How to install recessed lighting

Updated February 21, 2017

Recessed lights are not only elegant they're functional. In a kitchen, recessed lights can provide great task lighting above a counter top or the sink, but they can also provide ambient or background lighting in living or dining rooms or can even be used to provide highlights on a painting or a unique ornament. The good news is recessed lights can be installed in almost any ceiling. While installing them before a ceiling is finished (new construction) or when you have access from above the ceiling (through the attic) is the easiest way, they can also be installed as part of a renovation.

What you'll need. Drill Drywall saw or keyhole saw Pliers for striping wire Stud finder (or a wire coat hanger) Screwdrivers Wire nuts Wire (electrical wire) 14/3 Recessed light fixtures

Installing recessed lights will require you to attach the fixture through the ceiling, and then run power to the fixtures (power can often be daisy chained from an existing power source such as a light fixture).

Decide where you want to position your recessed light fixtures.

Use a stud finder to determine how and where the ceiling joists run in your ceiling. (If you have access to the ceiling from above you can actually go and look at how the joists run and don't have to go through the stud finding process).

Drill a small hole in the ceiling and insert a straight section of wire coat hanger with a 4 " section bent at 90 degrees, then spin the coat hanger all around -360 degrees- to ensure there are no obstructions above your chosen location.

Repeat hole drilling and obstruction checking process at the other locations you want to install your recessed fixtures. If you find an obstruction, you will have to reposition your layout.

Consider if an existing light fixture or chandelier can be used as the power source for your recessed lights.

Installing the recessed fixtures between joists where wires are already running is the easiest way to position them.

Running wires across joists will require making a hole in the ceiling under the joists, cutting a hole in the joist to run wire through and then patching the ceiling.

Remember to shut the power off at the main panel before you do any work on the wiring.

Using the template provided (or the light fixture itself) mark the outline of the fixtures at each location.

Cut around the outline with your keyhole or drywall saw. Cut carefully -if you cut too large a hole, you may not be able to attach the fixture to the ceiling.

Run wire from the power source to the holes. At the junction box of the power source insert and clamp about 8" of wire Strip 1" from the end of each of these wires and using wire nuts,fasten them to the existing wires in the junction box. (black to black, white to white and plain copper/green/ground to plain copper/green/ground).

At the fixture location, pull the wire out of the hole, pass it into the fixture's junction box, clamp it in place and strip the ends of the wire. Again, use wire nuts to attach the fixture wiring to the house wire (black to black, white to white and ground to ground - ground wires are either bare copper wire or green in color). If you are running power to other recessed lights fasten one end of the wire that runs to the next location to the wires in the fixture's junction box.

Tuck the lengths of wire back into the junction box.Push the lighting fixture up through the ceiling. Most fixtures have clips that will attach and hold the fixture to the ceiling.

Repeat the wiring process and fixture installation until all the lights are installed.

Screw in the light bulb and attach the decorative molding to the fixture.

Turn the power back on at the main panel, turn on the light and admire your handiwork


Recessed lighting fixtures marked IC can be installed in insulated ceilings. Any fixtures not marked IC need to have at least 3 inches of air space around them. Depending on local codes you may need to have an electrician install the wiring or have any wiring you do inspected by a licensed inspector.


Don't install fixtures that aren't rated IC in an insulated ceiling. Lights generate a great deal of heat and installing the wrong type of fixture is a fire hazard. For the same reason, be sure you only use bulbs the fixture is rated to handle. You can't be reminded enough. Before you do any work on the wiring, be sure you shut off the power at the main breaker panel.

Things You'll Need

  • recessed lighting fixtures
  • keyhole or drywall saw to cut holes
  • household wire
  • posssibly a drill to run wire through ceiling joists
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