Recessed lights are an easy choice to provide efficient lighting while maintaining a neutral profile in new construction or during renovations. Installing recessed lights is easier than one might guess and can be a cost-effective way to update living areas, closets or hallways and can provide a modern touch without busting the budget.

Pro Tip

Before beginning any type of electrical project, be sure the power is turned off at the home's main circuit box. Cover the switch with tape to make sure it doesn't get turned back on while you are working. Use a circuit tester to ensure that the power is off before you touch any of the electrical wiring.

Step 1

Select Housing

Also called can lights, recessed light housing is available in two basic styles. New construction lights are bulkier and have a frame that can be affixed from above. New construction recessed lights are easy to work with when ample access is available from above, but are impractical when attic access isn’t an option. “Remodel” housing (shown here) is installed from below by wiring the fixture before pushing it in from below. Remodel housing is usually the easier option when replacing old fixtures.

You will also notice some housing is rated “IC” versus “Non-IC”. IC stands for “insulation contact” and has a greatly reduced risk of problems with heat and airflow when placed against insulation. When in doubt, select IC rated housing. 

Step 2

Select Baffles and Trim

Once the basic housing is installed, an inner sheath called a “baffle” is used to cover the bare metal can for a polished look. A simple baffe is used most often, but reflective baffles can be used to maximize the light throw or “eyeball” directional covers (shown here) can be used effectively on sloped ceilings or to throw light to a specific area. Trim is used to cover the rim of the housing and the surrounding hole and can help forgive ragged or uneven edges committed during installation. 

Step 3

Remove Old Fixture and Junction Box

Before you begin, locate your breaker panel and shut off power to the location. Remove the old light fixture and then remove the junction box in the ceiling above it. It is often necessary to use a saw to cut the junction from the joist to which it is attached. Take care to avoid damaging wires, which can sometimes have a short span, making it more challenging to install a new housing.

Step 4

Measure Hole

Your new lighting should include a paper template which can be used to trace a circle on the ceiling. If replacing an old fixture, the size of the existing hole may dictate the size you select for your new recessed lights. The most common sizes are 4”, 5” or 6” fin diameter. 

Step 5

Cut Hole for Can Light

Use a drywall saw or hole-cutting drill bit to cut along the traced circle. Although trim will be used to cover this edge, take it slow to provide the smoothest possible cut, especially with older ceilings where plaster or drywall may be brittle and prone to crumbling under stress. 

Step 6

Connect and Secure Wiring

Open the attached junction box on the light and clamp the wires protruding from the ceiling to the box, leaving enough run to easily move them as needed.  Strip the plastic insulation from the end of the wires and use wire nuts to pair the wires together (usually color coded black, white and a bare ground wire). 

Step 7

Test Power

Before mounting the fixture, temporarily turn the power back on and use a voltage tester to confirm electricity is reaching the bulb socket. Once confirmed, turn the breaker back off until the project is complete.

Step 8

Insert and Secure Housing

Carefully insert the housing in the prepared hole and locate the clips along the edge of the housing. Using a screwdriver, push the clips outward until a click is felt to securely clamp the housing to the ceiling. Once all clips are deployed, gently tug on the housing to make sure it is firmly attached to the ceiling.

Step 9

Attach Baffle and Trim

In most cases, the baffle and trim will attach to the housing with metal springs. Pull the springs out to their longest reach, attach to the housing at the compatible holes in the can and slide the baffle and trim upward until the trim rests flush against the ceiling. 

Step 10

Select a Bulb

Your recessed lighting is almost ready to go.Select a bulb of approved base size and wattage for your fixture. Halogen and LED bulbs are the most popular choices. Consider wattage and warmth when selecting a bulb appropriate for your use and make sure the bulb is dimmable if using a dimmer switch.