Everything You Need to Know About Remodeling Recessed Lighting

By Lucy Maher · July 06, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Everything You Need to Know About Remodeling Recessed Lighting

If you’re a homeowner, you may be interested in small, accessible projects that can potentially boost the value of your property. If so, remodeling with recessed lighting can be a smart move.

Not only can recessed lighting improve the ambience of your house, it may make it more energy-efficient, which is a growing concern for many homeowners, not to mention prospective homebuyers if you plan on selling.

Here, you can learn more about this home renovation project and how recessed lighting could enhance the value of your home.

What Is a Recessed Light?

Recessed lighting is a lighting fixture that is set into a ceiling, virtually flush with the ceiling rather than hanging down from it. They’re often referred to as “can lights” or “downlights.”

Installation requirements for and the recessed lighting fixtures themselves are different for a remodel than new construction, depending on access to the area above the ceiling.

Generally speaking, it’s more common to have access to that space while a house is being constructed than for a house that’s already built. But for remodeling projects that do have that access to the ceiling, recessed lights can be installed.

There are two main parts to a recessed light — the housing and trim — with multiple options for each. The two parts can be purchased together in a kit, or they can be purchased separately.

Housing: The housing is the portion set into the ceiling and, depending on the type of fixture, can be visible or fairly hidden, and plain or decorative. It’s the part that is actually mounted to the ceiling and houses the bulb socket.

Trim: The trim is the most visible part of a recessed lighting fixture. Some types of trim are merely a ring covering up the edge of the housing, allowing more of the inner housing to be visible. Other types of the trim cover more of the housing, placing the emphasis on the level of illumination or where the light is directed.

Homeowners who want to change the look of existing recessed lighting can usually change the trim without needing to replace the housing. This is called retrofitting.

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What to Consider When Deciding To Add Recessed Lighting

There are a host of factors to consider when planning to add recessed lighting to an existing home. Sure, you want something that enhances the ambience of your home and helps maintain your home value.

As you move ahead and consider recessed lighting options, you’ll have a few factors to consider. These range from the function the lighting will perform to the style of light that will work best with the architecture of the home, as well as project cost and more.

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Will the light be to generally light up the room? Or will it be to draw focus to a piece of art?

To add general lighting to a room — a living room, for instance — ambient downlights will provide even lighting throughout the room. The number and placement of lights will depend on the size and shape of the room.

Is the goal to have better lighting when performing certain tasks, such as in a kitchen? Spotlights placed in areas above where those activities are done will serve this purpose well.

For instance, bright lighting placed over the kitchen sink can help ensure you can see what you’re doing when washing dirty dishes. Or recessed lighting over a counter section where most of the food preparation is done can help you see better as you slice and dice.

Some people might have artwork or architectural detail to accent. For those purposes, recessed lighting that can be pointed in the desired direction would be optimal.

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There are four main bulb categories: incandescent, halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), light-emitting diode (LED), all in a variety of wattages. However, as of July 2023, incandescent and halogen bulbs are typically unable to meet the standards of legislation that was passed to encourage the switch to more energy-efficient LED bulbs.

LED bulbs use semiconductors to convert electricity into light, a process that doesn’t emit heat as incandescents or CFLs do.

They’re much more energy-efficient than the other lighting option of CFL bulbs. What’s more, LEDs don’t contain mercury, nor do they contain wire filaments like incandescents and halogens, so it’s safe to dispose of them in regular household trash.

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Including recessed lighting in an existing home remodeling project typically requires fixtures that are supported by metal clips that are pushed through the housing onto the top of the drywall or plaster of the ceiling. This differs from new construction fixtures in which the fixture’s frame is screwed or nailed to the ceiling joists, which are accessible during the construction process.

Homeowners who have access to space above the ceiling where the fixture will be placed, such as attic space, may be able to use new construction fixtures. An advantage to this option is that fixtures made for new construction are generally less expensive and offer a wider range of trims than remodel fixtures.

Insulation is also a factor. If the lighting fixtures will be installed in an area where they will be in contact with insulation, they should be insulation compatible (IC) rated. If not, an alternative solution would be to use a fire-rated recessed light cover to go over the fixture’s housing in the attic.

Another rating to look for is the AirTight (AT) rating. This rating indicates that the fixture should keep heat from escaping. This might be less of a concern if there is living space above the room with recessed lighting, but when installing recessed lighting in a room with unfinished attic space above, the AT rating may be something to take into account.

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The cost to install recessed lighting in an existing home is dependent on several factors. How many lights will be installed? What type of recessed lighting will be installed? Will there be labor costs if the job is done by a professional? How much drywall repair and repainting will be needed after the installation is complete?

On average, recessed lighting costs about $500 per fixture when installation is being done by a professional; the cost of hiring a contractor can be considerable. A typical kitchen, for instance, might require six fixtures, for a total cost of $3,000. This cost can vary, of course, based on the number and type of fixtures, trim, and bulbs chosen.

Recessed lighting is a common feature in kitchen and bath remodels, both of which have a high return on investment. While the lighting itself might not be the ultimate selling point for someone thinking of purchasing a home, updating the lighting when undertaking a remodeling project just might add to that ROI.

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The Takeaway

Adding recessed lighting to your home is one way to increase the cozy factor while maintaining the home’s value for a relatively small investment. Understanding the scope of the job will make it easier to estimate how much it might cost and how best to pay for it based on your particular financial situation. In some cases, a personal loan can help you update your home and unlock its optimal value.

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Photo credit: iStock/Yulia Romashko

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