Recessed lighting varies in coverage, so to calculate your kitchen's lighting needs you must choose your fixtures and lamps. Review the manufacturer's specifications for terms such as "coverage area" or "beam spread," which will tell you how wide the beam will be when it reaches the floor from an 8-foot-high ceiling. If your ceiling is higher or lower than this, you may need more complex calculations.
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Basic Light Properties
Light leaves a fixture in a cone shape with the cone's point at the light bulb. The cone expands from the point to the base at a steady rate, so the higher your ceiling is, the larger the pool of light will be when it reaches the floor. Light cones with slightly overlapping bases (approximately 1 foot on all sides) will provide relatively even lighting in a room.
Standard household recessed lights can cover anywhere from a 2- to 6-foot diameter area, depending on size, style and placement. Check your light packaging or contact the manufacturer to find out the coverage area for your specific fixtures. Inquire whether this spacing includes the necessary overlap or not. If your ceilings are nonstandard height, ask the manufacturer for a spacing chart or estimations based on your ceiling height.
Measure the length and width of your kitchen ceiling. Do not include areas with wall-mounted cabinets as you will not need overhead lighting that covers that space. Also exclude the area over sinks and counters if you plan to use other lighting -- such as pendants -- to fill in these areas. Multiplying the length and width of the area you want to light gives you that area's square footage. Divide this area by the square footage each light covers (including overlap) to determine the number of lights you need.
The glass covers on your recessed lights can affect the coverage area. Clear glass offers the narrowest beam because it does not diffuse the light the bulb produces. Frosted covers diffuse the light, softening the edge of your cone and spreading it farther around the room. Some covers have patterns of angles cut or moulded into the glass. These patterns spread the light in specific directions, further expanding the beam coverage. Your lighting calculations should be based on a combination of the fixture, light bulb and diffuser specifications, all of which can be obtained from the manufacturer.
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