Some facets of construction have too few rules. There are rules about minimum
amounts of lighting, but nothing about maximums. So, in the case of residential
lighting, how do we know when there's enough? Whether recessed or surface-mounted,
lighting is much like painting, wallpapering, wood moldings and accent trim.
Each of these depends a great deal on your personal taste, rather than some
engineer's calculation. How much do you want—or need? Do you like a bright
room or have you something subtle or low-key in mind?
Perhaps we can help. For a work area like a kitchen or laundry, you will want
lots of lighting—as much as you can fit into the ceiling. Believe it or
not, we often place rows 3 feet to 4 feet apart. And, in each row, we often
place fixtures 2-1/2-feet to 3-1/2-feet apart. Some designers dislike such close
spacing complaining about the cluttered look created when there are so many
ceiling penetrations. However, when you turn the lights on and the room beams,
you will be glad your ceiling is "cluttered" and bright, rather than
sparsely lighted and gloomy.
Unlike track lighting, you can't add or subtract later. If there is a question
about the amount, go with the extra locations, and make sure that the system
is on two switches or dimmers. Although it is interesting and good looking,
a recessed light fixture does not provide nearly as much light as a surface-mount
light fixture. This is because most of the light that comes from a recessed
fixture is pointed toward the floor and does not reflect off the ceiling as
does a surface-mount fixture.
Fluorescent lighting is best in work places. In the laundry, you have to iron,
scrub and wash for hours on end. And there's even more to be done in the kitchen.
These are not places for the harsh light and heavy shadows created by conventional
incandescent bulbs. Go for compact fluorescent instead—less wattage combined
with soft, bright light. You probably knew that already. But what you might
not know is that you can successfully use a compact fluorescent in a recessed
light fixture. It might entail a trim ring change, but it is possible. Most
recessed fixture manufacturers offer a parabolic reflector that has a large
center hole—big enough for a compact fluorescent to fit trough. Compact
fluorescents are long and will probably protrude slightly from the lower end
of the recessed fixture, but we think this is an interesting and somewhat contemporary
Note: We suggest using incandescent recessed light fixtures with compact fluorescent
bulbs because incandescent cans are less expensive than fluorescent ones. And
if you get a hum, all you have to do is change the bulb. There is a drawback
when following this procedure: a compact fluorescent cannot be dimmed when installed
in an incandescent can. However, for kitchen and other workspace lighting, we
have found that most folks want lights fully on or fully off. If you want to
dim a recessed fluorescent, you can do so by purchasing fluorescent recessed
cans. They are pricey and—in our opinion—a waste of money.
In larger rooms, such as the living room and family room, ceiling lighting
can be spaced at greater distances. The increase in distance between fixtures
softens the light. This is OK because intense lighting is not as important in
formal areas of the home. In fact, many living rooms have no ceiling lighting
at all, and often depend on lamps. We suggest that 6-inch recessed cans be placed
4-feet to 6-feet—or more—on center. This placement works well to
produce low-key lighting that is easier on the eyes and quieting to the atmosphere.
In formal spaces, widely spaced incandescent lights work well. Recessed lights
can be made to be even more low-key with dimmer switches added. Very soft lighting
can be achieved at dimmed settings. For high ceilings, we suggest flood lamps
or spots. Both are a bit too intense for standard 8-foot high ceilings, but
extra intensity is needed when a ceiling travels up 15 feet or more.
Halogen fixtures are also good for high ceilings, but you can't change a quartz
bulb from floor level. However, a standard screw-base incandescent bulb can
be changed from floor level in a room with a 20-foot ceiling using a light-bulb
changing tool on an extension pole. They're available at most home centers and
hardware stores in the light-bulb department. Be sure to use a bulb-base lubricant
when installing such bulbs. You don't want to be going up on a ladder to remove
a bulb that's broken in the socket. Also, use high-quality name-brand bulbs—they
hold together better.
Recessed lights can be beautiful. But they are not the world's only type of
lighting. Surface-mount light fixtures are a good choice, too. They can be fitted
with incandescent, fluorescent or halogen lighting to produce myriad moods and
lighting levels. Surface-mount fixtures also can be elegant and interesting