How to Install Recessed Lights

Adding recessed lights to your home?  If there’s already an existing power source in the ceiling and an electrical switch in the wall, the installation is fairly easy.  You can save a lot of money by tackling the project yourself rather than hiring a professional.

If you have access to the ceiling from above (i.e., from the attic), the project is even easier.  However, we offer a wide selection of remodel recessed lighting housings so that you can install from below as well.

Follow these steps to install recessed lights if you have an existing power source in the ceiling:

1. Turn off the power.

2. Determine where the ceiling joists are using an electronic stud finder.  (You need to install the recessed lights between the joists).

3. Trace the outlines of your recessed cans onto the ceiling in your desired layout.  If you need help, check out our article on How to Layout Recessed Lighting in 4 Easy Steps!

4. Drill a 1/4″ hole in the ceiling in the center of each tracing where you want the lights to go.  Check for obstructions.  If you have an attic above the ceiling, you can simply check visually; otherwise, you can insert the straight section of a wire coat hanger in the hole and spin it around.  You’ll have to reposition the lights if you find any obstructions.

5. Cut the openings for each recessed light.  The easiest tool for this is a drywall circle cutter.  Make sure not to cut through any existing cables in the ceiling.  (Tip: place a tarp on the floor beneath).

6. Disconnect existing fixtures from the power source, if necessary.

7. Pull the electrical cable to the first recessed light.  Leave about eighteen inches of wire hanging from the ceiling as you continue to pull wire to each light fixture.  This extra eighteen inches gives you enough slack to wire the new fixtures.  If the attic is above the ceiling, run the wire through the attic.  If you are installing from below and the area above is a finished floor, you need to fish the wire through the framing of the ceiling using a long flexible drill bit.

8. Insert the electrical cable into the fixture’s junction box and wire the light, using twist-on wire connectors to make the connections.  Remember: the fixture’s black wire goes with the black house wire, white wire goes with white wire, ground wire goes with ground wire.  The manufacturer’s instructions will help with this.  Continue making all the connections and then stuff the wires in each fixture’s junction box and fasten the covers.

9. Rotate the housing into place in the ceiling so that the mounting tabs are secure.  Attach the baffle and any trim you are using to the housing (follow the manufacturer’s instructions: installation steps may vary depending on the model).

10. Install the light bulbs, turn on the power again, and you are finished!

Emily Widle

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.

  • Erik Johnson

    Thanks for the information. Your blog is my hot spot for knowledge. You guys always do a great job providing detailed information on how to make your project successful. I just installed my recessed lights at my house and they are awesome.

  • Ken Weinke

    Plan to install recessed LED lights (remodel)into a sloped drywalled ceiling. Want the lights to shine straight down onto a kichen island. Straight line electrical sevice available.
    What can and insert LEDs are availabe and/ or recommended?
    Prefer dimmable.Have considered slopping can buy anticipate problem of apperance at the trim line.

    • Emily Widle

      Unfortunately, we currently don’t offer LED recessed lights that are designed for sloped ceilings. Our LED recessed lights don’t have adjustable trims, so you wouldn’t be able to position the lights straight downward.

      We do have sloped ceiling housings & trims that are compatible with halogen light bulbs. Let me know if you’d like a recommendation if you are not committed to LED! (Or you can always call our customer service number: 800-392-4818).

  • leslie

    I want to replace an existing fluorescent fixture (actually two) in my kitchen. First floor installation. No attic above. Just second floor. One recessed already exists over the sink which I need to transfer to regular (in that case I need two directions). I would really appreciate you advice.

    • Chris Johnson


      I would like to help however I need some clarification on what you are trying to do. So, you are looking to replace two fluorescent fixtures in your kitchen. Is that correct? Are these fixtures recessed?

      I understand that your kitchen is on the first floor and your house has a second floor above your kitchen, so you have limited ceiling access in your kitchen. It also seems like you have a single recessed can above your sink. Is that also correct?

      Unfortunately, this is where I got kind of lost. You stated that you want to replace the recessed can over your sink to a regular? I am not sure I understand what you are saying here. Do you mean that you no longer want a recessed can over your sink? What kind of light fixture do you want there? Also, what do you want to use in place of your two fluorescent fixtures in your kitchen? Recessed lights? I look forward to your response.