Size of Recessed Lighting Throughout the House

sthomas6978November 9, 2011

We are in the process of building our new home. My brother who is an Electrician, suggested we install 6 inch recessed lighting throughout the house because of the 10-13 foot ceiling heights. He says, in most homes that his company does electrical wiring they are installing 6 inch lighting instead of the 5 and 4 inch. It gives off more lighting for houses with tall ceilings. What do you think? I value the members of this site opinions!

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renovator8

There are many issues to consider when choosing a recessed fixture and the ceiling height is just one of them. If that were the only criteria considered, I would recommend smaller diameter line voltage fixtures spaced closer together. Low voltage MR16 fixtures would work best for wall and work-surface lighting. IMHO 6" recessed fixtures would be more appropriate for a low ceiling.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 3:49PM
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athensmomof3

We did 5" closer together, but also eliminated them in lots of rooms (mainly in kitchen, playrooms, hallways, laundry, etc.). 6" is really big - I wouldn't want a house full of them. We did do them on our screened porch because we needed sloped cans and this is the size they come in, as well as in our craft room for the same reason (plus we wanted ample light and didn't really care about aesthetics in the craft room).

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 4:29PM
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eoz3106

Perhaps it's regional, but in Houston new construction I only see 6".

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 5:02PM
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mojomom

We replaced the ceiling in our den a couple of years ago and reconfigured our lighting plan using 4 inch scattered strategically. We also wired them so that we could use them in sets. We're using the three light set over my couch and DH's chair right now, but when we want more light we can turn on the other set. Love 'em. The den has 8' ceiling, the rest of the house has 9'. We have six inch in the great room added in the 90s and while I'm not planning to replace them, I'm not crazy about them either.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2011 at 8:32PM
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Uitvlugt

While 6" can give off more light, I think from an aesthetic standpoint they are a bit unattractive. I think a greater number of 4" would look better than fewer of the bulky 6". It really is personal choice though, but bear in mind it is hard to change once you decide and you have them installed and everything is finished.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 10:21AM
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athensmomof3

I think it may be regional but also may be cost driven. More 4s and 5s cost less than fewer 6s. I subscribe to Cote de Texas blog and she features a lot of Houston houses that have smaller lights. In a spec house, you are more likely to see 6" cans around here. In a higher end custom home, 5s and 4s are the rule (although 4s really are pretty small - the 5s we have installed in our house don't look very big and they don't have the trim on yet).

We also did 6" can fans in the bathrooms and had to really think about where to put them in relation to the 5" cans if they were sharing a ceiling because they are so much bigger. We opted for different fans in a couple of bathrooms because the can fans couldn't be hidden well enough to make the lights peacefully coexist :)

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 10:49AM
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worthy

In the late '80s and early '90s, I built homes with up to 120 8" pot lights designed for 100 watt bulbs. Talk about dated!

I never see anything bigger than 4" in new homes. And I bet when LED prices become more competitive, those fixtures will be similarly outdated. (Or maybe they'll be "vintage" by then and the retro rage will be to make your ceilings look Swiss cheese.)

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 11:54AM
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david_cary

Definitely regional. I don't think I have seen much other than 6 inch around here.

I've had 4 inches - I did it in a kitchen remodel before building. What a pain. The lights burned out more frequently - there were more of them. The bulbs were $7 a piece. There was nothing particularly efficient about them.

Recessed lighting is by nature inefficient. Finding efficient bulbs for a 4 inch can is possible but costs more for the same lumens and higher lumens are not available.

With a 6 inch can, you can spend $1 on a cheap CFL or you can go all the way to a $60 LED. You won't have those options with a 4 inch.

No doubt, 4 inch cans are slicker and prettier than a 6 inch can. The best answer is usually no can at all. What I have a hard time with is paying a lot more (in many ways) for a 4 inch can .... when it is still a can.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 2:05PM
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renovator8

"With a 6 inch can, you can spend $1 on a cheap CFL or you can go all the way to a $60 LED. You won't have those options with a 4 inch"

Why can't you use a 4" CFL or a 4" LED recessed fixture?

Some homeowners still like the 5" fixtures in certain locations but I haven't run into one who wanted a 6" fixture since the 70's.

For those who don't want to replace their 6" fixtures, I have added a "cross-blade" trim to reduce the visibility and glare of the lamp. It also helps to use PAR lamps that are less likely to project below the surface of the ceiling. The trim also helps to light the walls which I think is usually a better solution than straight downlighting.

I would not use a 6" fixture in a kitchen where shadowless task lighting is so important. I did use a 6" cross-blade in a pantry once.

Here is a link that might be useful: cross-blade trim

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 3:30PM
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david_cary

You can use a 4 in CFL fixture but with a conventional 6 inch fixture, you can go to any big box store and buy a CFL bulb that you can use. With a conventional 4 inch CFL fixture, your options are limited.

I don't believe the 4 inch CFL fixtures look "normal" but 6 inch flood bulbs that look normal are available. Also you aren't committing to a technology with a 6 inch fixture so you can swap out the CFL's if you don't like the light.

There is no question that 6 inches are the most widely available and as such have the most options and are the most economical.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2011 at 5:13PM
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renovator8

I don't recommend CFL retrofit lamps in recessed lighting fixtures in 10 to 13 ft height ceilings. The light quality would be poor and the savings minimal.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 7:01AM
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PRO
Epiarch Designs

and I don't recommend can lights in general. Unless they are sealed and boxed around, which about no one does. The amount of heat loss around them is incredible. Whenever possible, I go with a 4" box that is caulked from above. An air tight can can work as long as it is sealed around the gyp as well. I prefer to create a plywood or gyp box above them in the attic that is easily taped up/sealed. Also does not allow any insulation to touch them and all of the wiring is safe inside.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 9:23AM
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wirenut37

6" cans are cheaper, thats why you see them in all the spec houses. I install a lot of recessed lights and prefer the 5" cans for general lighting. They take the same lamp as the 6" but less gap around the lamp. Save the 3" / 4" for accent lighting. I generally stay away from low voltage lighting indoors (when I can). They run hot, burn out quicker, sockets can burn out/get brittle over time.
Good Luck! -Chris

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 11:41PM
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renovator8

I agree about 5" recessed lights but to say that low voltage lamps burn out sooner than line voltage lamps in recessed fixtures is incorrect.

A line voltage 75w. PAR 30 lamp usually has an advertised average life of 2,500 hours and a low voltage 50w. MR16 lamp has an advertised average life of 10,000 or 18,000 hours (more expensive).

A long life MR16 commonly lasts 10 years in normal use. Buying the lamps at Home Depot often shortens their life to a few months or a few years. You get what you pay for.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 7:30AM
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stinkytiger

Hi,

I am all for the modern look. So I prefer a clean almost unnoticable lighting look. It is expensive tough. If I could afford it I would for a MR16 low voltage even for high ceilings. Depending on the beam spread you can get good coverage. Also note that you may need more MR16 units to get the required lumens, and step down transformers and dimmers (low voltage) for all those lamp sources.

The advantage of this is you get a very clean ceiling look, especially during daylight hours when the lights are off.

I also think lighting should be subtle and hidden sources can give dramatic effects. For example see the link of a hotel (full disclosure my brother built this one). In many areas the lighting is nice because it accentuates the architecture, rather than the lights themselves.

So in a nutshell I think small is nicer. BUT it is more expensive, and running costs and maintence costs are higher.

Best, Mike.

Here is a link that might be useful: lighting examples

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 8:21AM
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renovator8

Because of the power loss of the transformer low voltage lamps have a lower luminous efficacy than line voltage lamps. So you would think more fixtures would be required to achieve the same amount of lumens on a floor or work surface.

But, because the filament in a low-voltage lamp is small and can fit better in a small integral multifaceted reflector the lamp offers much better optical control of the light. Because the highly focused light loses less light to the field beyond the light beam, often fewer fixtures are needed to achieve the desired lighting level.

However, few designers actually consider the lumens needed for a space or task and install too many low voltage fixtures and the homeowner simply uses a dimmer to lower the output. Using a dimmer extends the life of the already long-life low voltage lamps but the lamps should be run at full output every so often.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 9:36AM
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david_cary

"I don't recommend CFL retrofit lamps in recessed lighting fixtures in 10 to 13 ft height ceilings. The light quality would be poor and the savings minimal."

I have CFL lamps in 10 ft ceilings and I think they look fine and so is the light quality. To say that CFL savings are minimal is absurd. Recessed lighting is the most inefficient so that is where CFLs can help the most. Using dimmers is also a significant waste of electricity as is low voltage lighting. Lots of pretty stuff but a total energy hog.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 4:27PM
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renovator8

Dimmers reduce the use of electricity for incandescent lamps and extends their life.

The efficiency of screw-in CFL's in recessed fixtures is reduced because the heat of the ballast reduces the light output and shortens the life of the lamp. A CFL in a recessed fixture should be designed to be modular with the ballast outside of the housing.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 10:27PM
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wirenut37

only speaking from my own experiences...not the ratings on the box

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 10:47PM
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david_cary

A 60 watt bulb dimmed to 40 watt lumen level uses more electricity than a 40 watt bulb. Just feel a dimmer - heat requires electricity. Ditto with a transformer.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 7:01AM
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renovator8

But without the dimmer the lamp would always be using 60 watts. You seem to miss the point of everything.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 8:06AM
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renovator8

Here is a story from someone who tried to lower their energy cost by putting retrofit reflector CFL's in their recessed light fixtures.

Here is a link that might be useful: CFL story

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 8:36AM
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renovator8

For each 18 F degrees above 104 degrees F, the life of the ballast of a retrofit CFL is cut in half.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 9:30AM
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