How To: Choose Recessed Lighting

Updated - 10/24/22

Recessed lighting, also called downlight or can light, is extremely versatile and great for spaces with low ceilings. The fixtures are often inconspicuous and great for all types of illumination. Recessed lighting can offer general illumination to any space; it can also be used as task lighting by providing direct light above a desk or sink, or accent lighting by highlighting artwork or simply highlighting a wall (this is called wall wash lighting).

Since recessed lighting is applicable to many spaces, choosing the right type is important. Picking the right type of recessed lighting is dependent on installation, type of illumination, and aesthetic.


  • Remodel or New Construction – “Remodel” housing is less bulky and used when there is limited space, or little to no access to the space above the fixture. “New Construction” housing is used in newly built spaces where you have full access to the wall, ceiling, or floor space, allowing enough room for bulkier housing.
  • IC Rated or Non-IC Rated – This is a critical aspect in choosing the right housing for your recessed lighting. IC Rated, or insulation contact rated, means the fixture can come in direct contact with thermal insulation. Non-IC Rated, or non-insulation contact rated, like the name says, cannot come in direct contact with thermal insulation and should be 3-inches from any insulation.
  • Line or Low Voltage – Line voltage uses typical household 120 volt current. It needs no transformer or special dimmer. Low voltage is more energy efficient and uses a 12 volt current. A special transformer is needed for this application to reduce voltage; dimmers are applicable if dimming features are wanted.
  • LED – With its long life and energy savings features, most recessed lighting are now moving towards LED as the preferred lamping choice. The lighting output of LED has also improved in recent times that LED can now provide equal or better illuminating performance. 
  • Other factors – structural features, trim size, trim style, light source type.


How-toRecessed lighting