Recessed lighting fixtures are light fixtures that are installed in the ceiling to provide task, accent, ambient, and wall washing lighting effects. They aren’t as decorative or expensive as chandeliers or pendants and aren’t as complex as track lighting -- but they can still be a difficult topic because they require knowledge of how your house was built. Our guide will help you to understand the basics of recessed fixtures and what they’re commonly used for.

The Parts of Recessed Downlighting

Unlike other fixtures, recessed lighting requires you to purchase multiple pieces and put them together to make the finished product. Juno Lighting offers many recessed lighting options to choose from, such as high end Aculux recessed lights or their standard recessed lighting. Hinkley Lighting manufactures a variety of complementing light fixtures that will assist in light layering.

The different components of recessed light fixtures are:


Recessed Lighting Housing or Can (technically known as a "rough-in"). It includes:

  • The housing itself
  • A mounting frame to hold the fixture
  • Mounting bars that extend to the wood frame

Recessed Lighting Trim (technically known as a "finishing") includes:

  • The trim itself
  • A trim ring
  • Optics (includes reflectors, baffles, diffusers, eyeballs, lenses, and finish insets)
  • A light bulb (technically called a "lamp", not to be confused with a table lamp).


Housing Size and Placement

You will need to know the size of the can lighting housing needed to fit into your ceiling. Inside the ceiling are pieces of wood or steel known as joists – the can recessed lights will mount between them. Joists are comparable to studs in the wall, except they are laid horizontally. If you find you do not have enough space in the ceiling you may have to install flush mount lights instead.

The height distance between your ceiling and the roof interior (upper floor) that sits between these joists is called the plenum. The depth of this plenum determines the size of the housing or can that you can install in that space.

Standard Measurements:

  • The average home uses ceiling joists that range from 2x4 to 2x12 inches. The width of the board determines the height of the ceiling.
  • Joists have a standard spacing of 16-24 inches, regardless of their size or length. This means when you find one, you should be able to find the rest easily with a stud finder.
  • Most residential downlights top out at 7 ½” deep, meaning they will generally fit.
  • Shallow recessed lighting is available if you don’t have much room. Most shallow recessed light fixtures are only 5” deep or less.
  • There are deep housings available if you have extra room. The benefit to deep housings is that they produce less glare, but will not fit in 2x8 construction.


IC Rated vs. NON-IC Rated Fixtures

Recessed downlights that are installed in an insulated ceiling must be able to withstand the heat that the insulation causes. IC Rated recessed fixtures are UL Listed specifically for this type of application. The drawback to IC Rated recessed lights is that the light source is located

closer to the trim, increasing the glare. Manufacturers will limit the wattage that can be used in IC Rated recessed fixtures. A way to avoid glare would be to use a fixture such as a pendant or chandelier paired with a dimmer instead of can lighting. Non-IC Rated recessed light fixtures

are generally preferred if your ceiling is not insulated.

Some downlights are listed for both IC and Non-IC use, but with different wattages or bulbs. Some manufacturers offer a standard and premium IC line: the premium line may offer more options at the drawback of requiring more plenum room.

Insulated Ceiling Diagram

Note: If you live in Florida, you must use IC Rated new construction housings and IC Rated remodel housings.


Sloped Ceilings

There are special considerations if you are installing recessed lighting on a sloped or cathedral ceiling:

  • You need to know the slope or pitch of the ceiling – use our slope calculator to get that number.
  • Fixtures installed on a sloped ceiling should use a special sloped ceiling recessed lighting housing so the beam of light shines straight down.
  • The housing should be longer on one side to fit the slope (resembling a flour scoop) and is sometimes called a “shovel cut” can.


New Construction vs. Remodel

The process for installing specific types of fixtures is different. For example, installing semi flush lights

does not require cutting into the ceiling if a junction box exists. Recessed fixtures can be different depending on when you install the fixtures – during construction or after.

To install a new construction fixture you’ll need to screw or nail the fixture’s frame to the ceiling joists. You can add new construction fixtures to your home if you are able to access the space above the ceiling where the fixture will be located. These fixtures are less expensive than remodel fixtures and have a larger variety of trim options.

Installing a remodel can requires pushing metal clips through the housing onto the top of the ceiling drywall or plaster. Hanger bars are not included with remodel cans.


Lighting Effects

Knowing which of the main lighting types you would like your recessed downlights to

accomplish will help you choose the fixture you need.

Ambient Lighting - Provides overall general light for work, play, socializing, security and everyday tasks. These recessed fixtures should produce a wide beam of

light on lower ceilings. A narrow beam of light does a better job of delivering light if on a high ceiling.

The most appropriate trims for ambient lighting:

  • Standard Open Trims
  • Premium Baffles
  • Premium Deep Baffles
  • Standard Baffles
  • WETlites

Task Lighting - Provides a smaller more concentrated light in one area. Recessed downlighting can provide effective task lighting in kitchens, bathrooms, offices,

peninsulas, and utility work spaces. When installing recessed lighting fixtures in damp or wet spaces (such as a bathroom or outdoor area), use a special sealed trim to avoid water damage. Try to avoid creating shadows with fixture placement. Using outdoor light fixtures with your recessed fixtures that mount to the wall of the ceiling can eliminate shadows. 3 inch recessed lighting is the most standard for task lighting, with an aperture of 3 inches a light beam can be concentrated in one area.

The most appropriate trims for task lighting:

  • Standard Open Trims
  • Premium Baffles
  • Premium Deep Baffles
  • Standard Baffles
  • WETlites

Accent Lighting - Provides a very concentrated light with the intention of drawing the eye to its focal point. Recessed lighting fixtures can be an effective way to

highlight artwork, pictures, sculptures, or prominent architecture.

The most appropriate trims for accent lighting:

  • Premium Open Eyeball
  • Premium Baffle Eyeball
  • Premium Adjustable Cone
  • Premium Adjustable Baffle
  • Premium Pinhole


If you want a 30 degree aiming angle for your light and are unsure how far away to place the light, use this formula:

D = H x .5774

D = Depth (distance from wall to center of luminaire)

H = Height (distance from ceiling to aiming point)

Typically aim 1/3 down from the top of the object

Example: Aiming point is 4.5’ from the ceiling. D = 4.5 x .5774 = 2.6’

Wall Washing - Makes a room feel larger by lighting vertical surfaces or walls. Wall washing is done properly by spreading light out evenly over the surface using a

special wall wash trim.

The most appropriate trims for wall washing:

  • Premium Eyelid Wall Wash
  • Premium Eyelid Wall Wash with Baffle


Del Mar Fans & Lighting can help you find the recessed lighting you need – give us a call if you have any questions (800) 724-5501 or leave a comment below!