How to Install Recessed Can Lights

Recessed “can lights” are seen in kitchens, living rooms and even bedrooms and basements. Their design makes them ideal for focusing on tight areas such as a kitchen counter or entertainment center. The “can” which contains the light bulb is often lined with a reflective coating to better focus the light. To cover a large area with can light fixtures, multiple lights are a must.

1) Determine the Location
It is much easier to install recessed can lights on a flat ceiling which can be accessed from an attic above. Installers will need to access the attic to perform the wiring, installation of the can light mount and drilling holes in the drywall. If installed in a vaulted ceiling in which attic access is impossible, it will be necessary to remove the drywall panels from the ceiling to perform the wiring.

2) Cut the Drywall Holes
Once in the attic, you can use a can light mount as a stencil to draw the circles which will be cut out. Read the instructions that came with the fixture to determine the exact diameter of the hole. Use a hole cutter bit with a drill to perform the cut. The hole needs to be slightly wider that the mount opening so that the decorative trim can fit into place.

3) Install the Can Light Mounts
Each can light will have a mount as shown in the picture. The mount is positioned between the rafter beams in the ceiling directly over the hole. This mount will hold the bulb and decorative trim into place which will be installed later on. Installation of each mount is fairly straightforward- simply measure out the spacing using a measuring tape. The placement will be slightly limited based on the position of the rafters. If the mount will not reach two adjacent rafters, a beam of wood can be installed to bridge the gap. Pull up any insulation before installing the mount.

4) Wire the Mounts
All of the lights will be wired in series, with 3 different wires going between them. This includes the black, or “hot” wire, the white neutral wire and the grounding wire. In a series connection, these wires enter a fixture, and come out the other side to the next fixture. If using conduit, a grounding wire will not be required. The wire connections are best made using wire nuts, but electrical tape may be used. Unless you have sealed housings, do not replace the insulation over the recessed can lights. Check with your building codes to determine how far away the insulation must be from a light socket. Finally, use a circuit tester to ensure that the system is operational before leaving the attic or replacing any flooring. This section assumes that you have wiring coming off of a wall switch which will be connected to the system.

Note: Circuits have a maximum load which they can handle. As an example, it is acceptable to connect ten 65 watt lights to a 20 amp circuit.

5) Install the Trim and Bulbs
If you intend to paint the ceiling, do so now. Using a sturdy ladder, stick the decorative trim rings into the ceiling holes. They should click firmly into place, assuming the holes have been drilled to the correct diameter. After installing the bulbs, the lights should turn on to illuminate your home. If desired, different colored trim rings can be installed at a later date.

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