10 Best Recessed Lights to Buy for Your Home
Recessed lights can be used to provide ambiance or accent illumination. If you're in the market, here's a roundup of 10 dazzling options.
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Buying Recessed Lights
Recessed lights provide unobtrusive illumination, lighting up your living space without taking up space themselves. Because they sit outside of the perceived “room” they’re in, they help make ceilings appear taller and keep the focus on the objects they illuminate.
The two main parts of a recessed light are the housing (the part behind the ceiling) and the trim (the visible elements outside the ceiling).
When selecting recessed lights, here are the most important things to consider:
- Illumination. Because they are recessed, they don’t illuminate as broad of an area, meaning you might need more recessed lights than ceiling lights to cover the same area.
- Trim Design. Related to illumination, the trim design of a recessed light can affect light distribution. Common trims include baffle and reflector design. Baffles are designed to absorb light, making the recessed fixture less noticeable, while reflectors bounce light back into the room, providing more light but making the light fixture more noticeable.
- Power Source. Most recessed lights are either hard-wired off standard 120-volt circuitry or low- voltage, which means they utilize a transformer to reduce the voltage, usually to 12 volts). There are also battery-operated recessed lights.
- IC vs non-IC. If your recessed lights are in the top floor ceiling, they’ll likely be installed right in the middle of the attic’s insulation. Look for a light rated for insulation contact (IC) to allow the light to be touching insulation. Non-IC-rated lights generate too much heat when covered with insulation and can pose a fire hazard. You can install non-IC lights, but you’ll need to leave a 3-in. gap between the light and any insulation.
- Location. Recessed lights can be installed almost anywhere, but not all of them are suited for all locations. Wet rated, damp rated, outdoor and in-wall models all have specific features to deal with their environment.
- New Build or Remodel. Remodel lights have smaller housings and should always be used unless the installation is in new construction.
- Special Features. These really boil down to personal preferences. Some recessed lights allow you to control everything from brightness to light color and can be controlled by a remote or a smart speaker.
Best All Around Recessed Lights
These Commercial Electric LED Recessed Lights are a great balance of features and price. We love the easy-on night light feature (activated by a quick on/off flip of the wall switch) and the ability to select the color warmth before installation. You can choose to change the setting later, but it involves taking the light apart and reassembling it. These lights put out a bright 900 lumens at full power. They’re also wet rated, dimmable and come with a five-year warranty.
Bonus: Check out this guide on recessed lighting installation.
Best Budget Recessed Lights
If you’re building new or doing an extensive tear-out remodel, it’s hard to beat the price on this six-pack of Recessed Lights from Halo. At $72, you’ll only pay about $12 per fixture, including the white baffle trim for each light.
There’s nothing thin or slim about them, but they’re IC rated, allowing them to come in contact with insulation, and their Air-Tite design minimizes any air seepage into the ceiling cavity. We also like the amusingly named “Got Nail!” feature, although it’s really just a standard nail ready to be hammered into place.
Best LED Upgrade for Existing Recessed Lights
Looking to upgrade an existing incandescent recessed can light to a more energy-efficient LED model? There are a number of upgrade kits, but it can be a struggle to find one that is both dimmable and WiFi-enabled. However, this LED upgrade from Feit ticks all those boxes.
The adapter simply screws into the existing can light socket, then the ultra-thin trim pops onto the front of the light’s opening. It’s compatible with almost all dimmer switches, and you’ll immediately get the energy savings of an LED light along with the ability to custom select the light color temperature. Not to mention the welcome fresh face on your old fixtures.
If you don’t need the WiFi and smart features, you can save some cash with this competing model from Commercial Electric.
Best Recessed Lights for a Shower
The unique design of recessed lights allows them to be sealed against water penetration, making them a perfect choice for a shower installation. Lights like the Juno LED Recessed Light provide safe lighting in a shower setting. The Juno is IC rated, and the relatively shallow depth of two-and-a-half inches makes for an easy installation. But it also has the one truly essential item for a shower light: it is “wet rated.” (Some manufacturers describe their lights as “shower rated” in an attempt to be extra clear about the intended use.)
Do not confuse “damp rated” products with “wet rated” lights. Damp-rated lights are designed for areas like enclosed porches that encounter moisture but no direct wetness. Damp-rated lights are unsafe for shower use.
Best Recessed Lights for the Bathroom
Outside of the shower, recessed lights aren’t a common lighting choice for a bathroom. This is normally because the downward-cast light puts large shadows on your face, hiding details in the mirror and making it difficult to shave or apply makeup. Luckily, gimbal (swiveling) lights like the Halo HLA4 Narrow Beam Downlights can save the day!
Gimbal lights swivel, putting the light exactly where you want it. These Halo lights are built on gimbals that provide a 30-degree tilt, full 360-degree rotation and a 40-degree beam angle. In short, they can direct light on the walls or on your face as you stand in front of the mirror.
These Energy Star-rated lights are dimmable, IC rated and wet rated. (Most bathroom light fixtures don’t need to be wet rated if they’re not in the shower, but it’s a nice feature regardless.) They come with a matte white trim kit that will blend in nicely with most ceilings.
Best Recessed Lights for a Smart Home
If you love the convenience of having a smart assistant and infinitely adjustable lighting options, then the Commercial Electric Smart Recessed Light Kit is an excellent choice. Both wet and IC rated, this light’s main focus is on smart home interactivity.
Part of The Home Depot’s multi-vendor Hubspace platform, these lights can be controlled by the Hubspace App (available on Apple and Android smartphones) or directly through your home’s WiFi and smart speakers. Turn the lights on or change their color with a simple command, or set up timers for convenience or added security when you’re away from home.
One caveat: Although this light can be dimmed with the Hubspace app, it is not compatible with wall dimmers, so you won’t be able to adjust the lights the old-fashioned way.
Best Recessed Lights for a Stairwell
Not all recessed lighting is designed to be mounted in a ceiling. In fact, overhead lighting in a stairwell can be inefficient, casting shadows that obscure the stair treads. Instead, consider a wall or stair riser-mounted recessed light like the Halo Step Light to illuminate your steps.
The IC-rated stair light is well-designed, with louvered trim to keep the light on the steps and out of your eyes, making it perfect for a nighttime safety light.
Best Recessed Lights for Outdoors
We’ve already mentioned recessed lighting’s strong waterproofing, an essential trait for any electrical fixtures that could be exposed to rain. A great example is recessed lighting designed to illuminate walkways, such as the Hampton Bay Integrated Deck Light Kit.
These recessed deck lights are low-voltage for safe and easy installation, but you’ll need to bundle either a 12-volt or 15-volt transformer with your purchase. The cast aluminum and powder-coat finish can withstand exposure to the elements.
Best Recessed Lights for a Narrow Clearance
The rise of LED lights has allowed manufacturers to create lights that fit in tighter spaces than ever before. A great example is the Halo HLB6 Downlight. This ultra-thin (only a half-inch deep!) light is perfect for remodels or upgrades. It’s dimmable and has a five-option color selector that can be set before installation. It also has the Halo Air-Tite seal to prevent air leakage into your attic. These lights are dimmable down to five percent capacity, and at full brightness shed 1,061 lumens — roughly equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb — all while only consuming 12 watts of power.
Best Mini-Can Recessed Lights
A finalist for The Home Depot’s Innovation Award, the 2-in Gimbal Light from Commercial Electric provides adjustable lighting in a tiny package. Its gimbal design is perfect for shedding light on artwork or accent walls without drawing attention to the light fixture itself, plus it’s Energy Star certified. IC rated, wet rated and airtight, these lights are a great way to push a room’s existing ambient lighting system to the next level.