Unlike incandescent bulbs, though, you can choose warmer or cooler looks when you buy LEDs. Some people prefer cooler looks overall, and will always choose them for their household lighting. Others want warmer lighting in places like living rooms and bedrooms, but they want cooler, more vivid color temperatures in places like laundry rooms and workshops. They may choose something in between for rooms like kitchens or bathrooms. It’s really a matter of personal preference – something that LEDs help you fulfill.
Above: Do try this at home—in Freundlich’s own newly remodeled Brooklyn bathroom, he used USAI Square Bevel Trimless recessed lights over the tub and sink. Photograph by Oliver Freundlich.
LED bulbs are today’s longest lasting and most efficient bulbs. By far. A quality LED easily lasts 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb and uses about 1/6 the energy. That’s a big money saver.
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Above: An Adjustable Downlight by Iris and a Jielde sconce illuminate the entry of a Cobble Hill duplex that Freundlich designed for a young couple. See The Ultimate Starter Apartment. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
Above: A Maine Modern House by Bruce Norelius features subtle recessed ceiling lights specified by lighting designer Peter Knuppel. Photograph by Sandy Agrafiotis.
Halo: A less expensive brand available at major suppliers, including Home Depot. Nowhere near the trim options available from the above manufacturers (the apertures are five inches, rather than as small as three), but the light quality is good and you can’t beat the prices.
Not all lightbulbs are created equal. I still prefer the warm glow of incandescent and halogen lighting. There are now a lot of excellent recessed LED manufacturers, but it’s still important to test the color quality of their LEDs before committing. For residential applications, I recommend using the warmest LED available (typically +/- 2700k). This gets close to the quality of halogen lighting, though it’s not exactly the same. Be warned that some of the more affordable LED lights have very little consistency in color quality, and you can actually see different shades of light from one fixture to the next.
CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) were an early attempt to replace household bulbs – including recessed BRlights – with something more efficient. Unfortunately, many people don’t like the quality of light they provide; most of them don’t dim; they take a while to reach full brightness; and while they last longer than incandescents, they don’t last as long as people expected them to.
Color temperature describes how warm or cool a light appears. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are known for providing a warm look, which creates an inviting, cozy atmosphere. This appearance is rated on a Kelvin scale with incandescents rated 2700K and halogens usually around 2850K.
PAR bulbs have a flat face and keep their light well focused, while BR bulbs have a more rounded face and provide more diffuse lighting. This means PAR bulbs are excellent for highlighting a specific area while BR bulbs are excellent for general lighting. So unless you’re trying to focus the light on one area, stick with BR bulbs.
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5 Things You Should Know Before Choosing Recessed Lighting was last modified: June 29th, 2017 by Steve McCardell
So yes, CFL bulbs save money vs incandescent bulbs (and the quality of their light has improved), but they are quickly being abandoned – even by manufacturers – for the far more popular LED.
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USAI Lighting: Similar to Element in offerings and price point, USAI has beautiful flangeless trim options for both halogen and LED lighting.
No matter how well-designed your home, bad lighting can really kill the mood. Recessed lights are an option that when used strategically can remedy that—but they can also turn your ceiling into Swiss cheese and shroud your quarters in a dull light. A while back, Remodelista reader John Gibsonis wrote asking us to elucidate this “useful but often so badly applied tool.” One of our favorite designers, New York architect Oliver Freundlich, told us he’s known in his office as the Lighting Dictator and would be happy to guide us. Here’s what he had to say.
LED color temperatures range from a warm 2700K to a very cool 6500K, though most households wouldn’t use anything cooler than 5000K. And if you really want to mimic the warmth of incandescent bulbs while upgrading to LED, you can look for warm dimming bulbs. As their name suggests, they get an even warmer look when dimmed, just like incandescent bulbs do. Philips calls this “warm glow” technology, and you can see their warm glow bulbs here.
No. 8 Lighting: The holy grail of high-end recessed lighting. Check out the trims.
If you’re replacing or upgrading the light bulbs in your recessed lighting cans, there’s plenty you should know about your options before you shop. Here’s a rundown of the most important things to consider:
While you could use a standard light bulb in a recessed can, this is a poor use of lighting. You want all the light thrown downwards from the can, and this is the purpose of reflector bulbs. So most people will naturally look to PAR or BR bulbs with their narrow necks and broad faces.
Above: From recessed lighting leaders No. 8 Lighting, LED Recessed Ceiling Lights in two flush circular trims in white and in satin brass.
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Now that you know about recessed light bulb shapes and sizes, you could just ignore all that and choose a newer option. We’ll talk more about different technologies in a moment, but LED downlight kits like these let you skip the bulb. In fact, if you already have cones and trims in place with your recessed cans, you can remove those as well.
Incandescent bulbs are loved by many for the warm look of the lighting they provide. They also dim very well on all dimmers and they provide instant on/off light. Unfortunately, they have short life spans and they use a lot of energy to provide you with light. This means you’re replacing them often – easily once a year in high-traffic areas of your home. And in ceiling cans, those aren’t easy replacements. Plus their energy usage means paying more than you should for light.
If you take no other piece of advice from me, you must install a dimmer on (nearly) every fixture in your home. Being able to adjust the intensity of lighting (especially overhead) based on the mood you want to create is paramount. This is not just important for your entertaining areas. I recommend using dimmers for all bathroom fixtures (think of relaxing in the tub), under-cabinet lighting, and even in walk-in closets. An added benefit of using dimmers is that when a bulb is dimmed even just 10 percent, you extend the life of the bulb. Note: LED lights usually require special electronic low-voltage (ELV) dimmers rather than typical magnetic low-voltage. Check to see what type of transformer is inside your recessed fixture before selecting the dimmer control.
Recessed lighting comes in various configurations. A wall washer is a fixture that is typically placed 18 to 24 inches from the wall (depending on your ceiling height) and used in a series to spread light on a large surface. When light is bounced off a vertical surface into a room, it creates a great sense of illumination: You notice the wall rather than the fixture itself.
But most people are also confused about the difference between these bulbs. Which should you choose?
Above: In artist’s Chuck Close’s kitchen in Long Beach, New York, recessed lights—three-inch-square LED Wall Washers with flangeless trim from Element—illuminate a drawing. The project was one of the first Freundlich undertook when he opened his own firm. Photograph by Oliver Freundlich.
And what about the quality of the light? By traditional standards, incandescent bulbs carry the highest rating in terms of how well they render colors. But this standard is being revised because it doesn’t tell the whole story. LEDs can render colors very well, even rendering some colors better than incandescent bulbs do.
A BR40 isn’t just wider … it’s also a little longer from base to face so it protrudes a little further from the can. Many cans allow you to adjust the socket height to get the face of the bulb where you want it within the can.
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Above: No. 8 Lighting’s LED Ceiling Lights in two square options in satin nickel and oil-rubbed bronze.
Steve McCardell is an LS I certified lighting specialist who works for Lighting Supply Company. He writes about lighting on a regular basis with an emphasis on LED.
How to begin? Here are my crucial recessed lighting tips gathered from my collaborations with masterful lighting designer Marianne Maloney of Filament 33 and from years of experimenting.
Traditional recessed light bulbs were incandescent or halogen bulbs. Halogen bulbs are really just a specialized form of the incandescent bulb; they burn a little hotter and a little whiter, and they’re more efficient. Other than that, they’re largely the same.
Instead of blanketing a space with an even grid of lighting, introduce a spotlight (or a few) to orient the eye. Unlike wall washers, spotlights, with their narrow beams, draw your attention to a specific moment within a room. For example, installing spotlights in a bathroom over a porcelain sink and bathtub makes the fixtures sparkle and pop.
Bonus Tip on LED: If you choose LED as your source of lighting, consider sticking with reputable brands. The size of this market has attracted countless manufacturers who produce low-end bulbs with cheap components and poor build quality. This is an area where you can truly get what you pay for. Cheaply made bulbs are more likely to shift color temperatures or grow dimmer with time; buzz or flicker, or simply die sooner than they should.
Lighting plays an important role in everything about our lives and gives us some additional control over the look and mood of our homes. Armed with these 5 tips, you should be in good shape for choosing recessed lighting that helps you craft an atmosphere that’s right for you.
LED downlight kits are a little more expensive than mere light bulbs, but they provide you with the flush look of a light source and trim all in one. No more gaps around a bulb; no more bulbs hanging at odd angles within the cans. As with all LED lights, these provide you with substantial energy savings compared to other technologies, and they let you choose from several color temperatures as well – topics we’ll cover as you read on!
Just as important, LEDs provide almost all the benefits of incandescent lighting and then some. They provide instant on/off lighting and they work on many dimmers – especially those designed for LED lights. They can also provide a warm-looking light like incandescent bulbs, but also cooler / whiter looking lights, as we’ll discuss in a moment.
We all know that beauty is in the details. Recessed lighting comes with many different trim options and apertures, and choosing the right ones can make even the most unobtrusive ceiling lights feel considered and refined. High-end fixtures are offered in metal finishes that look great in wood ceilings. For more minimal applications, you can install flangeless fixtures that are plastered into the ceiling to look seamless: All you see is an origami-like cutout in the ceiling plane.
While this sounds a little technical, it’s important to understand before you buy a light bulb, because bulb packages now show Kelvin ratings. If you want to mimic the warmth of an incandescent bulb with a LED, look for one that’s rated 2700K.
This depends on the size of the recessed cans and the look you’re going for. Typical household cans are 4 or 6 inches wide. A BR30 fits in either, but you’ll have wide gaps left around the bulb in a 6″ can. A BR40 won’t fit in the smaller can and will minimize the gaps around the bulb in a 6″ can.
See more of Freundlich’s work at Oliver Freundlich Design (and also our posts on Julianne Moore’s Kitchen Design and One Girl Cookies).
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Element: The LED fixtures by Tech Lighting have very nice color quality and are comparable to the cost of a good-quality halogen recessed light.
The goal for recessed lighting is to add not only visibility but also interest and ambiance to your environment. Toward that end, layering your lighting is critical: Combine recessed lights with a variety of other types (such as decorative pendants, table lamps, sconces, and candles) to make rooms feel balanced and inviting. This applies to modern spaces, where recessed lighting is most often used, and to traditional settings, such as old townhouses, where strategically placed recessed lights can work wonders.