Locations Finder

Please enter your zip code to find your nearest Ferguson Showroom.

Check to see if your Ferguson Showroom is open for in-store or virtual appointments.

  • My Showroom: Chantilly, VA
  • My Account
  • Cart: (0)

Recessed Lighting Basics

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting in the home addresses many lighting needs. It is used as supplemental general lighting for entryways, living areas and bedrooms, and as task lighting in the kitchen and bathroom. To add drama and dimension to your home, you can spotlight a single object (accent lighting) or make the space feel larger and illuminate multiple objects as the same time (wall-washing). Recessed lighting is also used to create shadowing of objects while adding texture to vertical surfaces (grazing).

What can I use recessed lighting for?

General lighting - Recessed lighting is ideal for extra light in any space. A, PAR and BR lamps are ideal choices for this application. (5-20 fc)

Task lighting - Where the need for a high attention to detail that requires high light levels, for example, in the kitchen, reading areas, recreational areas and bathroom vanities. BR, PAR and MR lamps are required to achieve the high light levels needs for this application. (35-55 fc)

Accent lighting - Where high light levels with controlled beam spread is needed to enhance visual effects of artifacts, painting, sculptures and flower arrangements. Reflector lamps are required to reach these high levels with controlled beam spread. (60-100 fc)

Wall-washing - Using recessed lighting for wall-washing makes a space look and feel larger by uniformly illuminating broad vertical surfaces. Wall-washing illuminates multiple objects at the same time, such as photography, paintings and tapestries. BR & PAR lamps with wide beam spreads are the lamps of choice for this application. (15-20 fc)

Grazing - The goal of wall-grazing is to create shadowing of objects or texture on vertical surfaces. The resulting effect is a sense of drama surrounding fireplaces and brick walls. Halogen or standard incandescent sources with narrow or spread beam PAR lamps are ideal. The grazing effect is best achieved by placing the fixture in close proximity to the vertical surface to be illuminated.

Examples of Recessed Lighting

In what rooms can I use recessed lighting?

Entry Porch - Recessed lighting can be used by itself or as a supplemental source with decorative lanterns to create a warm and inviting entryway to your home or business. Also, recessed light can be utilized in eaves to graze rough exterior walls and provide additional dramatic effects.

Dining Room - The dining area is often neglected with regards to obtaining adequate light levels for dining and for minimizing glare from traditional decorative chandeliers. Chandeliers should be used to accent the décor of the room and to provide general lighting levels. To supplement this light source, recessed luminaries should be used to provide task light levels required for dining. A chandelier alone will often create shadowing on the table's surface and bright glare spots when fully illuminated. Recessed lighting provides functional light levels on the dining table surface to complement the ambient illumination of the chandelier. The two sources together with the added effect of dimmer switches create an elegant and functional lighting experience.

Foyer - Items displayed on the wall, in niches, or on small tables can be accented using recessed lighting. Also, in addition to decorative foyer fixtures, recessed lighting can be used to increase the light levels in the foyer area. Decorative fixtures alone can provide an aesthetic enhancement for the foyer area, but often do not provide adequate light levels for the tasks performed in this part of the home.

Kitchen/Breakfast Nook - Most new homes are designed with kitchens that open up to common living areas. This makes kitchens and breakfast nooks a more commonly occupied part of the home. Lighting is a critical element to the comfort and function level of a kitchen. Recessed lighting is an ideal option for obtaining task lighting levels on counter tops and island bar. Also, recessed fixtures can be used as general lighting sources for the open area of the kitchen with or without a traditional surface mounted fluorescent fixture.

Living Room/Bedroom - Both of these locations are usually in need of only general lighting levels. Task lighting, essential for reading, is usually provided by torchieres or table lamps. Sloped ceiling recessed products can be used in vaulted-ceiling areas for a non-obtrusive source of light. It is important to plan the placement of recessed lighting in living spaces so the light source is not reflected as a glare spot on television screens. Bookshelves can be wall-washed to illuminate and bring selected items to life.

Home Office - More new homes are being built with a home office. Lighting requirements for home offices are different than other general lighting areas of the home. Recessed lighting is an ideal alternative since it can minimize glare on a computer screen due to its recessed lamp position. Also, narrow beam spread lamps can be used to provide adequate task lighting levels on the desk's surface.

Bathrooms - The lighting options for bathrooms are endless. Adequate lighting in the shower is critical to help reduce the occurrence of accidents. Recessed fixtures can be added above the bathtub or shower to provide proper lighting levels. The vanity is an often neglected area when it comes to lighting. Recessed lighting is an ideal supplemental source to a traditional vanity fixture for eliminating shadows on the face for grooming. In large bathrooms, recessed fixtures can be used for general lighting as well.

Corridors/Stairs - General lighting levels are needed for these areas. Typically, the only activity requiring illumination is passing through the space. Standard 6" incandescent recessed, using BR30 lamps, are ideal and economical for these applications.

Home Theater - One of the top trends in new home construction is the addition of a home theater entertainment room. The explosion of DVD and television technology has now given the average consumer the ability to experience the sight and sound quality of a full movie theater in the privacy of their own home. One of the elements that add to the true home theater experience is proper lighting. Choose a low-brightness trim that delivers focused lighting without the visual distraction of glare. It will be unobtrusive and blend into the home theater décor.

The following section will help you select the correct type and quantity of recessed lights you will need to accomplish the look you desire for each room in your home. Recessed Lighting Housings are designed for a wide range of ceiling conditions and light sources. Use the following information to select the proper housing and reflector trim for your project.

New Construction or Renovation Housings

What is a housing?

The part of a fixture (most commonly recessed lighting) containing electrical components. Often unseen, behind a shade or wall or in the ceiling.

Are there more than one type?

There are two types of housings:

- New Construction Housing for Insulated or Non-Insulated ceilings.

- Remodel Housing for Insulated or Non-Insulated ceilings.

First, determine if your ceiling is insulated or non-insulated.

Insulated or Non-Insulated Ceiling

  • Any housing that is in direct contact with thermal insulation must carry an IC (Insulated Ceiling) rating. This makes IC the choice for the ceiling on the top floor of the home, which is typically blanketed with thermal insulation.
  • Where insulation is used in other areas, IC kits should be used as well.
  • Non-IC rated housing can be used away from insulation, in the first floor, basement, and most commercial applications.

Install New Construction Housing in a new home or renovation where the ceiling is open for electrical work or where there is access from above.

  • IC rated new construction housings are attached to the ceiling supports before the ceiling surface is installed. IC housings must be installed wherever insulation will be in direct contact with the housing. Most IC housings are rated to a 75 watt maximum. A full line of 4", 5" and 6" housings are available.
  • Non-IC rated new construction housings are used in the same situations as the IC rated new construction housings, only where there will be no insulation present. These housings are typically rated up to 150 watts. A full line of 4", 5" and 6" housings are available.

For existing ceilings, use the Remodel Housing that installs easily from below a finished ceiling.

  • IC rated remodel housings are used in existing ceilings where insulation will be present. A full line of 4", 5" and 6" housings are available.
  • Non-IC rated remodel housings are used for existing ceilings where no insulation is present. A full line of 4", 5" and 6" housings are available. Housings for sloped ceilings are available for both insulated and non-insulated ceilings. Choose from housings designed for ceiling pitches up to 6/12 or 12/12.

Aperture Size

The aperture size is the diameter of the opening. Recessed lighting aperture sizes vary according to the application from 4" through 6". The following is a guide to help you choose the correct size according to the size room or item you want to enhance. For example:

  • For a room with a typical eight foot high ceiling, space 6" recessed lights approximately seven feet apart for general lighting applications.
  • To highlight statuary or indoor plants, we recommend using two lights aimed from different angles to help add depth and drama to the object.
  • For reading or task lighting, the recessed lighting should be placed slightly behind and off to one side of a reading chair or work space to minimize glare from books or task objects.
  • Use wall-washer recessed lights in smaller rooms to give the appearance of a larger space. Wall-wash recessed lights are ideal for highlighting a group of small pictures placed together on a wall.

Light Bulbs

The following information will help you select the type of bulb for each application. For example, do you want a warm look, a whiter brighter light, varied color spectrum lighting or high contrast lighting? What pattern of light do you need, flood or spot light?

Using the following examples, start by determining the bulb and wattage needs of the room space you are going to light. After selecting a bulb, choose the trim; usually the smallest available trim size that will accommodate the bulb.

  • Common household bulbs, standard A, are the least expensive choice for recessed lighting. This type of bulb provides a warm incandescent light that is good for general lighting and wall-washing effects. Standard bulbs require a reflector to boost the light and are best used with a clear Alzac A lamp multiplier.
  • Bulbs with a built-in reflector are called R lamps. The style helps cast a warm incandescent light in either flood or spot patterns. They are slightly more expensive than a standard lamp, but it is the most commonly found bulb in residential recessed fixtures. These bulbs are used with most trim types for general, task or accent lighting, it is available for 4" line voltage recessed with an R20 lamp, 5" and 6" line voltage recessed with an R30 lamp or 6" recessed with a R40 lamp.
  • For a whiter, brighter light than a regular "R" bulb, use Halogen PAR lamps. These lamps give a more controlled beam spread. They are available in PAR 20 size for 4" recessed, PAR 30 size for 5" and 6" recessed, and PAR 38 size for 6" recessed fixtures. Used with most trim types for general, task or accent lighting.

Line Voltage

Lamps that operate directly off of the household current are called line voltage. You can dim line voltage systems with ordinary dimmers.

Choose line voltage recessed lights for general room lighting applications or secondary room lighting. Incandescent "A" lamps or standard reflectors distribute an even warm light, while PAR halogen flood lamps provide white pools of general lighting. These lamps can also be used in eyeball trims for secondary accent lighting or general task lighting.

Recessed Lighting Trim Types

The trim is a decorative ring with a lip to extend beyond any exposed opening in the ceiling where the fixture has been installed. The choice of trim for recessed lighting is based on the required performance of the fixture and personal preference.


Open - Typically used for general and accent lighting, open trims are the least costly of all trim options. They are often referred to as standard trims. White open trims provide a low level of obtrusiveness on a white ceiling.

Baffle - Baffle trims contain grooves in the visible surface of the reflector wall The purpose of these grooves is to minimize glare on the reflector's surface and, increase the comfort level in the living space. While the low reflectance levels of black lend themselves to the most effective color for baffle trims, white baffles have become the more popular option. The benefit of white baffles is that the trims blend with the ceiling when the lights are turned off.

Eyeball - Accent lighting and wall-washing are the two applications for which eyeballs are commonly used. They can be aimed and adjusted to focus on specific objects or areas. They are often placed beside fireplaces to illuminate above the mantel area and for accenting paintings. Eyeballs will typically have great adjustment flexibility in the horizontal and vertical directions.

Wall-wash - These trims usually have an eyelid shaped cover over the aperture. The cover allows light to be thrown onto the wall's surface, but prevents excessive light from being thrown back into the room. Many wall-wash trims also are equipped with a kicker inner reflector that directs a large percentage of the lamps light onto a vertical surface. Wall-wash trims are often used in conjunction with standard open or baffle trims to enhance the dramatic effects of a lighting project.

Slope - Trims for sloped ceiling recessed products are specially designed to allow for the lamp's adjustment up to about 45 degrees. They are built around either BR/PAR 30 or BR40/PAR38 lamps to minimize the gap between the lamp's edge and the trim. Slope trims are offered in a baffle or Alzak® cone design. A recessed lamp position in a slope ceiling provides a low unobtrusive light source.

Slotted - Slotted trims conceal the lamp's image while providing adequate clearance for vertical adjustment. They are commonly used with small PAR lamps and accent lighting.

Alzak® Cone - This style can be utilized for a variety of applications including general, task and accent lighting. The main benefit of Alzak® finishes are they deliver a high percentage of reflected light while minimizing glare in the reflector's surface. They come in a variety of colors, but clear and gold are the most common.

Lensed - Lensed trims can be used to address a variety of lighting requirements. They are commonly used in shower areas and outdoor eaves to prevent the lamp from making direct contact with moisture. Also, lensed trims can be used as a deterrent for vandalism and to comply with certain building codes. Lenses come in a variety of materials and styles including flat glass, flat plastic, drop glass, domed plastic and decorative glass.

Decorative - Decorative trims offer new styling options for recessed fixtures. With a large array of finishes, the decorative trims can be matched to complement fixtures with the same finish. Most of the decorative trims can eliminate hot spots and glare that can occur from traditional ceiling mounted and recessed fixtures.