Everything You Need to Know About Remodeling Recessed Lighting

By Lucy Maher · July 15, 2021 · 7 minute read

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Everything You Need to Know About Remodeling Recessed Lighting

For homeowners looking for relatively small projects to better enjoy and increase the value of their homes, remodeling with recessed lighting is a good move. That’s because upgrading your current lighting to recessed can lighting has the potential to create a more functional—possibly more energy-efficient—lighting scheme that could make your home feel more welcoming to buyers when the time comes to sell.

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, recessed lights for either new construction or remodels should work.

There are two main parts to a recessed light—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.

Recommended: Renovation vs. Remodel: What’s the Difference?

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, from what function the lighting will perform to the style of light that will work with the architecture of the home, as well as project cost and more.


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.

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

A good example of this is bright lighting placed over the kitchen sink area so those dirty dishes can come out sparkling clean, or over a counter section where most of the food preparation is done.

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.


There are four main bulb categories: incandescent, halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), an LED, all in a variety of wattages. Recessed lighting kits may also come with integrated lighting is soft, bright, or daylight color temperatures. Custom installations are available with lighting that can be adjusted with smart technology. It’s best to check the package information for the correct type of lightbulb and maximum wattage for the fixture.

Incandescent bulbs, the long-time classic, provide general lighting with a warm glow. Halogen bulbs have a similar color temperature to incandescents. The main difference between the two is the gas inside of each: Incandescents are filled with a gas such as argon or nitrogen, while halogens are filled with … a halogen gas. Halogen bulbs are more energy-efficient than incandescents, using 20% to 30% less energy.

Both of these types of bulbs are being phased out across the US, however, with outright bans proposed in some states, in favor of more energy-efficient bulbs.

CFLs were introduced in the mid-1980s, but their relatively high price tag—$25 to $35 per bulb—was a hard sell, even to consumers who were starting to become more energy conscious.
A main advantage to the CFL is that they are easy to fit into a regular socket because they have the same size base as old-style incandescents. Their reputation for having a long life, 6 to 15 times as long as incandescents, has enabled them to remain a popular choice.

The drawback, and a reason they have begun to fall out of favor recently, is that they contain small amounts of environmentally harmful mercury. For this reason, they should be recycled instead of disposed of, which some consumers find inconvenient.

Another option for recessed lighting is an LED bulb, and it’s quickly becoming the standard. These light-emitting diode (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 other lighting options, as well, using 80% less energy than incandescents and lasting 25 times as long. Unlike CFL bulbs, 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.


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.

Recommended: Four Ways to Upgrade Your Home


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 will be done by a professional? How much drywall repair and repainting will be needed after the installation is complete?

On average, recessed lighting costs about $360 per fixture when installation is being done by a professional. A typical kitchen, for instance, might require six fixtures, for a total cost of $2,160. 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.

Recommended: The Top Home Improvements to Increase Your Home’s Value

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.

Looking into rebate programs or federal and state financial assistance programs might help with the costs associated with adding recessed lighting to a home. Another option may be a home remodel loan, which is a personal loan, to help pay for the project costs.

SoFi unsecured personal loans have no fees required and low rates, with funding in as little as three days. Checking your rate takes just 1 minute via an easy online process.

Learn more about home renovation loans from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/Yulia Romashko

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