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A recessed light or downlight (also pot light in Canadian English, sometimes can light (for canister light) in American English) is a light fixture that is installed into a hollow opening in a ceiling. When installed it appears to have light shining from a hole in the ceiling, concentrating the light in a downward direction as a broad floodlight or narrow spotlight.
There are two parts to recessed lights, the trim and housing. The trim is the visible portion of the light. It is the insert that is seen when looking up into the fixture, and also includes the thin lining around the edge of the light. The housing is the fixture itself that is installed inside the ceiling and contains the lamp holder.
The earliest recessed lights were developed in the 1930s by lighting pioneer Ivan Kirlin.
Types of housing
- IC or “insulation contact” rated new construction housings are attached to the ceiling supports before the ceiling surface is installed. If the area above the ceiling is accessible these fixtures may also be installed from within the attic space. IC housings must be installed wherever insulation will be in direct contact with the housing.
- Non-IC rated new construction housings are used in the same situations as the IC rated new construction housings, only they require that there be no contact with insulation and at least 3 in (7.6 cm) spacing from insulation. These housings are typically rated up to 150 watts.
- IC rated remodel housings are used in existing ceilings where insulation will be present and in contact with the fixture.
- Non-IC rated remodel housings are used for existing ceilings where, ideally, no insulation is present. However, these also require that there be no contact with insulation and at least 3 in (7.6 cm) spacing from insulation. Sloped-ceiling housings are available for both insulated and non-insulated ceilings that are vaulted.
The main feature of the housing is designed to ensure that no flammable materials come into contact with the hot lighting fixture. Badly-housed downlights can be a fire hazard, though all newer ones contain a self resetting thermal switch for safety.
The housings come in various sizes based on the diameter of the circular opening where the lamp is installed. The most commonly used sizes are 4, 5 and 6 inches in diameter, with 4 inch IC New Construction units less readily available at present. Smaller housings (2 and 3 inch) are also available for specialized uses.
The housing can also be "Air Tight", which means it will not allow air to escape into the ceiling or attic, thus reducing both heating and cooling costs.
IEC 60598 has two classifications.
- Luminaires for recessing into ceilings with thermal insulating matting covering the luminaire.
- Luminaires for recessing into ceilings but not suitable for covering with thermal insulating material.
Recessed lighting styles have evolved with more manufacturers creating quality trims for a variety of applications.
You can find recessed lighting trim with the standard baffle in black or white, which is the most popular. They are made to absorb extra light and create a crisp architectural appearance.
There are cone trims which produce a low-brightness aperture. Multipliers are offered which are designed to control the omni-directional light from "A" style incandescent light bulbs and compact fluorescents.
Lens trim is designed to provide a diffused light and protect the lamp. Lensed trims are normally found in wet locations.
The luminous trims combine the diffused quality of lensed trim but with an open down light component.
Adjustable trim allows for the adjustment of the light whether it is eyeball style, which protrudes from the trim or gimbal ring style, which adjusts inside the recess. These lights allow for full versatility.
Lastly, there are the wall-washer trims, which are designed to eliminate the often seen "scalloped light effect".
There are two types of lamps for recessed lighting: directional and diffuse. Directional lamps (R, BR, PAR, MR) contain reflectors that direct and control the light. Diffuse lamps (A, S, PS, G) control light distribution through their omni-directional light.