How to Install Recessed Can Lights (New Construction)
We decided on recessed can lighting for our new basement game room. Not only do can lights reduce the visibility of ceiling defects, they eliminate light fixtures hanging down into the room. Since our ceiling is low (only 7’8″ without ceiling drywall or a final flooring surface), saving the extra space is a big plus.
Installing new construction can lighting is very simple and straightforward. Each can goes up in about 10 minutes and wires quickly. For this job, we selected Commercial Electric 6 inch cans for most of the ceiling, and 4 inch cans for some areas where 6 inch cans would have been too much. Most home improvement stores sell a variation of these cans that employ the same features.
If you’re doing a remodel where sheet rock is already covering the studs, you’ll need to use a remodel can. Remodel cans are similar to new construction cans except that they rest on the existing drywall instead of being fastened to studs.
Recessed Can Light Ceiling Placement
Before you start running electric and mounting cans, you should consider the light level you need in the room and how you’ll layout the cans.
Light level: Online recommendations for light levels vary from 1.5 – 3 watts / square foot. We like the option of having the room very bright, and our basement doesn’t have much in the way of windows, so we’re targeting 3 watts / square foot (measured in incandescent lighting). The actual wattage will be about 1/4 of that amount since we’ll be using energy efficient dimmable CFLs in the cans.
Distance between cans: In terms of placement, the goal is to evenly spread the light throughout the room. We like cans within 4 to 4.5 feet of each wall, and no further apart than 6 feet from other cans, with the cans in a grid such that they are all aligned. Each room is different, don’t place cans too far apart or too close together.
Other lighting: Also consider whether you’ll use recessed lighting throughout the space or if you’ll weave in other types of lighting (like hanging fixtures, track lighting or something else). Obvioiusly, consulting a design professional may be helpful, especially for complex spaces.
New Construction Can Light Installation Instructions
Step 1: Run a new circuit or extend an existing circuit. Recessed lighting installation begins with running a new electrical circuit from the electrical panel or tapping electricity off of an existing circuit. The wire should run from the electrical source to a switch, and then from the switch to the first can. Each subsequent can is connected with another piece of Romex. In most installations, 14/2 Romex on a 15 amp breaker is appropriate. If you are using a 20 amp lighting circuit (uncommon), you must use 12/2 Romex.
In some areas, this work requires you to be a licensed electrician and pull permits. There are code concerns with running new circuits that we do not address in this article. Consult an electrician if you aren’t confident in performing this work.
Step 2: Make up connections. Electric wires at each fixture will be connected inside a box that is integral to the can fixture, and will enter the fixture through a knockout secured by a 1/2″ tension reliever. The tension reliever should be installed prior to putting up the can. The Romex can be stripped back to the tension reliever, as shown in this picture:
Tip: Leave about 16 inches of excess Romex in the ceiling to give you a little flexibility on exact can placement. You’ll be connecting the tension reliever to a box that is integral to the can, and you want the flexibility to hang the can with the box in the easiest spot to wire.
Step 3: Mount the fixture. Mounting a new can is really simple. Most cans comes with spacers to ensure the can is mounted at the right depth. The 6 inch cans we chose also have a height adjustment mechanism, even after mounting is complete. (This is good because its flexible for different drywall widths and will also accommodate ceiling strapping).
The 4 inch can is pictured below and it does not have a height adjustment mechanism, so we had to take into account the height of the ceiling strapping prior to mounting. Notice that the can sits between the joists, and can move to within 1 inch of the joist, depending on which side the electrical box sits.
Step 4: Make electrical connections. Open one on the knockouts on the fixture and secure the 1/2″ tension reliever in the knock-out. Once the tension reliever is in place, you can make the electrical connections. This step is made really simple by quick connects included with most can fixtures. Simply connect all the black wires, all the white wires, and all the grounds using the quick connect clip, and secure the wires inside the box. The picture below shows the tension reliever connected to the box and the quick connect clips.
Step 5: Test the circuit. Before installing drywall, test the entire recessed lighting circuit to ensure your wiring is correct. After the electrical circuit is complete and you’ve double-checked your work, you’re ready to hang drywall on the ceiling. We’ll cover how to hang the drywall and make cut-outs for the cans in a future article.
What do you think? Will you install can fixtures in your next remodel? Got a question? Leave it in the comments and we’ll try to help.
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