When to use can lights?

Mom23EsJune 12, 2012

We're building a new house. The builder and electrician have suggested a lighting plan for us to use, and I'm concerned about the number of recessed can lights. It's not that I'm against using them, but I'm not sure about having them in hallways and walk-in closets. I'm more used to the traditional flush mount lights. Is there a reason to choose one over the other?

I'd appreciate any advice. If someone could point me in the right direction to a "how to select lighting" article or discussion I would really apprectiate that too.


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Can lights are cheap and easy to wire. I don't like them, but I'm still installing them by the score, mostly kitchen and living room, and in a sloped ceiling in my workout room/den. I just don't have enough minutes in the day to select attractive surface mount lights for most rooms, and Title 24 limits what I can do in my California kitchen. I'm using LED in the kitchen, and probably in the LR and maybe in the den.

Flush mount lights will probably provide much better light to the sides. My master BR has his-and-hers can spotlights over the bed for reading, plus a central ceiling fixture plus lamps. For my walk-in closet (not huge, 6x8) and for my similar size pantry and for my 7x8 laundry, I am using a fixture with four 4ft fluorescent tubes -- I like to be able to see what I'm looking for. My hallways are a mix of surface mount and semi-recessed.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 4:19PM
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The first step would be to figure out how much light you'd like in each space.
The second step would be determining if there would be layers of light (multiple sets of light sources controlled separately) and options such as dimming, automation.
The third would be to determine the style of the fixtures that could supply the light.

There are reasons to choose recessed cans and others that rule them out.
Reasons for
1. Style.
2. Ceiling height.

Reasons ruling them out
1. Physical limitations above the ceiling - height, obstructions, ...
2. Style - swiss cheese ceiling.
3. Architectural style - vaulted/ curved ceilings, ceiling height > 10 ft.
4. Cost of installation.

In lower cost homes, there might not be any recessed cans or flush mount lights. Instead, only wall sockets are provided for torchieres or table lamps.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:51AM
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Detractors of recessed lighting always seem to throw in the "swiss cheese ceiling" comment, but properly done, recessed lighting has an elegant, balanced, geometric look, nothing at all like the random placement of different-size holes in swiss cheese.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 5:13AM
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Lee676, I agree.

In addition, traditional recessed cans have a limited cone of light since the bulb is encased inside a can. With LED lamps like the Cree CR/ LR series, Sylvania RT series, this is no longer true as the emitters are all forward facing and close to the surface.

Common approaches to lighting
The cheapest approach is to not provide any surface or flush mount points.

The next is to provide a mount point in the center of the room.

If a room is fairly large say 15' x 15', the centrally located surface mount fixture will probably not provide sufficient light for the room.

To remedy the situation (after the fact),
1. Floor and /or table lamps could be used.
2. Additional surface mounts/ pendants installed.
3. Wall sconces are added where they are deemed necessary.
4. Recessed cans added where they are deemed necessary. This results in a haphazard placement of holes in the ceiling.
5. T8 fluorescent lighting is used. The light distribution will improve since the light source is a long rectangular object. If a light box is used, the same limitations of a "bulb in a can" apply i.e. - the light spread will be constrained.
This is the cheapest and probably the least desirable due to over-illumination, lighting quality (- colors may not look correct) and the inherent slow start up of fluorescents.

The third approach would be to put in a number of recessed cans / fixtures to illuminate a space. This could be quite involved (under statement), but the results would be worth it.

Proper planning is required for lighting. It starts with figuring out the desired levels of illumination for each space.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:38PM
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Except for very small rooms, I usually avoid using a single flush mount fixture, as it will produce shadows if you move to the sides of the room.

The white integral trim baffles on my CR6's reflect alot of light, which throws a fair amount of illumination sideways. But at the cost of additional glare if you look up at the lights, compared to traditional PAR30 or PAR40 floodlamp bulbs inside a black step baffle or aluminized reflector. The latter are available in three dark colors for the Cree lamps (except the "CR4" but those are probably on the way too), but they negate the price advantage of not having to buy separate trims that you'd get if you stick with the included white trim.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 2:40PM
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Thank you all so much for the advice. Apparently my DH had informed the builder that we wanted lots of can lights. I guess that would explain the excessive use of them.

Lee676- what do you consider a "small" room. I'm unsure about our mudroom and laundry room. Laundry has a couple windows is about 10'x8.5' and the builder has a fluorescent light in there. I really hate fluorescent lights! The mudroom has no natural light and is about 9'x8'. There is just one ceiling light proposed in there now.

Also, how difficult is it to add sconces later? I feel like I want a pair in our music room, but I just can't picture where yet. I think I need to wait until after we move in and get the grand piano and other furniture in place first.

Thanks again everyone! :)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 4:01PM
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I would consider 8' x 6' a small room.

Putting in additional wire in the areas where the lights could be and the necessary space(s) for switch(es) would make it much simpler to install additional sconces after the grand piano and furniture is moved in.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:45AM
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There are fluorescent lamps available that give off light similar to an incandescent bulb (the link below is for 4' T8 tubes of the type used by newer lamp fixtures and can be easily swapped out; old fixtures designed for T12 tubes (1 1/2" thick rather than 1") will need the ballast replaced with a modern one designed for T8 bulbs). Alternative, if you want a cooler, natural daylight look, go with a 5000K daylight bulb with good color rendering.

10' x 10' probably the largest room I'd consider lighting witha single fixture. A common fluorescent lamp that uses the 4' tubes disperses light well because its large size

Sconces can be added later as long as you can fish a wire to the location - easy if there's a basement below or an attic above, and still not too hard if there isn't and armored cable can be pulled through using a fished tape reel.

Here is a link that might be useful: Osram/Sylvania 2700K T8 fluorescent tube

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:47AM
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