There are two main components to recessed lighting: the housing and the trim. While picking the right trim is largely based on your personal taste, picking the right housing can be a little more technical (you might have to ask your electrician a few questions). Understanding the following is the key to getting the right recessed light:
Remodel or New Construction
In order to pick the correct housing, you will need to know whether to use a “Remodel” or “New Construction” style housing. Although these terms seem straightforward, they are somewhat of a misnomer. “New Construction” housings are appropriate when you have accessible space around where the light is going to be placed. “New Construction” housings are used when: A) You are building in a new space where you have full access to the wall/ceiling/floor without sheet rock or plaster hindering your access to beams, etc., or B) You have access to the space due to an overhead attic, a pop out ceiling panel, etc. The reason you need all this space? “New Construction” housings are bulkier and are installed in between joist beams or onto hanger bars from T-Bar or drop ceilings. Conversely, “Remodel” housings are less bulky and appropriate when you have limited or no access to the space above the new fixture. This is common in apartments or homes without crawl spaces or attics. Remember, even though “Remodel” housings are less bulky, it does not mean that you won’t have to remove sheetrock or make holes in your ceiling to accommodate your new lighting plan.
IC or Non-IC Rated
Understanding whether you need IC or Non-IC rated components is the other critical aspect to picking the right housing. An IC, or insulation contact, rating means that the fixture can come in direct contract with thermal insulation. Conversely, a Non-IC, or non insulation contact, rating means that the fixture can not come in direct contact with thermal insulation and should be kept at least 3 inches from any insulation.
Line or Low Voltage
The final “technical” component decision is to determine whether you want line or low voltage. Line voltage operates directly off of the normal household 120 volt current. No transformer or special modern-dimmers are needed. Line voltage is recommended when you have high ceilings and/or the need to provide general illumination to a room, as you can use up to a 150W bulb. Low voltage is a more energy efficient alternative that uses a 12 volt current instead of a 120 volt current. A special transformer is needed to reduce the voltage and special modern-dimmers are required if you want a dimming feature. Low voltage is recommended when you want to create high contrast and/or are using the recessed lights as a form of task or accent lighting.
The trim is the visible part of the light and hence should reflect your style and the application for which it is gong to be used. First you need to pick the size. Trims come in multiple sizes ranging from 3″ to 6″ in diameter. The size of the trim is a personal preference; however, larger sized trims are able to produce broader amounts of light. Obviously, smaller trims are less conspicuous and are hence often seen to be more modern and architecturally desirable. Again, while the trim size can be based on your aesthetic, some common applications include: 6″ trims are still the mainstay for general residential downlight and wall wash illumination, due to their ability to accommodate a wide range of lamps, wattages, and efficient optics. 5″ trims have become popular for task lighting and even general lighting in smaller scale settings. 4″ line voltage trims are useful for task and accent lighting with short throw distances and/or lower light level requirements, such as over a bar or counter. 4″ low voltage MR16 trims have become the choice for inconspicuous yet powerful precision accent lighting.