Choosing Recessed LED “Can” Lights

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

A friend who is a few months behind us in their home project reached out to ask a few questions about choosing recessed can lights for their new home. Below is an edited version of my response.

What can you tell me about recessed “can” lights and what I need to consider?

We think of recessed can lights as general/standard illumination; the thing that always works across the house. I think the key is to think about what other lighting will also work in each room. For example, we may use the can lights while making dinner or entertaining, but turn on lamps for movies, etc. LED strip lights can highlight a countertop. Can lights can be all-purpose, but we like having options that provide ambient/diffused light.

We use can lights every day, but usually keep them dimmed. All LED lights are dimmable. What you need is dimmable switches and/or an app that allows you to dim them. I recently wrote about smart switches and lights.

I’m not sure if we need gimbal lights or not.

In some cases, you don’t want a light that only points straight down. Imagine having beautiful art on the wall that you want to illuminate. To highlight the art, you need a light that points at angle so that it “washes” the wall with light from the ceiling. Instead of having a light that only points in one direction, you can fixtures that include a gimbal, which means the light is on a swivel that makes it directional. We chose to use gimbal lights on all sloped ceilings so the lights can still point straight down.

There are so many LED options to consider. What should we consider in terms of the warmth of the light?

Led temperature is measured in Kelvin and the warmest you see for homes is 2700 Kelvin. It’s nice and warm, but does come off a little yellow. Multiple electricians have said that 3000 Kelvin is the standard for most modern homes. Some people use 2700 in bedroom and 3000 for living areas and kitchens. We’re using 3000 as our standard. This guide might help.

Our can lights will be on a high ceiling and I don’t want to have to change them. Are there any options here?

A lot of the new LED can lights (like the Lotus LED lights we chose) do not have removable bulbs. The bulb is built into the fixture and should last over 50k hours. Some can last a lifetime, they say. If a bulb goes out, you have to replace the fixture.

Also lighting in general, sconces. What should we consider?

Again, think of having the option to use a sconce light along with something else. I think of sconces as a desk lamp for the wall. It usually reflects light through a material that makes it softer. We’re using sconces in bedrooms, as they feel more welcoming and homey. One thing to note – a scone disrupts the flow of a wall. Once they go in, they define the usable space. If you hang art in the future, for example, the scones will be part of the placement decision.

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