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Installing Recessed LED downlighting

Posted by Arturs Smits, Guest Columnist

Jan 11, 2017 11:37:37 AM

Home lighting design isn’t only to help you decide on what lighting will look good in your home. Good home lighting will also guarantee that you have functional and efficient lighting. And one of the best lighting type, that will ensure that you have bright as well as money-friendly lighting, is LED downlights, because they offer a rare mix of aestheticism, minimalism and simplicity, without being very expensive.

What is recessed lighting?


Recessed lighting is a type of light fixture that is installed into some kind of surface, for example ceilings or a wall, instead of mounted onto the surface like regular lighting fixtures. They are highly effective, practical and elegant lighting solution, that can be used both as ambient and as accent lighting. Recessed light fixtures usually consist of three parts:

  • Housing - the invisible part of the fixtures, that is mounted into the surface.
  • Trim - the visible part of the downlight, that peaks out of the surface.
  • Light source – the light bulb.

Downlight housing types and how they differ from each other?

The main part of a downlight is the housing. There are different downlight housing types which generally are divided into four categories, based on what type of ceiling you have and how the dowlights will be installed into the ceiling:

  • Insulation contact (IC) rated new construction housings – housings, where the fixtures are mounted to the ceiling supports before ceiling itself is installed, in a way so they have direct contact with the insulation.
  • Non-IC rated new construction housings – housings, that are also mounted to the ceiling supports before the ceiling installation. But there needs to be a minimum of 3 inch gap between the metal and the ceiling insulation, because the housing cannot come into contact  with the insulation.
  • IC rated remodel housings – housings, that usually are used in situations, when the ceiling is already installed and the light fixtures will have direct contact with the insulation.
  • Non-IC rated remodel housings – housings, that are also used when the ceiling is already in place, but you know that the insulation won’t have direct contact with the housing.

How recessed LED downlights differ from others?

The main difference between LED downlights and other types of lighting, for example fluorescent light fixtures or solar food lights, is that recessed LED downlights are much more energy efficient than others lamps. The reason behind this is that LED bulbs, which are installed into the recessed downlights, consume a lot less energy than a non-LED bulbs would, while still providing bright, illuminating light. Four example, a 100-watt incandescent bulb and 8-watt LED bulb will give out the same amount of light, but the wattage for the LED bulb is visibly lower, making it more efficient. On top of that, LED downlights also have much longer lifespan, meaning, that you will have to replace the bulbs less often. And LED bulbs also run cool, which is great if you install the downlights into the walls, because even if you accidentally touch the recessed light, there is no chance that you will get burned by it.

How much can you expect to save from installing LED downlights?

The savings from installing LED downlights over other type of recessed lighting will differ from household to household, because we each have different number of lights and different bulbs installed. But on average, a household that previously used incandescent bulbs, but now switched to LED downlights, can expect to consume up to 80 percent less energy, than they did previously. However, if you went from florescent to LED bulbs, then your money savings will be about 40 percent of your monthly energy energy consumption. And if you take into the account the fact, that you will also be able to save money on the bulbs themselves, because you will have to replace them once every 5 to 7 years, then I think it is enough to at least think about taking the plunge and changing the bulbs in your downlight fixtures.

How to install LED downlighting?

If you already have traditional downlight fixtures installed and you want to switch to LED bulbs, then there are three ways how you can achieve this:

  1. You can just switch existing light bulbs for LED bulbs that have the appropriate socket. However, simply switching the bulbs probably is not the best solution, because LED light bulbs and conventional recessed can lights are not always compatible, and the LED bulbs can cause a short circuit in your downlight fixtures.
  2. You can also use LED retrofit modules to adapt your existing housings, so LED bulbs fit in them. This is a better choice, but it is not as easy to do. To adapt your recessed lighting fixtures, you will need to attach the fixture's base adapter to an existing socket and fix the bulb in place with clips.
  3. And you can also install completely new LED housings and trims, that are made to fit LED bulbs. This will visually look the best out of all three options and will ensure that everything functions perfectly, but it will also coast the most.

LED recessed lighting installation tips for builders

LED recessed lighting installation itself is not that complicated, especially for experienced builders, but there are some things that should be taken into consideration before you install LED downlights:

  • When you are figuring out which bulbs to get, so your house is illuminated properly, remember that LED bulbs use low watt count while being very bright. So choose the LED bulbs by looking at their lumen output not wattage, because this way you will see how bright the bulbs will be and therefore will choose the right bulbs for the illumination level you want.
  • Choose your LED downlights wisely to make sure you purchase fixtures that are the right type, size and shape for your home.
  • Turn off the power and find the wall studs before you start doing anything, because this will ensure that you don’t accidentally get shocked by electricity and that you attach your lights to something sturdy.
  • Drill the holes for the recessed lighting using the appropriate tool to ensure easy and visually pleasing installation. Drywall circle cutter will be your best bet, because it will ensure perfect-looking result, while being the easiest and safest way to install downlights.
  • Trim the casings of the wires when you are connecting them to the transformer.

Installing recessed LED downlighting might turn out to be the best solution for your home lighting problems. It takes time, knowledge, skill and money to install recessed LED downlights, but it will definitely pay off in the long run, because you will have efficient, bright and aesthetic lamps to fill your home with light.

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