Daylight (5000K) LED Flood Light Bulb Downlight (E)*


Depending on what lighting needs and preference you have will determine which color to choose.



3. Are these lamps dimmable with a conventional dimmer?


No, at least in the sense of a dimmer that is rated only for incandescent/halogen bulbs.


However, newer dimmers are in our stores and out on the market today that are made for incandescent as well as LED and CFL lighting. Make sure the new dimmer you buy is capable of this, as the fixtures are fully dimmable.


One dimmer that is rated for LED bulbs is linked and shown below.

Lutron Maestro 150-Watt Single Pole / 3-Way or Multi-Location Digital CFL LED Dimmer - White

4.     There is no heat insulation involved in this project, but is there a good reason to use an airtight housing instead of a non-ic housing?


Theres always a good reason to have an airtight housing versus a non-ic housing. They eliminate drafts and help with your heating bill, plus non-ic recessed housings aren't even commonly sold nowadays.


That's not to say that you may have it already in your ceiling. With the gasket seal that comes with each trim housing, this actually gives you draft protection in case you don't have airtight housing. In either case, using these trim fixtures are a win-win situation for stopping drafts.



5.  What trim diameters are available?  Large project.   I need 6 in or 5 in, plus 3 inch and 4 inch


It looks like a big project want all the sizes we carry!


The EcoSmart line of LED downlights at this time are only available in the 6 inch (linked above) and 4 inch housings (shown and linked below).


EcoSmart 4 in. 9.5-Watt (65W) Soft White (2700K) LED Downlight with GU24 Base (E)*

At this time, the only 5 inch recessed trims we carry are in our in-house brand, Commercial Electric.

 hese come in the same appearance and color temperature as the EcoSmart line. However, our 6 inch recessed white LED retrofit trim (shown below) can fit into 5 inch housings as well.

Commercial Electric 6 in. Recessed White LED Retrofit Trim


Lastly, we have a video on our EcoSmart line of LED downlights in a short video below.

Let me know if you have any additional questions,



Posted 2013-06-29T22:46:51+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL
New construction recessed lighting switches. We set all of our switch boxes to accommodate two switches. In the double gang box we have a switch for the fan and the other switch is for the recessed lights. This switch for the recessed lights is a double stacked switch with dual dimmers model lutron maestro ma-L3L3. This stacked dimmer is made for incandescent and halogen lights. I am looking for the same style stacked dual dimmer switch that will accommodate led bulbs.

Please try to find something for me.. Thanks.
Posted 2013-12-07T15:00:26+0000  by farmhouse2

Hey farmhouse2,


Thank you for joining us here on the community!


I searched our site and our manufacturer of some of our dimmers, Lutron, and came up only with what you have now by way of stacked dimmers. (shown and linked below)


You say that you have a double gang box for your recessed lights and fan. Unless you want your fan to have separate controls for fan and lights, you can opt for using a single LED rated dimmer for one gang and the other just as a switch for the fan (since you can't 'dim' a fan motor with a light).


I checked around other sites and this is the only option that I saw that can work for you. The other option you can do is to take out the existing junction 2 gang box and replace it with a 3 gang version.

3-Gang 35 cu. in. Switch and Outlet Box

I realize this is more work than was intended, but if you want 3 dimmers (one for fan motor, fan lights, recessed lights), this is the only option that would work for what is available out there now.


You'd have 2 switches/dimmers and one Maestro single pole; allowing you to dim the recessed lights and keep your separate controls for your fan and its light.


That's not to say that the industry will soon have a stackable dimmer for LED lights; I just haven't seen one in my store or online.


Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns.



Posted 2013-12-07T15:55:27+0000  by Joseph_HD_ATL
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