Spacing Recessed Lights

Spacing Recessed LightsWhen it comes to spacing recessed lights, it can be a challenge determining exactly how you want the room to look. First things first, you’ll have to decide what jobs the lights are needed for in the room, and where shadows are unacceptable. Also, before actually installing the lights, determine whether you need a permit before you can continue with the electrical work. Finally, remember that insulation must be at least 3” away from any recessed lights, in order to avoid fire from overheating.

Spacing Techniques

Here are a few different options for recessed light spacing, according to what job the lights are intended to perform:

    - Down Lighting: This technique is for flooding the room with light, making recessed lights into the primary light source for the room. Down lights do just what their name suggests – project light downward. Due to the shape of the bulb and recess, the light will descend in a cone-shape, and with multiple lights, the cones should overlap for the most efficient use of lighting.

    - Grazing: Similar to wall washing as described below, grazing is when you highlight a wall with a specifically intriguing texture that you want to display prominently – such as a brick fireplace.

    - Highlighting: Recessed lights used for highlighting have little to do with lighting a room, and lots to do with directing attention toward a piece or artwork or furniture in the room. Subtle, but effective.

    - Wall Washing: One wall of your room is completely lit, usually highlighting one or more features on a specific wall, and adding minimal additional ambient light to the entire room.

Spacing Technicalities

If you’re using only down lighting to provide light to the whole room, place a light at least once every 25 square feet of floor. These lights should be around 6 feet apart for maximum coverage, and you’re also going to need at least 7” of space above the ceiling for the recessed light holders.

In addition, locate your ceiling joists before you install. The fewer joists that you have to run wiring through, the easier the project is for you – space the recessed lights between the same two joists, if at all possible.

For wall washing, determine your spacing by dividing the length of the wall by the recommended wattage spacing: 100W is 2 feet, 150W is 4 feet, and 150W “R” is 3 feet. Then, install your recessed wall washing lights the same distance from the wall as the number you received from the equation.

The key is making sure the lights are evenly dispersed along the wall, lest one side receive more lighting than another. Grazing would be done in basically the same way.

Highlighting: Depending on the side of bulb you’ve chosen, you’ll place the light either 2 or 3 feet from the wall. This choice might also depend on the subject you’ve chosen to highlight, since different objects will need different lighting choices. Most 50W and 75W bulbs should be placed 2 feet away from the wall, while various kinds of 25W, 50W, and 75W should be placed 3 feet away – you’re probably best off checking the instructions on this one, since it varies according to brand.

photo of Denver Art Museum by Ishmael Orendain
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