How to Properly Space Recessed Lighting

Written by anne hirsh
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How to Properly Space Recessed Lighting
Recessed light placement depends on the light's height. (David Sacks/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Recessed lights will cast a beam of light downward in a cone-like shape. The size of this cone varies depending on the type of lamp used, any diffusion (baffle) placed in front of the lamp, and the ceiling height. For a four-to-five inch diameter recessed light, four to five feet between lights is usually about right for a room with eight-foot ceilings. However, you can get a more precise spacing by doing a little bit of math, especially if your ceiling is particularly high or low, or if you are lighting over work surfaces such as countertops.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Calculator

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  1. 1

    Measure the ceiling height or the height above your work surface. The light beam from each recessed light will be approximately the same diameter as that height. However, the edges of that beam will only be visible all the way down at the work surface or floor (remember, the light is cone shaped, so it narrows as you go upward).

  2. 2

    Multiply your ceiling floor or work surface distance by .75 to get a more realistic beam diameter. For example, an eight-foot ceiling may have a total eight-foot diameter beam, but only about six feet of that diameter works well for general lighting.

  3. 3

    Subtract one to two feet from your reduced beam spread to allow each light to overlap. If your light has some diffusion, subtract only one foot, as the diffusion will even out the beam's brightness across the full width. If it has no diffusion or baffle in the lamp or fixture, consider subtracting two feet, as the centre of the beam will be brighter than the edges. Given the beam spread determined earlier, subtracting one foot will give you your spacing. In the example in Step 2, the six-foot diameter, minus a foot, gives you a total spacing between each light of five feet.

  4. 4

    Divide the length of your room by your spacing between lights, and then do the same with the room's width. This will tell you how many lights to place in each row and column on your ceiling. Adjust the spacing as needed to allow for construction elements such as existing vents or plumbing, but try to keep the lights in an even grid pattern, with rows and columns aligned. This pattern creates the most even lighting for a room.

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