Lighting a sloped ceiling

Updated July 20, 2017

Whether you are lighting an A-frame house, refinished attic or vaulted ceiling, there are several things to consider when lighting a sloped ceiling. You can use the ceiling lights to direct illumination down toward areas of your room or you can fashion your lighting to create effects of light on the ceiling itself. You will find it preferable to control the lights through switches that also dim the lighting effect.

Start with your switch

In a typical home you will have a number of electrical switches. Some will simply provide on/off connection and others may be operated in conjunction with other switches (three- or four-way switches) to provide multiple points of switching for the same electrical appliance or light. Having the ability to switch many lighting sources independently from each other is beneficial as well. Regardless how many switches or devices you choose to install, make certain that you use the option to dim some or all your lights by using a dimmer switch.

Canister lights

A round canister, like a large vegetable can, is mounted in the space behind the ceiling, setting the light surface flush against the ceiling. To this canister you affix what is called a trim ring. You may use regular incandescent bulbs in these fixtures or the newer compact fluorescent lights. A specific type of CFL is used in overhead applications. Be certain you install the correct type when using CFL bulbs. One option with canister lights is to use an "eyeball" trim ring. These trims can be rotated in a desired direction illuminating a particular area.

Swag or pendant lighting

Swag or pendant lights basically use the electrical junction box as the mounting base for your light. A chain, rod or other strong material is extended directly from the box and the light is mounted on the end of this dangling attachment. The electrical wires do not support the weight of the light. In this configuration the downward attachment acts as a safety device, securely fastened to the box in the ceiling. A trim plate covers the junction box to give your light a finished look. You can adjust the length of the attachment to bring the light closer to or farther away from the ceiling. Allow enough room under the light for the tallest person you expect to be walking under it.

Track and bounce lighting

A trend in lighting has been to use plastic or metal strips with embedded electrical contacts inside them like railway tracks. You are then able to mount a light bulb fixture anywhere along the "track." Most track lights provide some directionality. You may experiment with the illumination effects until you find the one most satisfying to you. Consider alternating some of the lights pointing up to the ceiling and some down the walls. With controlled switching you can establish a different atmosphere in the room.


Through the use of coloured bulbs or external filters you can dramatically change the mood in a room. Try different colour effects and switching options while you test your designs. Lighting contributes to people's sense of well-being. People assign particular emotions and feelings to the colour in a room and to the relative coolness or hotness of a light source. Consult a lighting professional for advice on the Kelvin temperature of different light bulbs.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Ronald Erich Telsch holds both Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts degrees. He is a retired juvenile justice administrator with an extensive professional writing history in that field, including national presentations for the American Counseling Association and the Virginia Juvenile Justice Association. Telsch is a volunteer firefighter/EMT and a farmer.