Figure 5-29: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Guide to Clearance Distances & Housing Types for Recessed Lights

  • RECESSED LIGHT HOUSINGS GUIDE - CONTENTS: types of recessed light (pot lights) housings & their applications, clearance or spacing distances, codes; Spacing Guidelines for Recessed Light Fixtures. Recessed Lighting Fixture Trims. Industry & Trade Associations for Lighting and Other Interior Components in buildings
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about recessed light housing & trim types
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Recessed light housing types & applications:

Here we explain the different types of recessed lighting fixtrures and their fixture trims. We provide a table of recessed light housing types and their recommended uses. We name, define, and explain the different types of recessed light housing trims.

This article series details guidelines for selecting and installing interior lighting to meet the requirements for different building areas.

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Guide to Recessed Light Housings

Figure 5-29: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

[Click to enlarge any image]

This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons. O

Also see LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE our home page for information about all lighting topics relating to building interior

Typical residential recessed lights come in 4- to 7-inch diameters and can take a variety of different trims that significantly affect light output and glare.

For general lighting, a 5- to 7-inch diameter housing is commonly used. For accent lights, smaller 4-inch housings are available for both line-voltage and low-voltage figures. Special recessed housings are also available for compact fluorescents, sloped ceilings, and retrofit installations.

Standard recessed housings must be left uninsulated above. For insulated ceilings, use a can rated IC for “insulation contact.”

Recessed Light housing label  (C) D Friedman

Also make sure the housing is rated “airtight,” which is not true of all IC units. Air leaks through recessed lights can be a significant source of heat loss and moisture problems in cathedral ceilings.

ur photo (left) gives details of information provided on the label of an IC/non-IC recessed light housing.

Recessed Lighting Fixture Trims

Figure 5-28: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

The common black or white step baffles are designed for use with a PAR or BR lamp, although homeowners often put in the less expensive A19 bulbs.

Baffles reduce glare, but also cut light output by 50% or more for A lamps and up to 40% for directional lamps. Black baffles cut light output significantly more than white (Figure 5-28).

Figure 5-29: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

For maximum light output from a recessed lighting fixture, use a clear or gold specular reflector, also known as Alzak trim.

To reduce glare, which can be a problem with these highly efficient reflectors, it is best to use a deep-profile Alzak trim, offered by most recessed lighting manufacturers.

These work well with standard A19 bulbs as well as BR lamps (Figure 5-29). Gold Alzak is about 10% less efficient than the clear style.

Figure 5-30: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

For accent lighting, eyeballs and similar adjustable trims allow the homeowner to direct the light to the artwork or architectural feature being lit (Figure 5-30).

These are typically used with a narrow spot to provide bright focused light on a small area.

Slotted wall wash trim is used to splash diffused light on broad areas of wall or bookcases.

Nondirectional A lamps or compact fluorescents work well in this application. General recommendations for recessed lighting bulb wattage or bulb type and fixtrure spacing are given in Table 5-25.

Table 5-25: Recessed Lighting Recommendations: Bulb Sizes, Fixture Spacing (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Spacing Guidelines for Light Fixtures

The general rule for ambient or task lighting is to space recessed ceiling fixtures approximately the same distance apart as the beam spread at the work height, typically assumed to be 30 inches above the floor (36 inches for kitchen counters). The beam spread is the central cone of light, where the beam is at least 50% of the brightness at the center of the beam.

Most manufacturers publish beam spread data for their recessed lights with different trim options. Beam spreads and lighting levels for some common fixtures and lamps are shown in Table 5-26.

Table 5-26: Performance of common Recessed Lighting Fixtures (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Table 5-26.

Details about recessed light clearances to insulation or combustibles are at RECESSED LIGHT CLEARANCES

For ambient lighting, choose a compact fluorescent, A lamp, or wide flood with a beam angle of at least 50 degrees. Typical spacing for ambient lighting with recessed lights is 6 to 7 1/2 feet for an 8-foot ceiling, or 7 to 8 1/2 feet for a 9-foot ceiling. Spacing from the first row of lights to the wall is half this distance.

For accent lighting, space recessed or track fixtures so their light hits the wall at about 30 degrees. For lighting a large wall area, the distance between fixtures should be equal to or less than their distance from the wall (see Figure 5-23).

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Figure 5-23

Watch out: Check with local code officials in your own jurisdiction for specific lighting and electrical safety requirements.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

American Lighting Association

Recessed Lighting Articles


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