The process of choosing how to layout recessed lighting into the ceiling of a room can be as simple as calculating recessed light spacings through to considering a thoroughly resolved design.
As an experienced lighting consultant my recommendation for general ambient lighting is to create a recessed lighting layout of one fixture every 36″ to 48″ , with at least a 24″ gap around the perimeter of the room.
Choose a grid layout for an even illumination, or be led to positionings by what you are lighting and the expected uses of each area.
Follow these steps to know where best to place each light.
Analyze the size and shape of the room to help determine the pattern of your recessed lighting layout. For instance, a square or rectangular room will require a symmetrical setup with fixtures distributed evenly across the walls and/or ceiling, while an irregular shaped space may need lights placed in clusters to emphasize certain areas.
Common layout patterns are:
For even illumination grid the layout for a clean pattern of positionings in the ceiling.
Use the shape of the whole room or spaces within the room to line the lights up to each other.
This example below shows our design for a rectangular group of 6 lights to fit within the space within a bedroom with the same proportions alongside a square grid of 4 lights within the space left between wardrobes and windows.
A staggered grid pattern for even illumination, breaking up the grid runway style by aligning alternate rows of lights at a distance to half way between it’s neighbours spacings, as seen in the example below.
An organic layout that is led by where lighting is required rather than uniformly lit.
This example below shows a bathroom where we used recessed lights grouped along the vanity unit and over the shower alongside individual lights over the toilet and floor.
Interior spaces are not always rectangular spaces but require the lighting to be guided by the room shape.
This example below shows a project where we used an equal offset distance from wardrobe doors that ran at an angle to each other on the plan. This meant the pattern had tapered positionings to suit the room shape and retain uniform illumination across all of the doors.
Measure the length and width of the room in inches. If irregular in shape, focus on the part that requires the lighting the most.
The distance between recessed light fixtures is first determined by the level of intensity of light required, which in lighting terms is the recommended lux level on the surfaces being lit. This is calculated by the amount of light being created measured by the lumen output, and how close each fixture is to be installed to each other.
All recessed ceiling lights differ in their brightness lumen level, some way more intense than others.
For more check out our tips on how to position recessed lights.
So the number of lights is determined by how tightly spaced they are, and here’s how to determine that number.
Divide your measured length or width by the distance you want the lights spaced by the chosen spacing distance. Round up or down the result to the nearest whole number and repeat the calculation.
A grid layout calculation for general illumination places the first recessed light to be 2 feet from a wall or piece of high level furniture like a kitchen wall cabinet, with an equal space between the last light and the wall on the opposite side.
Divide the remaining distance by 46 inches to calculate an estimate to how many lights are required.
Let’s say it’s a 26 foot room.
Place 1 recessed light 2 feet (24″) from the wall, allow for the same gap at the opposite wall and then see how many more lights will fit in by dividing 22 feet (26′ -2′ -2′ = 264″) by 46″ = 5.7 lights.
Now that you know the number of lights required, calculate the distance between each one by dividing the length of row of lights in inches by the nearest whole number of lights.
In our example, round up 5.7 to 6 lights and repeat the process.
264″/6 lights = a spacing of 44″ between the centre line of each of the 7 recessed lights
We start with 1 light and then add 6 more, resulting as 7 in total with a 44″ gap.
In my experience this calculation is the best place to start but the reality is determined by where ceiling joists, hidden pipework and other mechanical and electrical equipment is located within the ceiling. Make adjustments to spacings to avoid locations where recessing a light is impossible.
Good practice is to avoid installing recessed lighting too close to a ceiling fan as the moving fan blades will create a strobe effect. Position recessed lights at least 18 inches away from the fan and try adjusting their placement until the strobe effect disappears.
Functional rooms like bathrooms and utility areas need even general illumination so grid layouts work, while living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms benefit from layering accent, task and ambient lighting, resulting in grouping of recessed lights to create more organic layout plans.
Your lighting layout can be further refined by selecting the correct beam angle from each fixture, using narrow beams for highlighting an object or a specific area, while medium to wide beams are great for general lighting.
For more placement tips check out our downlight spacing calculator.
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