The more recessed lights you install, the longer the project will take.
Consider letting a pro with all the equipment handle this one.
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What you'll need:
Drywall jab saw
Hole saw (optional)
Recessed light fixtures
Installing recessed lighting is an easy way to light up a room without disturbing the overall aesthetic. Recessed lights are found in many contemporary homes because they are nearly invisible and fit with the minimal home essence.
If you have the DIY chops and experience working with low-voltage electrical, use this guide on how to install recessed lighting to improve the lighting in your space.
Prepping to Install Recessed Lighting
Recessed lighting (aka can lights or pot lights) are lights that sit nearly flush with the ceiling. They’re a great choice because they work well with all home decor styles, from modern to mid-century.
But before you can get started with installation, you need to prep for this project.
Take Safety Precautions
First and foremost, safety should be the number one concern during this electrical project. Be sure to shut off your circuit breaker and test the circuit you will be working on with a voltage tester before proceeding.
Wear breathing protection when cutting drywall or working above ceilings in the attic. Additionally, watch out for roofing nails and be careful walking on joists and rafters while in the attic.
Select Your Lighting Fixture
Multiple types of recessed light fixtures are available—select either old-work or remodel recessed lights. These types can be installed in an existing ceiling and do not have to attach to the ceiling joists but rather to the drywall, unlike new-construction recessed lights.
Additionally, choose IC-rated recessed lights if your ceiling contains insulation. Non-IC-rated recessed lights have a minimum clearance requirement that insulation interferes with.
Check Your Electrical Circuits
You will need to evaluate the electrical circuits available for powering your recessed light. If there is a ceiling light or fan near where you are installing your recessed light, you can likely use the power available at this existing circuit. Otherwise, you will need to run a new electrical circuit from the service panel to a switch that will operate your recessed lights.
Plan the Lighting Layout
Finally, plan the layout for your new light fixtures before getting started—are you starting from scratch or replacing old light fixtures with new?
Evaluate how many recessed light fixtures you want to install, their size, and how far apart they should be from each other. You should install more lights overall if they are your main light source and fewer lights if they are simply meant for task or accent lighting.
Cut Holes in the Ceiling
Most often, new recessed light fixtures come with a paper template to use as a guide for cutting holes in your ceiling. Use this template to mark the location and size of your recessed light fixture on your ceiling drywall. Before cutting, carefully consider the chosen light location and confirm no wires or pipes are hidden inside.
Put on eye and respiratory protection. Using a drywall jab saw, cut along the marked circle to create a hole in your ceiling for the light. If you are installing more than just a few recessed lights, you could also use a power drill with a hole saw attachment for a faster, more accurate cut.
Rough-In the Electrical Wiring
Make sure the circuit breaker powering the wiring to your recessed light is switched off so you can begin to rough-in the new wiring. Before proceeding, test that there is no active current to the circuit with a voltage tester.
If you are using power from an existing light fixture, open that light’s junction box, attach your new wiring, and run it through the ceiling to your new fixture location. You will need to fish the wiring through the ceiling with a rod or access the wiring from above in the attic.
If you are using new wiring run from your electrical service panel, run the wiring from the switch to your new light fixture location. In both cases, dangle about 16 inches of excess wiring from the cut ceiling hole for the new light. If installing multiple recessed lights, continue wiring through your ceiling to each light hole.
Connect the Wires to the Recessed Light
Photo: yunava1 / Adobe Stock
Using wire strippers, take off around 4 inches of cable sheathing from the excess wire dangling from the light hole. Also, strip off the coating from each exposed wire inside the sheathing. Grab your recessed light fixture and pull the power wires into the junction box—clamp them in.
Connect each of the power wires to the coordinating wire in the light’s junction box with UL-approved wire connectors—black to black, white to white, and ground to ground. The grounding wire might be a bare copper wire or have green insulation. Once the wires are all connected, carefully fold the wires into the junction box and install the cover.
Mount the Light Housing in the Ceiling Hole
Most recessed light fixtures use a set of four clips around the perimeter of the can that clamp to the ceiling drywall. Place the recessed light fixture into the ceiling hole so these clips attach to the inside top of the drywall. You may need to push each clip up and outward with your thumb until it clicks. The fixture should fit snugly into the hole—not too tight, not too loose.
Install the Light Fixture Trim
Once the light fixture is firmly in place, install the provided trim around the perimeter. The trim will likely use either coil springs or rod springs. For coil springs, hook each spring to the coordinating hole inside the light can.
For rod springs, squeeze and insert each spring into the coordinating hole inside the light can. Push the trim into position around the perimeter of the fixture.
Wire the Light Circuit to the Service Panel
If you used a new circuit to power your recessed lights, you will now need to run the wire from the switch to the service panel. Pull the cable into the service panel and attach it to the right-sized circuit breaker. Most often, a 15 amp breaker is the appropriate size. Place the circuit breaker into an available slot in the service panel.
Install the Bulb and Test the Light
Photo: camstockphotos / Adobe Stock
Install the appropriate light bulb into the finished recessed light fixture socket. Use the manufacturer’s recommended wattage and do not exceed the wattage of the circuit.
Now that everything is wired, turn on your circuit breaker and test that the recessed lights work properly. If the lights do not work or you encounter any other issues during this project, contact a local electrician to finish the task.
DIY Recessed Lighting Installation vs. Hiring a Pro
If you have the skills to complete canned light installation yourself, you will save money on the labor—professional electricians cost between $85 to $105 per hour. Before starting this DIY project, be sure you have the right electrical tools on hand like hole saws, wire strippers, and voltage testers.
Working with electricity requires an unwavering focus on safety and professional electrical skills. Pulling cables through ceilings and walls and attaching wires to fixtures and breakers can be difficult, if not impossible, for most homeowners.
You will pay between $100 and $480 per light fixture for the cost of recessed lighting installed by a professional electrician; however, you will enjoy peace of mind that your lights are correctly and safely installed.