Interior design help for everyone.
Recessed lighting spacing - How many recessed lights do I need? How far apart do I place my lights?
Good lighting placement is key for any space, especially so for recessed lighting - (we call them pot lights in Canada - no not those sort of lights!). I've written this handy post to show you how it's done!
(We'll talk about bathroom lighting in another post!).
Note: Lumens measure the total light sent out by the light bulb.
Watts measure the amount of power used by the bulb.
So watts do not tell you how bright the bulb is - but Lumens do.
However, since we are all use to discussing wattage, often people use 'wattage' as their term denoting the brightness of a bulb, rather than 'lumens'. For this article we'll use the term "wattage" as most people are more familiar with that term.
Recessed lighting layout:
Part A: How many pot lights do I need?
Formula: total sq. footage x 1.5 = total wattage needed. Total wattage divided by 60 watts (or whichever wattage you select) = total amount of recessed can lights.
Example: 240 square foot room x 1.5 = 360 divided by 60 (the bulb wattage I'd like to use) = 6 recessed lights needed.
Part B: Draw up a ceiling diagram (reflected ceiling plan) showing the amount of lights you need (Part A formula). The cans / pots / recessed lights should be evenly distributed around the room, usually they are in rows with an equal number of cans in each row. Here's a great example, the yellow dots show the recessed lights, the red dots show the pendant lights:
Now we will calculate the spacing between each light.
Part C: Light spacing in a row:
Part D: Task Lighting Layout:
Task lighting is extra lighting used to highlight spaces where you need either extra light, or specialized lighting.
You may want to add under cabinet lighting, or pendant lights over the island to bring the lighting closer to the work area.
How to calculate the distance and spacing for task lighting:
Step 1: Determine the distance from the ceiling down to the surface you wish to light, i.e.. the floor or a countertop.
Step 2: Divide this distance by 4 to obtain the distance from the wall to the first light unit. I.e.. 8' ceiling lights should be placed two feet away from the wall.
Part E: Wall washers recessed lighting layout: (lighting that shines down onto a wall in order to highlight art or a wall feature)
Step 1: The rule for installing wall wash recessed fixtures is approx. 1.5' to 3' away from the wall.
Step 2: Fixed lights can be placed closer to the wall.
Step 3: Place adjustable lights farther away from the wall. The optimal aiming angle to minimize glare is 30-degrees from the ceiling, that way we avoid glare.
Step 4: Space wall wash fixtures the same distance from each other.
Step 5: A good rule of thumb is that your accent lighting should be 3 times brighter than the ambient light in the room.
Part F: Beam Spread
There are generally 2 types of recessed lights - Spot lights and Flood lights.
Spot lights have a narrow beam of light casting light to a focused area, usually these are used to highlighting art or important design elements in the room. They cast beams 45 degrees or less.
Flood lights case a wider beam on the floor area and are used for lighting larger, more general areas. They cast beams up to 120 degrees.
Lighting Beam calculation: Angle of beam x 0.18 x ceiling height = Beam spread in inches.
Example: 60 degrees x 0.18 x 10' ceiling height = 108" divided by 12 = 9' wide beam spread.
To create overlapping beams of light for ambience, make sure that your beam spread diameter is equal to or greater than the distance between light sources fixtures.
Recessed lighting installation:
Now that the recessed lighting placement locations are determined, we need to find out if they can be installed in these locations. Use a stud finder to determine where the ceiling joist are located. You might have to adjust placement locations to avoid hitting a ceiling joist. It's always best to pre plan the lighting design before your renovation or new build.
Please remember to contact your electrician before making any electrical decisions.
You also may enjoy this other article:
15 Steps to Build your Dream Home
Virtual Interior design help throughout Canada and USA
3/28/2019 05:49:43 pm
If the ceiling drops due to central heating vents, how far from the dropped ceiling should the recessed lighting be?
3/29/2019 10:11:17 am
Great question. depending on the size of the room, I'd start the lights 2 feet from the end of the dropped ceiling.
8/13/2019 12:07:45 pm
Thank you for your tip to draw up a ceiling diagram to figure out where to place the recessed lighting. I have been thinking about changing the lighting structure in my home because it just feels too dark right now. I think I will get an electrician to help me with the hard parts.
8/13/2019 12:42:11 pm
Thanks so much for commenting Skyler, it's always a important to contact your electrician for help.
11/11/2019 07:57:43 am
11/11/2019 01:00:18 pm
Hi, thanks so much for your kind words and questions.
12/6/2019 04:08:15 am
I have a 20’ x 12’ room. I didn’t realize the 36” rule off the walls before I laid out my lights. I spaced out 8 lights evenly in my room. So roughly 46” left to right, 50” front to back. Am I going to have to redo literally every one of my holes, or will I be ok? I don’t have my boxes in yet, just the holes all drilled (it a remodel)... I wish I would have realized the suggested spacing 24 hours ago...
12/6/2019 09:36:24 am
12/6/2019 10:40:50 am
Thank you for the reply. I was hoping I’d be ok... It’s in a living room, which currently has just two, two bulb, dome lights, so I’m sure this will be way better than what we currently have. I was just worried about making weird shadows because I placed them too far away from the walls. Thanks again for getting back to me. Having someone who actually knows what they’re doing saying I’ll probably be ok makes me feel better about it. Haha Have a great weekend.
12/6/2019 10:58:36 am
OK great, yes, you should be fine if it's in a living room. You can always play with the wattage/lumens of the bulb as well. If it's too bright, or too many shadows, a dimmer bulb will "smooth" things out a little :)
3/6/2020 06:32:00 am
3/6/2020 08:28:58 am
3/15/2020 07:19:28 pm
We are replacing semi flush mounts with recessed lights and a hanging fixture over the table in a home with 8' ceilings and a 20'x25' kitchen and living room. The kitchen is on one end of the room and the living room with tv on the other end. In the cans, should I use warmer incandescent bulbs on the living room side and brighter for task lighting on the kitchen side or all the same brightness since it's one room?
3/16/2020 11:18:00 am
4/6/2020 01:33:24 pm
Just found your article after wondering if we made a mistake in choosing our lighting for our new house. My mom was very specific on where they were placed and chose 4 disc lights placed in a 2x2 fashion in a 14x16 kitchen with 9 feet ceilings. There are also 3 pendant lights over the island, will the kitchen be too dark from not enough disc lights available? They are spaced roughly 5 feet apart from eachother.
4/8/2020 09:54:05 am
6/1/2020 01:11:13 pm
6/3/2020 10:16:24 am
6/17/2020 11:54:38 am
We are in the planning stages of installing recessed LEDs in our kitchen / living room reno. We are experiencing some placement challenges in that we are aiming for 4 ft between lights, but this results in the lights not being centered on kitchen cabinets. Is it more important to maintain 4ft than to have centered on cabinets? We would appreciate your thoughts on how to deal with this.
6/17/2020 02:26:23 pm
7/31/2020 01:04:11 pm
Hi, are you recommended distances based on the middle or the start of the hole?
8/1/2020 11:25:01 am
Hi, it's always based on the center of the junction box, thanks for asking. Always double check with your electrician.
JITENDRA RAMESHWARPRASAD SAIN
8/2/2020 09:25:03 am
Thanks mam helping me out after being completed diploma in electrical engg in 1999
8/22/2020 07:19:28 pm
Hey. Thank you for the very informative article! Very helpful. So I am planning a recessed lighting plan for a living room. The living room is 21’x19’. I’m trying to figure out how many lights and a good layout. I am using the Halo 5 in. and 6 in. 3000K White Integrated LED Recessed Ceiling Light Fixture Retrofit Downlight Trim at 90 CRI, Soft White. The specs say it has a beam angle of 101. According to the formula above the fixture would throw a 13’ diameter circle of light on the floor. 101x.18x9’=163 / 12 = 13’. Does this sounds right? Seems a bit big. Also how do I adjust the watt formula for LED? These lights are 8.1 watts and I cannot find the incandescent equivalent.
8/22/2020 08:06:02 pm
10/22/2021 09:41:12 pm
Thanks for a great article. I found it very clear and straight forward, just wanted to comment on the wattage conversation since the new LED lights are much much more efficient. For example I have 850 lm that is using only 10.5 W but it is equivalent to 75 incandescent light. but in general your lm rating should help with deciding the number of lights. Thanks
10/23/2021 04:36:12 pm
Hi, thank you for your kind words, they mean so much!
9/27/2020 05:52:58 pm
9/28/2020 09:45:20 am
9/29/2020 08:39:34 pm
How far should recessed lights in a kitchen be spaced around island pendant lights? Or how does one go about inter-placing general, recessed lights with task lights (such as island pendants)? Kind thanks in advance for your advice! (My sister is a blogger so I can really appreciate all the time and energy it takes to engage with your readers. Thank you!!)
9/30/2020 09:24:33 am
Hi, thanks for commenting and hi to your sister, a fellow blogger!
11/7/2020 01:13:01 pm
11/8/2020 11:39:19 am
11/15/2020 08:10:33 am
Hi Jill, We just used the information in your blog to change out inherited track lighting in our living room to pot lights. It looks great. The track lighting is also in our kitchen. It is basically a rectangle 11 x 17, so not big. One end (6 x 9) has a round kitchen table that I am planning to place a pendent over. Would placing 4, 6 inch pot lights in the working part of the kitchen ( 11 x 11) be correct? Thank you for your expertise and sharing your knowledge!
11/16/2020 05:16:50 pm
12/6/2020 02:53:35 am
Much appreciated such a huge amount for remarking Skyler, it's consistently an imperative to contact your circuit repairman for help.
12/17/2020 10:03:38 pm
I strongly agree, thank you for sharing. This article is very beneficial to all the readers. Great work.
1/15/2021 12:45:26 pm
Hi Jil, Great information, thanks! My husband and I are remodeling our man cave and are planning to use recessed lighting. The room is above our garage and has a relatively low ceiling (8 feet at the apex, less than 5 feet where the roofline meets the vertical wall). The room will be painted dark (movie theater feel), and I'm struggling with how to layout the lights. How far away from the wall would you recommend for lighting a dark room with relatively low ceilings?
1/15/2021 01:24:50 pm
How exciting to be building a man cave! That does sound challenging, I'd need more information, but would love to help. That question would fall into the "Ask a designer" category.
Joe and Kim Morgan
2/20/2021 05:11:30 am
2/22/2021 11:15:03 am
Hi Joe and Kim,
3/4/2021 09:02:12 am
3/4/2021 01:22:05 pm
3/5/2021 09:36:38 am
3/5/2021 10:37:33 am
I was happy to help, Julio.
3/28/2021 11:05:42 am
3/28/2021 02:32:11 pm
6/16/2021 07:55:29 pm
I have been doing a lot of internet searching and this is by far the best information I have found to know how much light to put in a room. Thanks so much for the free advice.
6/17/2021 06:16:57 pm
8/17/2021 09:11:23 am
Jill, thank you for this great information! You mentioned trying to keep recessed lights 3 ft from corners and walls. How do you advise to plan around cabinetry and appliances that jut out? Measure 3 ft from the closest point, 3 ft from the farthest point, or just split the difference? Thanks!
8/18/2021 12:27:53 pm
9/22/2021 10:56:17 pm
We building a home with 14ft ceilings. I would like to have recessed ceiling lighting to highlight art to be hung on the walls. Is there an LED fixture that can put a spot light at the normal height for artwork? How far from the wall would it be installed?
9/23/2021 11:55:42 am
12/1/2021 09:27:14 am
Hello, This is a great post! Thanks for all the information! I am wondering about recessed light placement on a sloped ceiling. For general lighting where should they be placed and is it best to use flat or gimbal lights? Many thanks!
12/1/2021 11:41:18 am
1/18/2022 08:27:24 am
Hi Jill... What a great and informative article!
1/18/2022 10:27:05 am
Thanks so much for commenting.
1/19/2022 12:25:40 pm
Thanks for the quick response, and for the helpful information.
1/19/2022 01:52:12 pm
Hi, 4,000K is quite blue-ish, and not great color light for a residential. I can't comment directly on the dimming as I don't know the size of the room & the height, that makes a difference.
1/19/2022 02:32:30 pm
Once again, thanks for your quick response and expertise!
1/31/2022 07:26:55 pm
I'm gearing up for lighting in a 24x12'5" living room x dining room combo (the room slightly narrows in the dining section to about 11') and similar size room for family room / flexible space off the kitchen.
2/1/2022 09:21:06 am
3/26/2022 12:25:03 pm
Hi, just wanted to let you know that the font on your awesome article is showing up SUPER small while the comments are nice and legible for the over 50 crowd like me LOL. Love your website.
3/28/2022 01:21:33 pm
Working on a 16x24 living room addition. I want to use recessed lighting as the general lighting for the room. Room will have a 12' sloped ceiling. On one of the 16' ends will be a rock fireplace with a hand hewn mantle that I want to highlight. How many lights will I need, what should spacing be, and how would I space the end with the fireplace?
3/30/2022 11:45:42 am
4/12/2022 09:44:20 am
Hi Jil! I found your page searching while trying to solve a design problem, because in your diagram, it looks as though you spec'd different sizes for counter and area lights. I have been thinking of doing 1" over counter (plus under-cabinet to avoid shadows) and 4" area lighting. Is this what you intended to portray? I haven't been able to find much discussion or examples about this.
4/12/2022 01:16:48 pm
Hi Jim, That's a great question, thanks for asking! In a nutshell, no, I wouldn't suggest different sized lights in the ceiling. Those smaller lights were to indicate the area for the under cabinet lights. (I'll actually change the photo, I see it is confusing). The only different lighting I'd use would be pendants, over the island or peninsula, or a flush or semi flush light over the sink. I think a 3-4" recessed light throughout the ceiling would work best for your situation. Thanks for commenting! Jil
4/20/2022 01:51:22 am
I am currently trying to light a living room that currently has zero ceiling lights. It is so dark and shadowy. The room is 20X20 and it also opens up to a dining area divided only by a fireplace. We have a couch and love seat in front of the fireplace, so I don't think we really need any task lighting, but I would like to put one larger centrepiece light that hangs into the middle of the living room set.
4/20/2022 09:08:48 am
Hi Anne, thanks for reading & commenting. It's challenging to comment without seeing your furniture layout, remember we light living areas, not general rooms. But in general, I'd ensure the light I choose was adaptable for slanted ceilings and place it where it's needed. Often hanging lights are better for higher ceilings as they bring the light down to where it's needed.
7/3/2022 07:40:51 pm
7/4/2022 12:39:02 pm
9/23/2022 06:58:17 am
9/23/2022 10:50:33 am
10/1/2022 02:10:28 am
Thank you so much for such a great article on lighting! You covered every room for me and now I know exactly how much lighting I need in every space.
10/3/2022 10:35:10 am
Thanks William, I'm glad you found the recessed lighting article helpful!
11/27/2022 07:49:04 pm
How would you handle lighting in a living room that has a square coat closet that sticks out 28” from the middle of one wall?
12/11/2022 04:19:32 pm
Hi Anna, It's challenging to comment without seeing your floorplan. In general, I'd have the lighting 12" min. away from any door or wall.
2/8/2023 05:14:19 am
When is a 4" vs 6" can used, seems 4" is becoming more popular
2/8/2023 02:41:53 pm
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Jil Sonia McDonald - Interior Designer of Jil Sonia Interior Designs.
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