Installing Recessed Lighting in an Existing Ceiling

Recessed lights fill a wide range of needs and work out of sight. They discreetly become part of the ceiling while contributing a major and necessary element to the room. This simple, functional elegance makes recessed lighting a popular choice.
Before you select lights, decide the part they will play in the room. General lighting provides diffused light to a broad area of a room. Task lighting is directed at an area where defined tasks are performed: for example, cooking, reading or using a computer. Accent lighting is focused on a specific object, such as artwork or a bookcase. "Wall washers" do just what their name implies: they wash a wall with light. They're usually grouped and arranged to create patterns on the wall. If your lighting needs are complex in a given room, consider combinations of any of the above.
Once you determine the part each light will play, read the boxes in which it's packed to see what kind of trim piece the light has. The trim piece helps determine the type of light provided by the fixture. Trim options include baffles (to minimize glare), reflectors (to maximize light output) and eyeballs (to direct light toward a specific point).
When purchasing lights, note that there are two distinct types: new construction (when you have access to the open ceiling) and remodeling (when you must install fixtures through a finished ceiling). Both types come in diameters of 4", 5" and 6" (four, five and six inches) and can be installed in either suspended or drywall ceilings.





Step 1

Step 1: Drill a hole and poke a bent wire to make sure the hole is entirely between joists

Option A

Cut the hole. Lightly mark all light locations. Use a stud finder to make sure they do not overlap a joist. Or, drill a hole and poke a bent wire up into it to make sure the hole is entirely between joists. Use the template provided with the light to draw a circle on the ceiling. Draw and cut each hole precisely. If it is even a little too big, the can may not clamp tightly. Wearing safety glasses, cut the line lightly with a utility knife; then cut along the inside of the knife line with a drywall saw. Take care not to snag any wires that may be in the ceiling cavity.


Step 2

Step 2: Use hole-cutting saw to save time and cut holes precisely

Option B

Use a Hole-Cutting Saw. This tool saves time and cuts holes precisely. You don't have to draw the outline of the hole on the ceiling; just mark the center point. Check to see that you will not run into a joist. Check that the lights fit snugly without having to be forced into place. Note: This tool is costly (the saw and the arbor are sold separately), but it's worth the price if you have more than six holes to cut through plaster. A less-expensive tool (inset) is available for cutting through drywall only.


Step 3

Step 3: Run cable from a power source to a switch box and then to the first hole

Rough-In the Wiring


Run cable from a power source to a switch box and then to the first hole, allowing at least 16 inches of extra cable to make wiring easy. Work carefully, and use a drill with a long bit to avoid cutting additional access holes that will need patching later.


Step 4

Step 4: Wire the light

Wire the Light


Open the light's junction box. Usually, there's a plate that pops off. Run cable into the box and clamp it. Strip insulation and make wire splices-black to black, white to white and ground to ground. Fold the wires into the box, and replace the cover.


Step 5

Step 5: Mount the light

Mount the Light


Most remodel cans have four clips that clamp the can to the ceiling by pushing down on the top of the drywall or plaster. Pull the clips in so they do not protrude outside the can. Slip the can's box into the hole, then push the can body up into the hole until its flange is tight to the ceiling. With your thumb or a screwdriver, push each clip up and outward until it clicks and clamps the fixture.


Step 6

Step 6: Mount the trim with coil springs or squeezable rod springs

Add the Trim


Most trims are mounted with coil springs or squeezable rod springs (as shown). If you have coil springs, hook each spring to its assigned hole inside the can (if it is not already there). Pull out each spring, and hook it to the trim; then carefully guide the trim into position. If you have rod springs, squeeze and insert both ends of each spring into their assigned holes. Push the trim up.