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Tips on Designing a Recessed Lighting Layout

Before going to the store to buy recessed lighting, it would be wise to create a recessed lighting layout.  This will allow you to buy the right number of recessed lights with the correct trim and will help the electrician or yourself place them in the ceiling with little damage.


  • Draw a box to scale with the room you will be lighting
  • Draw the lights into the space to scale
  • Group them for switches

Guidelines and Considerations

1. What room is this for?

Some rooms need more light than others.  Kitchens and bathrooms, where specific tasks are taking place like cooking, need more light than rooms for general purpose, such as a living room.  This, however, does not necessarily mean that every spot in the kitchen should be covered with recessed lighting, only that there should be adequate lighting (cans are 2 ft. apart with a stronger bulb accompanied by under cabinet lighting and pendants).

2. Is it general lighting or lighting for something more specific?

Example of General Recessed LightingExample of Specific Recessed Lighting

Consider whether the lighting is for general purpose (light up the room when you flip the switch), or for a specific purpose (light the art on the walls).  Besides just picking the right trim, you will also layout where these will be needed.  In the examples below, 2 directional lights are placed on either side of a fireplace and are separate from the layout of the general can lights.

3. How many lights will I need?

To figure out how many lights you will need, you will need to know how much space you have.  If you are planning general lighting that will cover the ceiling, you will space them differently, and will need many more than if you are just lighting some art work on the wall.  Below is a general outline of spacing in a room, of course this is subject to variation if the room requires more light like the kitchen.

Cans should be spaced depending upon the height of your ceiling (generally):

8 ft. Ceiling: 3ft.  apart

10 ft. Ceiling: 4 ft. apart

12 ft. Ceiling: 5 ft. apart

4. What should I do about light switches?

You cannot put too many lights on the same switch and not expect to overload it.  In your plan that you have carefully drawn out and marked the distances between the lights, circle which lights will be put on the same circuit and draw a line marking where the switch will be.  See the examples below.

5. What type of light bulb will I be using?

(click here to read about light bulbs and recessed lighting)


Draw your room to scale.  For this example, this is a 10X10 living room.

 Space the recessed lights evenly based on your ceiling height.  This room has a 10 ft. ceiling and the recessed lights should be about 4ft. apart.  Spacing is really about aesthetics.  In this square room, it seemed best to stagger the lights.  In a long and narrow room, you might have two long strings of recessed lights.  Consider the middle light.  It does not have to be a recessed light.  If your furniture arrangement and ceiling allows, perhaps this middle light is a chandelier or pendant.

Mark out the distances between your lights so you know where to drill holes (these are measured from center to center).  Just remember that you are trying to get an even wash of light throughout the room. Avoid dark corners (and remember that not all lighting must be provided by the recessed lights).

Here are two examples of grouping lights for switches.  Assume this switch is one control with different settings which is why they appear to link to the same place.  Left: This shows the two directional lights and the pendant connected with the recessed cans on a separate circuit.  Right: This light shows the directional lights, pendant light, and recessed lights all on separate circuits for more versatility.  Add dimmers to any or all of these lights, and the possibilities increase.  Essentially you want to group the lights for different purposes in the room.  It might be appropriate to have all the lights on when you are entertaining, and use less when it is a quiet evening at home.  But keep the number of lights per switch at 6 or less.

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