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PROJECT GUIDE: How to Install Recessed Lighting

Time Required: 2 - 4 hours | Difficulty: Intermediate  

How to Install Recessed Lighting 

Recessed lights are an effective option for both new construction and remodeling if you’re looking for lighting that’s functional but “hidden” in the ceiling. This project guide details how to install recessed lighting and which recessed lighting parts you’ll need to complete the job. 

Safety: Before beginning the project, cut the electricity to the room in which you’ll be working. 

  • Turn the wall switch in the room to the “off” setting. 
  • Cut the power to the room at the main fuse or breaker box. 
  • Use a voltage tester to be sure there is no electricity flowing through the wires. 

Tip: If you are not comfortable working with electricity, call a licensed electrician to complete your installation. 

Cut a Hole in the Ceiling: Option A 

  • Lay out your light placement before you begin, then use the template provided with your light kit to draw the outline for each opening. 
  • Use a stud finder to make sure the holes do not overlap a joist. 
  • Drill a 1/4-inch hole in the ceiling at the center of the proposed opening.  
  • If necessary, go into the attic and make sure there are no wires, pipes or ductwork behind the proposed opening.  
  • If the area above the ceiling is a finished space, you can insert a coat hanger or fish tape through hole to check for any obstructions. 
  • Cut the larger hole with a drywall saw and mark all light locations.  
  • Be careful not to snag any wires that may be in the ceiling cavity. 

Cut a Hole in the Ceiling: Option B 

After taking the same precautions as above, use a power tool to make your cuts and save time. 

  • Cut the hole with a drill with a hole-cutting attachment and mark all light locations.  
  • Make sure you do not snag any wires that may be in the ceiling cavity. 

Rough-In the Wiring 

  • Disconnect the existing light fixture. 
  • Run cable from the power source to a switch box and then to the first hole, allowing at least 18 inches of extra cable to make wiring easy.  
  • Use a drill with a long drill bit to avoid cutting additional access holes that will need patching later 

Wire the Light 

  • Open the light’s junction box.  
  • 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. 

Mount the Light 

  • Most models of recessed lighting housing have four clips that clamp the can to the ceiling by pushing down on top of the drywall.  
  • Pull the clips in so they do not protrude outside the can.  
  • Slip the can’s box into the hole, and then push the can body up into the hole until its flange is tight to the ceiling.  
  • With your thumb, push each clip up and outward until it clicks and clamps the light fixture. 

Add the Trim 

  • Most recessed lighting trims are mounted with coil springs or squeezable rod springs. If you have coil springs, hook each spring to its assigned hole inside the can.  
  • 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 into position. 

Install Light bulbs 

Once you have completed the trim, simply add the light bulbs you like, turn the power back on and check to be sure the lights are working.  

Be sure not to exceed the total wattage of the circuit; for example, if your previous light fixture used five 75 watt bulbs, then a safe wattage is 375 watts total (5 x 75 = 375). If you wanted to exceed this, consult a licensed electrician to determine how much of a load the circuit can accommodate.