Recessed lighting, also called can lights or pot lights, are light fixtures recessed up into the ceiling or otherwise installed flush with the surface of an indoor or outdoor space or piece of cabinetry. Recessed fixtures can provide ambient lighting, task lighting or accent lighting to draw attention to artwork or items displayed on built-in shelving. Recessed lighting can also make a room look bigger thanks to an effect called "wall washing," which casts more light around the room using a certain kind of trim—the part of the light that is visible from the hole in the ceiling. Wall-washed trim has a directional reflector and a light scoop that directs light onto the wall. Recessed lighting typically costs $130–$150 per fixture, including materials and labor costs. Most electricians and lighting contractors offer package rates to provide a bulk installation discount. Installing recessed lighting in a ceiling instantly brightens up a room that has no ceiling fixtures at all, which is a common situation in older homes.
Light or fixture size
Ray Marrow, owner of NY Lite Design in New York City, says he is partial to 3- or 4-inch recessed light fixtures and bulbs these days because they fit better with current design trends. In prior decades, 6-inch recessed lights were popular, but today it’s more common to see smaller fixtures (and install more of them) to achieve the desired effect. Marrow typically charges $60 per fixture to install recessed lighting, not including the cost of the fixture, which is about $15–$30 each, depending on the size and whether they are dimmable.
Ceiling height and material
High ceilings sometimes—but not always—increase the cost of installing recessed lighting because of the increased labor required. The material that the ceiling is made of definitely affects the overall cost of installation. Sheetrock is easier to work with than a plaster ceiling, says Marrow of NY Lite Design. It takes less time to cut through sheetrock than plaster, which is harder and messier to deal with.
Marrow of NY Lite Design says installing recessed lights in a ceiling with attic space above it is much easier than putting in recessed lights where no attic exists. When contractors can access an attic space, the overall cost to have recessed lighting installed is usually lower.
Recessed light fixtures come in two different types of housings. Insulation contact (IC) housings are designed to come into contact with attic insulation safely without posing a fire hazard. Non-IC housings should not be installed where they’ll come into contact with insulation, but if there is no insulation within 3 inches, non-IC housings are fine. Recessed lighting fixtures feature a self-resetting thermal switch to prevent overheating, but it’s still a good idea to pay attention and select IC or non-IC housings appropriately. IC fixtures cost only a few dollars more each than non-IC fixtures. Housings are also categorized for installation in new construction or remodeling projects. New construction fixtures cost about 30 percent less than those intended for remodels.
LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are the latest in lighting technology and very popular because of their energy efficiency. LEDs last 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use 1/10th of the energy and don’t contain mercury. LEDs are starting to replace the compact fluorescent (CF) bulbs that emerged as a step between incandescent and LED bulbs. Marrow of NY Lite Design says he only installs LED recessed lights these days, noting that LED technology is still in its infancy and will continue to improve. LED bulbs cost more upfront than incandescent and CF, but will cost less over time in terms of electricity bills and replacement costs. Marrow says that not all LEDs work with dimmer switches, so to be sure to get the appropriate bulbs if you want that option.
If an electrician has to install switches where none existed to control new recessed lights, the average cost will be $75–$150 per switch.
In addition to recessed lighting, many areas of a home also have other types of lighting fixtures. A dining room, for example, may have a chandelier over the table and recessed lights along the sides of the room. Electricians can install both types of fixtures at the same time, which will increase costs. The amount of increase depends on the extent of the job and required labor and materials.