Installing recessed lighting

MATERIALS: Can lights and trims, switch box and switch, cable, cable clamps (if they're not built into the fixture], wire nuts, electrician's tape

TOOLS: Stud finder, drill with long bit, drywall saw or hole-cutting drill attachment, voltage tester or multi-tester, combination stripper, lineman's pliers, screwdriver, safety glasses

POSITIONING LIGHTS - Can lights come with mounting templates that show you what size hole to cut. Tape templates to the ceiling to get an idea of where your lights should go and how they will look.

Can lights, also called “pot lights,” are recessed lights that use 30-to 150-watt floodlight bulbs. They’re ideal for task lighting, for highlighting artwork, or grouped to illuminate whole rooms. Cans get hot. Position them at least 1 inch away from wood and other flammables. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If the joists are exposed, use a new-work can light. For ceilings already covered by drywall or plaster and lath, buy a remodel can (below) that clips into a hole cut in the ceding.

CHOOSING CANISTER LIGHTS. Can lights are designed to suit specific situations. Here’s how to choose the right one:

• If insulation is in the ceiling, buy IC (Insulation Compatible) lights. Standard recessed lights will dangerously overheat when surrounded by insulation.

• Tiny low-voltage can lights add sparkle. They’re stylish but expensive and are wired in the same way as standard can lights.

• Use bulbs of the recommended wattage or lower. Bulbs with too-high wattage will dangerously overheat. When putting a number of cans on a dimmer, add up all the wattage and make sure your dimmer is rated to handle the load.

• If you have fewer than 8 inches of vertical space above the ceiling, purchase a low-clearance canister.

A standard remodel canister fixture has an approved electrical box, suspended far enough from the light so it will not overheat. A thermal protector shuts the light off if it becomes too hot [for example, if you use a bulb of too-high voltage). If you have fewer than 8 inches of vertical space above your ceiling, purchase special cans designed to fit into this smaller space. Be sure the special cans are IC (Insulation Compatible) rated so there will be no danger of overheating.

1 OPTION A: CUT THE HOLE. Lay out and mark all light locations with the help of the mounting template that comes with the light. Use a stud finder to make sure they will not overlap a joist, or drill a hole and poke a bent wire up into it to make sure the hole is entirely between joists. Draw and cut each hole precisely. If it is even a little too big, the can may not clamp tightly. Wearing safety glasses, cut the line lightly with a utility knife, then cut along the inside of the knife line with a drywall saw. Take care not to snag any wires that may be in the ceiling cavity.

1 OPTION B: USE A HOLE-CUTTING SAW. This tool saves time and cuts holes precisely. Instead of drawing the outline of the hole on the ceiling, just mark the center point shown on the mounting template. Check to see that you will not run into a joist. Check that the lights fit snugly without having to be forced into place. NOTE: This tool is costly (the saw and the arbor are sold separately], but it's worth the price if you have more than six holes to cut through plaster. A less-expensive tool is available for cutting through drywall only.

2 ROUGH-IN THE WIRING. Run cable from a power source to a switch box, and then to the first hole, allowing at least 16 inches of extra cable to make wiring easy. Work carefully and use a drill with a long bit to avoid cutting additional access holes that will need patching later.

CHOOSING CANISTER LIGHTS - Most can lights have two parts—the body and the trim. Choose both at the same time or install bodies with many trim options and choose later. Open trim is the simplest and least expensive option. Baffle trim diffuses light so it is more evenly distributed. Fish-eye [also called eyeball) trim swivels to highlight a decorative feature. Reflective trim offers maximum brightness.

3 WIRE THE LIGHT. Open the light's junction box. Usually, a plate will pop off. Run cable into the box and clamp it. Strip insulation and make wire splices—black to black, white to white, and ground to ground. Fold the wires into the box and replace the cover.

4 MOUNT THE LIGHT. Most remodel cans have four clips that clamp the can to the ceiling by pushing down on the top of the drywall or plaster. Pull the clips in so they do not protrude outside the can. Slip the can's box into the hole, then push the can body up into the hole until its flange is tight to the ceiling. With your thumb or a screwdriver, push each clip up and outward until it clicks and clamps the fixture.

5 ADD THE TRIM. Most trims are mounted with coil springs or squeezable rod springs (as shown). If you have coil springs, hook each spring to its assigned hole inside the can (if it is not already there). Pull out each spring and hook it to the trim, then carefully guide the trim into position. If you have rod springs, squeeze and insert both ends of each spring into their assigned holes, then push the trim up. Different trims require different bulbs: The ones you'll need are marked on the inside of the trim.

MOUNTING A NEW-WORK CAN LIGHT - If ceiling joists are exposed, installation is easy. On a workbench, attach the plaster ring to the fixture. Adjust it to compensate for the thickness of the ceiling drywall that will be installed later. At the ceiling, slide the mounting bars outward so they reach joists on each side. Hammer the four tabs into the joists. Strengthen with 1 1/4-inch wood screws.

Installing halogen lighting

To light counters or display shelves, consider a halogen puck light kit that plugs into a receptacle. A typical kit includes a transformer, cord, cord switch, several hockey-puck-shape lights that attach to the underside of shelves or cabinets, and detailed instructions. If you don’t like using a cord switch, plug the kit into a receptacle controlled by a switch, or alter a receptacle and run cable so one outlet can be switched off and on.

HALOGEN SAFETY TIPS. Halogens provide intense, almost glittering light, and they get hot. Position them where people won’t brush against them. Don’t attach them to particleboard that may scorch. Use halogens in a closet only if you are sure they will always be 18 inches or more away from clothing or boxes. If you use them in small, enclosed spaces, such as above shelves enclosed with glass doors, reduce the heat by replacing a 20-watt bulb with a 10-watt bulb. Drill 1/4-inch air vent holes in the cabinet above the puck lights.

• Halogens are very bright. Position them so they will be out of sight.

• Never use a halogen without the lens, which filters UV rays.

• Do not touch a bulb with your skin: Natural oils will cause the bulb to burn out. Always handle halogen bulbs with a soft cloth.

MATERIALS: Halogen kit (wire, lights, terminal block, transformer, cord switch), insulated staples

TOOLS: Drill with screwdriver bit and 'A-inch bit, combination stripper, hammer

INSTALLING HALOGEN ROPE LIGHTS - To install rope lights, simply staple a rope into place and plug it in. It’s bright enough to use as under cabinet lighting for the countertop and doesn't get as hot as puck lighting. Install rope lights in a straight line, or drape them in soft loops.

INSTALLING PUCK LIGHTING. Drill 1/2-inch holes to run wires, or plan to staple wires to the surface. Remove the covers from the lights, and mount the light bodies with screws. Most halogens are 120 volts, though some still run off low-voltage transformers. Wire the lights as directed, and snap on the trim rings, threading the wires through any holes. Run the wires to a switch box if they're 120 volts or to a transformer if they're low-voltage lights.

Installing fluorescent lighting

MATERIALS: Fluorescent fixture, wire nuts, screws

TOOLS: Combination tool, lineman's pliers, drill with screwdriver bit

INSTALLING A FLUORESCENT. Shut off power at the service panel. Remove the old fixture. Clamp the cable to a knockout in the new fixture and attach the fixture directly to the ceiling by driving screws into joists. Splice the fixture's wires to the incoming wires. Attach the cover plate.


• If an old fluorescent light needs a new ballast consider replacing the fixture. Newer fluorescents with electronic ballasts will be trouble-free for decades.

• Save money by buying fixtures for 4-foot tubes. Smaller tubes are more expensive.

• Fluorescent tubes offer a greater variety of light than ever. A diffusing lens further softens the light.

Fluorescent lights often are installed without a ceiling box: Cable is clamped to the fixture, which substitutes for a box. Some codes, however, require that fluorescent lights be attached to ceiling boxes. Suspend the fixture or set it in a suspended ceiling grid and make the connections. Square or rectangular fixtures with long tubes are the most common. Other fluorescent fixtures are shaped like incandescents and use circular or U-shape tubes.

INSTALLING FLUORESCENTS IN A SUSPENDED CEILING. Fluorescent fixtures fit into the ceiling grid, taking up the space of a 2'x2' or 2'x4' ceiling tile. For smaller fixtures, install additional metal grid pieces and cut ceiling tiles to fit on either side. Shut off power at the service panel; run a cable with ground wire for the lights, screw the light to the grid, and then attach the cable to the fixture. Leave more than enough cable to reach the power source. Connect the wires to the power source before installing the tiles.

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