Install recessed lighting in a kitchen | Pro Construction Guide
Recessed lighting in a kitchen

How to install recessed lighting in a kitchen

Recessed ceiling lights are a popular choice with today’s homeowners because of their simple, functional elegance. Where boxes containing fluorescent tubes may light the entire room, they are rarely considered attractive and many don’t like the light quality.

With a little planning and forethought, you can easily replace those unwanted fluorescent fixtures and give your customers a sleek and elegant look. Recessed cans are hardly noticeable when the lights are off and almost become a part of the ceiling unless you’re looking for them. When they are on, they can flood the entire kitchen with warm light or use one or more as spotlights to accent part of the room.

The holes for recessed cans can be cut with a drywall saw

The holes for recessed cans can be cut by hand with a drywall saw, but hole saws are faster and more accurate.

Selecting the lights

There are two basic types of recessed lighting fixtures: new construction and remodeling. If you have access to the open ceiling, select models designed for new construction. Recessed lighting models for remodeling are easier to install in a finished ceiling. Recessed lighting comes in three diameters – 4, 5 and 6 inches.

Trim options allow you to provide lighting tailored to a specific function, such as general, task or accent lighting. Options include baffles to minimize glare, reflectors to maximize output and eyeballs to direct output to a specific focal point.

You can use a combination of any or all of these options to address specific lighting needs. Work with your client to get a clear sense of their lighting expectations.

Most junction boxes on recessed lighting include pryouts and a ground wire

Most junction boxes on recessed lighting include pryouts and a ground wire, and some even have a “contractor’s third hand” to support the fixture while it is being wired.

If you are unsure of the placement, size or type of recessed lighting fixture, discuss the project with a knowledgeable salesperson from your local home center, who can assist you in the proper number, layout and types of recessed fixtures that will work best for the job.

Working with electricity

Before you begin, cut the power to the old fluorescent fixtures and remove the boxes, leaving the wires protruding from the ceiling. You may be able to use these wires to power the new recessed lighting, depending on how much wattage is already on that circuit.

After the lamp is installed, trim rings are fastened to the housing

After the lamp is installed, trim rings are fastened to the housing with spring clamps that pull the entire assembly snug to the ceiling.

National Electric Code prohibits any connections to a “dedicated” circuit, such as 20-amp small-appliance circuits commonly found in kitchens, laundry rooms or bathrooms. When choosing another circuit, make sure the new lights won’t overload it. One way to determine this is to shut off the potential circuit at the breaker panel, then go back through the house turning everything on.

Then add up the wattage of everything that does not go on and add that to the total wattage of the lights you’ll be installing. Typically, you don’t want to exceed the maximum connected load of 1,440 watts for a 15-amp circuit or 1,920 watts for a 20-amp circuit.

Try to find a circuit that will be convenient to fish wires from, such as the same room or the room opposite, a basement or an attic. Remove the old box to make fishing new wires easier.

Fishing wires

Locate any ceiling joists. Sometimes these are noticeable by fasteners being slightly visible through the drywall ceiling and screw pops, or you can use a stud finder. This will not only allow you to make sure the lights you install will fall between joists and there are no obstructions to get in the way of the new light’s housing. It will also help in planning the cable route.

You may need to cut small slots – about 3 inches wide by 12 inches long – to run wires if you don’t have access from the attic. Cut the slots about 6 inches from the wall. If you can cut the slots in line with the switch and power source, it will make it easier to drill through the top plate and will reduce the number of other openings you’ll have to cut.

Now mark and cut the holes for the housings. There are two basic methods for this:

  • mark the outline with the template included with the lights and cut with a drywall saw
  • mark the center point of the opening and cut it with a hole saw of the appropriate diameter.

The hole should be cut pretty precisely. If it’s too big it might be difficult to get the housing to clamp tightly.

Connect wires and mount housings

Run the wire from the power source to the new hole, leaving about 16 inches of extra wire to work with. Open the light’s junction box and connect the wires – black-to-black, white-to-white and ground-to-ground. Fold the wires back into the box and replace the cover.

How to install recessed lighting - push

Housings are inserted into the holes after wiring, and are affixed to the ceiling with some type of spring-loaded clamping device.

Recessed lighting to use in remodeling typically clamps to the drywall using clips that can be activated from inside the can with a screwdriver. They are folded in for insertion of the can through the hole, and then the clips are pushed out and click into place, holding the can tightly to the drywall.

New-construction recessed lighting models attach to the joists with mounting brackets.

Mount the trim rings – usually held in place by coils or rod springs – and insert the bulbs. Turn the power on at the breaker panel.

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