Recessed Lights: Worth it? Alternatives?

TileMarch 27, 2014

We're completely renovating our kitchen and rewiring the electric up to code. The general contractor wants $100/light, including materials, for our 170 sqft kitchen.

Do you think recessed lights are worth the investment? Are there alternatives that will look as good or better than recessed lighting?

Our ceilings are 9.5 feet high, and we will be installing ikea-style countertop rail lights under the wall cabinets.

Ikea also sells cabinet lights that recreate the effect of recessed lighting, but I can't tell if they're ugly or not. I'm still new to the world of kitchen lighting.

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Are recessed lights the be all end all of lighting design? No. Does it make sense to include some recessed lights in your kitchen lighting plan? Almost certainly yes.

Conventional lighting design focuses on ambient, task, and accent lighting. Personally, I think it's more useful to think about specific use cases and "layers" of light. For example, what will you want illuminated in the following cases:
1) When you walk into the kitchen in the morning.
2) On a dark & stormy day, around noon.
3) When you're cooking on a dark evening by yourself or with guests.
4) After dinner, when you've retired to another room.
5) Overnight, with & without overnight guests.

For us, the answers are:
1) Recessed lights dimmed to ~25% + island pendant
2) Island pendant
3) Recessed lights + island pendant. Sometimes also undercab &/or exhaust hood lights. As a general rule, the more people in the house, the brighter we want the lights.
4) Undercab only or undercab + island pendant.
5) Undercab.

Refer to the link below for useful tips on recessed lighting selection and placement.

Here is a link that might be useful: davidtay's recessed light guidelines on lighting forum

1 Like    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 3:08PM
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My only experience in kitchen lighting until my current kitchen has been having one or two light fixtures centered in the room or having a fluorescent fixture. All of these lights had the same problem.
Light coming from one point of contact no where near the work zones. I would always have shadows and would compensate with under counter lighting but it still wasn't perfect.

To me, the kitchen is the one room that it is absolutely worth it to have recessed lighting. The only other alternative I can think of would be track lighting. You really want light coming from multiple sources and hitting the tops of your counters so when you are standing at the counter and working, you aren't casting your shadow.

I do have to say 100 a can seems so expensive though! I have done all the work myself though so it is entirely possible that is a normal rate.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 3:12PM
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Does $100 a can include both the hardware plus the labor to install? or just the hardware? or just the labor?

I think $100 a can including both hardware and labor seems pretty reasonable. We got a bid from an electrician not that long ago that charged so much per light and I can't remember exactly how much that was but I'm pretty sure it was more than $100 and that didn't include the hardware (which is about $30 for a recessed LED 6 inch can light from Home Depot). We're in Houston (I know that geographical location can make a huge difference some times.)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 4:39PM
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We just had several put in. Electrician charged $50 per light for installation. We provided the fixture. We used Halos new LED disk lights. They were about $40 each

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 7:10PM
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I don't know the answer, but I know I LOVE our new recessed lights. We kept the fan/light in the middle, and kept the light over the sink and that's all there was to keep! We added 9 Cree 4 in LED recessed cans plus LED UCL, and our new hood has working lights now too. I don't have a labor breakdown that specific, but I know I paid about $15 per housing and $42 per light (comes pre-trimmed).

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 11:42PM
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Not sure where you are located but for us 100 dollars for light is standard cost if it CFL if it is LED it is close 125 dollars per light. We are in a high cost area in California.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 11:51PM
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I know I am in the minority, but I just dont care for recessed lights. I dont like the way they break up the ceiling. I did not put them in during my remodel. I have under and over cabinet lighting, two lights over island, and one over sink. It seems plenty to me.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 7:30AM
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I think it depends on the layout, etc. I wouldn't get them just because "everybody else has them". I have a small galley kitchen with a small eat-in area at the end. The whole room is about 8' x 19' before cabinets, etc. The galley's about 11' long, and the eat-in about 7' x 8'. There's a window over the sink and two windows in the eating area. It was kinda dark before the redo. I had a ceiling light in the galley area, an over the sink light and a ceiling light in the eating area. I didn't want to spend more for recessed, although there was going to be one over the sink. I used the same box locations with a flush ceiling light in the galley area, a semi-flush in the eating area, and because of a !surprise! ceiling joist, had to use a flush ceiling light over the sink.

I did add LED dimmable tape lights (don't know the actual term) under the cabinets, and there's a light under the micro-hood that has 2 or 3 levels.

I have more than enough light and no shadows. I think the main thing is that I selected fixtures that allowed 3 or 4 bulbs, at least 60w. That way I can make each fixture have a maximum light as bright as I want. (I've been happy with Cree 40w or 60w LED bulbs, and using 3-60w or 4-40w in a fixture is plenty bright!)

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 3:12PM
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I have a small kitchen 10 x 13 and we did not put in recessed lights, (DH wanted to) partially because I felt the ceiling would look to cluttered with the ceiling fan, 3 pendants, and a light above the sink. Very soon after using the new kitchen I realized my mistake and we will be installing them very soon. Thankfully Dh is handy and can do the work himself. I strongly suggest you put them in and as long as the hardware is included in that price I don't feel that it is too expensive.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 8:54PM
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Speaking of ceiling fans and recessed lights... Be sure to keep recessed lights far enough from ceiling fan blades so that the blades don't cast a shadow. Ceiling fan blade shadows are intolerable for most people.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 9:09PM
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We have recessed lights in our kitchen, family room, and one bedroom, 14 in all, and I like them. We happen to live in an area of the country plagued by stink bugs. The lights attract the bugs down from the attic and they are somehow able to get into our living area through through the cans. Recently we found dimmable LED retrofit lights that are completely sealed around the bulb. They installed quickly and easily and I swear we haven't seen a stink bug in the house since we got them weeks ago. They are wonderful. I don't recommend having cans that have open space around the bulbs. Opt for the cooler LED lights that can be sealed if you live in an area with stink bugs. For those of you who don't know the bugs I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:50PM
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If you get recessed lights you should specify the exact lights and dimmers to use. Cree has very good lights and are not expensive. If the GC insists on an inferior light, I'd get it installed by someone else. Check the Lighting forum for more info.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2014 at 10:54PM
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Lynne-in-PA- I WISH I had stink bugs coming through my light fixtures or vents from the attic.

Try scorpions. Sometimes they fall off the ceiling onto the carpet, which is oh so convientally the same color as they are.

Scorpions could fall of the face of the planet tomorrow as far as I'm concerned.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 12:03AM
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Those of you with problems with bugs crawling from the attic into the light fixture need to use air-tight insulated ceiling (IC) cans. The aforementioned sealed retrofit lights are called LED modules; they integrate the floodlamp bulb with the trim bezel, which also saves the cost of a separate trim kit. I've used the Cree CR6 extensively; they work well. HD sells them, as do many lighting or electrical stores and the usual online vendors.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 12:20AM
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