How to Choose Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting goes by several different names. You might see them called spotlights, cans, or high hats, but the designs are relatively the same.

When recessed lighting is installed, the fixture does not stick out from the ceiling, wall, or floor. Instead, it sits within that area, allowing for wall lighting, uplighting, or downlighting.


The goal of recessed lighting is to offer ambient light in different environments.


What Is Recessed Lighting?


Recessed lighting is typically installed in the ceiling, but this option is available for floor, ground, and wall installations.


  • Ceiling Recessed Lighting. This option creates an inset light in the ceiling, often of a below-average wattage, to create more ambient light while adding to the visual aesthetics of the space.
  • Wall Recessed Lighting. With this design, an angled flange allows for light to be directed in a specific direction. It's seen indoors and outside to illuminate stairs, hallways, or paths.
  • In-Ground Recessed Lighting. You'll see this installation used primarily outside to provide uplight landscaping or pathway illumination. It's sometimes included in swimming pools.


The components of a recessed light installation involve two parts: the trim and the housing.


With the trim, you're considering what is visible to someone in the room when looking at the fixture. It's what provides the light with its aesthetic. You can use it to wash a wall, spotlight a specific item, or improve task lighting.


The housing is what holds the fixture in the ceiling, wall, or ground. It consists of the electrical components, the mount, and the light source.


The trim and housing must be sized together to create a safe and effective installation. When purchasing them for your lighting upgrade, please make sure that they match to avoid unnecessary complications.


What Kind of Housing Do I Need for Recessed Lighting?


When you decide that recessed lighting is what you need for your property, the first decision involves whether you're remodeling or building something new.


There is also the option to retrofit an existing fixture into recessed lighting. Here's a closer look at the three options.


1. New Construction Recessed Lighting

The housings built for new construction are designed for locations that have visible ceiling joists and no drywall or sheetrock installed. If you're gutting a room, you could use this option for that extensive remodeling project.


2. Remodeling Recessed Lighting

If you don't have exposed joints to use for your recessed lighting, you'll need to use an option that installs in the area and uses clips to be held in place. This option works well for those who want to upgrade their current installation to LED lighting.


3. Retrofit Recessed Lighting

This option is typically the most affordable choice when upgrading to recessed lighting. You must remove the existing trim from its housing. Once that task is finished, the retrofit fits into the current framework while staying put using clips.


The advantage of using the retrofit design is that you don't need to do much work to complete the recessed lighting upgrade. Its disadvantage is that you won't have an entire room with ambient light without adding more table or floor lamps because there's a single light source available.


That's why many homeowners choose the new construction or remodeling options when upgrading to recessed lighting. By installing more fixtures, it's much easier to achieve the desired ambiance.


What Trim Should I Select for Recessed Lighting?


The best recessed lighting options evaluate the different trim choices that are available with this upgrade or installation.

What you decide in this category depends on the effect you want to accomplish and the look you prefer. You'll find six primary designs to consider when looking at the best recessed lighting fixtures today.


Trim Type for Recessed Lighting Why Choose This Trim Type?
Flangeless Trim Type This option provides an unmistakable high-end, white-glove look that stays flush with the floor, ceiling, or wall. It creates a prominent look that often adds equity to a home.
Flanged Trim Type You can receive the same appeal as a flangeless design with this option. It uses a thin flange that sits on the ceiling's surface to create slightly more definition to the visual aesthetics.
Square Aperture Trim Type If you have unique architectural components in a room, consider using this trim type for a modern look. It delivers clean lines and geometric shapes that create visual appeal.
Round Aperture Trim Type This choice provides the classic styling that makes a home feel contemporary. It's an excellent selection for remodeling projects, especially if you're converting a more traditional décor to something more modern.
Bevel Trim Type With this option, you create more visual depth and additional architectural appeal. Instead of sitting flush with the surface, the size and shape of the fixture appear to sit within the wall.
Flat Trim Type This design is appropriate for all shapes and sizes of recessed lighting when a minimalistic, clean aesthetic is desired.


Do I Need a Wet or a Dry Installation for Recessed Lighting?


When installing recessed lighting, you'll need to consider the environment when deciding what trim to use.


Wet location trims are necessary whenever moisture could come into contact with the fixture. That means any lighting in a shower, pool, or sauna would need to use this design.


Damp location trims are different. They're suitable for any room where high humidity levels are present, but direct moisture contact is relatively rare. You'll see this choice included in most kitchen and bathroom designs.


Dry location trims are for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.


If you have a sloped wall or ceiling that requires light washing, an adjustable trim is an excellent investment to consider. Fixed trim is appropriate for any other situation.


When selecting the best recessed lighting options for your home, choosing a design that works with your room structure while delivering the ambient light you need is crucial. By evaluating the strengths and benefits of each design element, you can select the best products for your project.