downlights offer effective light without the intrusion of a
visible fixture. Basically domes with light bulbs set into their tops, most fixtures
can be fitted with any number of bulb types and sizes, trims, and accessories that
shape the light to the desired function. When installed, only
the trim is visible, not the fixture itself.
Low-voltage downlights – particularly
those with MR-16 bulbs – are especially popular for tight
accent lighting. For a longer throw or more impact, choose low
– or standard-voltage PAR bulbs in aimable fixtures housings
rather than MR-16’s. Like their track counterparts, many
low-voltage downlights include an integral transformer; or you
can use a single remote transformer to serve a number of fixtures.
Downlights make good ambient sources, too, and some can now
be fitted with energy-saving fluorescent bulbs. However, designers
have learned not to trust downlights for task lighting –
one’s head tends to block the light from the task at hand!
|There's a soft look overall here-appropriate for a master bedroom-but it's built up from several flexible sources. Recessed downlights with aimable slot apertures direct ambient wall-wash to the headboard area.
START WITH THE HOUSING. Downlights
are usually prewired and grounded to their own junction boxes.
These fixtures need several inches of clearance above the
ceiling, so they’re most easily installed below an unfinished
attic or crawl space. If space is tight, you can purchase
So-called “new work” units, used in new construction,
are easy to secure between exposed ceiling members. Cut-in
or remodeling models are also available - they slip into,
then clip onto, a hole cut in the existing ceiling.
Many downlights produce a lot of heat, so you must either
remove insulation within 3 inches of the fixture or buy an “IC” fixture rated for direct contact with surrounding
CHOOSE THE TRIM. Trim rings, baffles, lenses, and louvers are modular accessories in most downlight lines: Pick the one you want and snap it in place. Besides shaping the light, the trim ring covers the rough edges of the fixture housing and ceiling hole, providing an attractive integral look.
|A sampling of trim rings and other accessories is shown on this page. Brass and chrome reflector rings bounce extra light; black baffles cut it off. Slot apertures shape tight accent patterns; aimable eyeballs allow wider patterns. Acrylic lenses soften light and cut glare, as do honeycomb louvers.
safer, and more energy-efficient than standard 120-volt
systems, low-voltage light fixtures have become
popular indoors as well as out. Low-voltage lights
use a transformer to step down household current
to 12 or 24 volts; you can buy prepackaged systems
or create your own with individual fixtures.
Low-voltage tracks or downlights may include an
integral transformer, or you can use a remote external
transformer to serve a number of fixtures. Which
arrangement is best? Both have pluses and minuses.
Integral transformers are convenient, especially
when only one or two fixtures are involved. But
the built in unit makes the fixture bulkier and
more expensive; some integral units may also hum,
especially when coupled with dimmers. A remote transformer
housed in a nearby closet, basement, or ceiling
can serve a number of fixtures; but you will have
to hassle with more routing and calculate what wire
size you’ll need. The size of the transformer
limits the total wattage of lamps that can be hooked
up to it.