How to Install Recessed Lights (Before Drywall)

Cutting Down the Support Bracket

Recessed lights are popular especially in kitchens because the lights themselves are out of the way of swinging cabinet doors. Even so, they can make a great addition to almost any room and can be a helpful addition to basements where headroom can be an issue. Recessed lights can be installed both before and after drywall.

Installing recessed lights (before drywall) is a fairly easy procedure. First, plan out the best place to put the lights, and how many should be installed. The fixtures themselves are fairly inexpensive and amazingly versatile. Most are built to fit within joists spaced as little as 8 inches all the way up to 24 inches apart. (If your joists are farther apart than that you can always frame them in.)

Materials and Tools for Recessed Light Install

Tools Needed to Install Recessed Light

Before starting any home improvement job it is good policy to gather together the necessary tools and materials. What follows is a list of necessities for installing a recessed light:

  • Recessed Light Fixtures
  • 12 or 14 gauge electrical wire
  • Cable clamps to secure wire to light fixtures
  • Electrical caps for tying lights into system
  • Light switch
  • Light switch box

Tools that will come in handy for this project:

  • Hammer
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Wire Cutters/Pliers
  • Wire Stripper
  • Utility Knife
  • Electric Drill with 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch wood bit

Putting up the Recessed Light

Recessed Light Fixture In Place

To adjust the supports on the recessed light fixture, pull them apart or push them together. For less than 16-inch on center, the supports can be shortened by bending the metal bars back and forth at pre-grooved joints (designed with this purpose in mind). Place the fixture between the joists with the opening facing down and the support bars flush with the joists. Nail in place with the nails provided.

Wiring the Recessed Light

Wire Connector in a Recessed Light

When wiring it is best to run wire from load to source. This way everything can be done with minimal disruption to electrical service, and minimal danger of shock to the person working on the fixture. Remove the box cover from the light fixture. There should be three wires, black, white, and green. On the end of each is generally an electrical connector. With a screwdriver remove one of the hole covers (also called "knock-outs"). Insert a cable clamp, and secure with the provided lock-nut. This prevents the wire from rubbing on the sharp sides of the metal box.

Cable Clamp Installed

Use the electric drill to provide a route to thread the electrical wire to the switch. From the switch run another electrical wire to the source. (See detailed instructions on how to wire a switch.) At the recessed light fixture, attach the black wire to the black wire, white wire to white wire, and ground to the green wire. If placing several boxes in series, also connect the wires from a cable connecting the box with the next box on the circuit. At the switch, make sure the switch is right side up. (If the sign says "NO" when the switch is down, then it is upside down.)

A Wired Switch

For this particular configuration, the black wire from the source should be pushed into the bottom connector on the switch. The black wire to the recessed light fixture should be pushed into the top receptor on the switch. The white wires should be connected together using an electrical cap. The ground wires should also be joined. Take great care that the electricity is off when finally connecting the switch to the source. (Again connecting black to black, white to white, and ground to ground.)

Before turning on the power to test the light, be sure to check all connections. When the light is on, give the connections another look to be sure that there is nothing amiss. Be sure to attach all appropriate covers, especially over switches or wires that are easily accessible.

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