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How to Install Recessed Lights


Kitchen progress is definitely moving along (hooray!!!) We now have recessed lighting in our ceiling and it really helps even out the lighting in the kitchen. Plus getting rid of the semi-flush light fixtures makes the ceiling feel taller.

We debated about installing new construction recessed lighting:

Install Recessed Lightsor remodel type recessed lights:


We could have installed either because our ceiling was already full of holes. Ultimately, we decided to install the old work (or remodeling type) lights because they clamp tightly to the sheet rock for less vibration. They also have a built in junction box with easy to wire connectors. (Did I mention that my son’s bedroom is right over the kitchen and there is a lot of jumping and bouncing that goes on up there!)

My electrician let me pal around and help him install the recessed cans after he ran the wiring. You know I took careful notes so I could share with you how to install your own recessed lighting fixtures.

Install Recessed Lights Materials:

  • Remodeling recessed lights
  • Light bulbs (be sure to get bulbs rated for your cans or they may blink out when the temperature gets too hot.)
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Pencil
  • Piece of tape
  • Hole saw (or drywall saw)
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire cutters
  • Flat screwdriver
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer (optional)

Install Recessed Lights Instructions:

First determine where you would like your light installed. Hire an electrician to run electricity though your ceiling if there aren’t already wires accessible. Remove the paper template from the recessed can. Trace onto the ceiling with pencil.


My electrician showed me how to make this cool tool out of a coat hanger to determine if there are any obstructions in the ceiling.


First bend the wire to the radius of the paper template (from the center to the exterior edge.) Next place the coat hanger against the side of the can. Extend the bent end an inch or so above the can and then wrap a piece of tape around the hanger where it meets the bottom of the recessed light (shown by the red line.) Here is what the tool looks like when you are done:


Press the bent end up into the center of your traced circle. Then press the hanger up into the ceiling until you reach the tape. Spin the wire around. If it doesn’t hit anything you have the clearance you need to install the recessed light. If you hit something, you’ll need to relocate the light to another location.


Cut around the pencil line into your ceiling using a drywall saw. Or you can use this fancy hole cutter my electrician uses. It attaches to the drill and has a spinning blade that cuts the hole. The bowl around the blade catches all the drywall mess. Genius!


Pull the wires that the electrician ran through the hole.


Grab one of the recessed light fixtures. Remove the cover from the junction box. Use the flat screwdriver to break off the slot(s) in the side of the junction box. You’ll only need to break off one tab per wire. (If you have two wires, the fixture is in a daisy chain and electricity runs to another fixture from that one. In that case, break off two slots.)


Feed the wire(s) through the slot(s) in the side of the junction box. Pull them through about 6 – 8″ to give you enough room to work with.


Gently score the plastic coating of the wires. Then cut off the plastic coating and the paper coating from the wires. Finally strip off about 3/4 of an inch from the end of the black and white wires.

Spread out the wires in the box and locate the ones attached to the light fixture.


Here comes the easy part! Attach the newly stripped wire to the same colored wire from the junction box by firmly inserting the wire into the wire connector. [White connects to white; Black to black; and bare to bare (or green).] Gently tug on the wires to make sure they won’t slip loose from the connector.


Gently fold the wires back into the junction box, take care to keep the black and white wire connectors separated if you can.  Replace the cover onto the junction box.


Feed the light fixture into the ceiling hole by inserting the junction box first. Then press the recessed can up until it is flush with the ceiling.


Locate the four tabs inside the light fixture. Use the flat screw driver to press the tabs through the light fixture. You may need to bang on the screwdriver with your fist or a hammer to set the tabs to lock against the ceiling.


Insert light bulb(s), turn on the power, and switch on those beautiful recessed lights!


I had to share this some-ecard with you that BigMamaCass (an amazing photographer) shared with me on Instagram. I was ready to publish this post and get it out before my email feed went out at 8pm.  Then the power flickered and wouldn’t you know that the internet went out! I can’t think of anything more frustrating for a blogger. So, this image she sent brought a good laugh from me.

I hope you have no internet outages and a great rest of your week!


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How to Install Recessed Lights | Pretty Handy Girl

16 replies
  1. Jerry Bloomer
    Jerry Bloomer says:

    Brittany. I was a little distracted by the first picture with all the wire looped inside the wall. Is all that part of the can lights?

    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Jerry, LOL. No, that was the wiring my electrician put in the walls for the vent hood and cabinet lighting. He loops it so that there is plenty extra and it’s easy to find after the drywall is installed.

  2. jeff
    jeff says:

    Lookss great. The house i have has no ceiling fixtures. So im trying to outfit the pour thing with something stylish but functional.
    Thank you.

  3. alisa
    alisa says:

    HI Brittany,
    It’s been a while since you did this but is it a huge expense for electrician and plumber to move wiring and a plumbing pipe in the bulkhead before installing the lighting? I’m just trying to figure out if it’s worth it.

    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      It all depends on your area and how much your electrician and plumber charge. We were able to move the vent stack ourselves. But, I already had an electrician re-wiring the whole kitchen, so I’m not sure how much that was individually.

  4. Ron Maruszak
    Ron Maruszak says:

    Brittany: My congratulations to you. This tutorial has to be one of the best step-by-step illustrated with tips, procedures for installing recessed lights of any web page.

    Admirable job!

  5. Nicolas Ray
    Nicolas Ray says:

    Thank You for this post, starting today the install of three lights in the kitchen. Using LED lights, actually using the same can that you have here. Seems simple enough to complete. Unfortunately, the beams in the kitchen go across, so will have to plan a bit and maybe open the ceiling up for access. Great article.

  6. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Oh. My. GOODNESS! It’s simply unCANNY (no pun intended!) how you seem to read my mind and post a tutorial JUST when I need it the most! We have THE ugliest lights in our kitchen – those old ‘shop lights’, I call them – fluroescent tube holders, basically – and I’ve been wanting to replace them with recessed lights ever since we moved in back in August. I FINALLY found an electrician I trust will do a great job (I want to make sure there are no electrical issues) and – presto! You post a tutorial on how to install the lights – hooray! Thank you SO much – this is IMMENSELY helpful and I feel so much better about moving ahead – anxiety abated! Hope you and your brood have a terrific weekend and I can’t wait to see your kitchen when it’s all done!

  7. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Great tutorial Brittany.

    Two great takeaways that any homeowner should use are the bowl around the hole saw (to catch drywall dust) and the push fit wire connectors. These are fantastic tips!!

  8. Hunter
    Hunter says:

    How did you layout your light locations? Did you find some guides/blogs/websites to go buy? I’d love to see a post on “how to do lighting for your space”

    Also it sounds like there is a second floor above your kitchen, did the electrician have to drill holes through the floor joists or were you lucky enough to have open web joints? OR were the wires all run parallel with the joists?

    Thanks! Hunter

    • Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl)
      Brittany (aka Pretty Handy Girl) says:

      Hunter, oh that would make for a good post. It wasn’t easy. We started with a rough layout and I put pieces of painter’s tape on the ceiling. Then we began the process of inserting the tool into the ceiling to find out if there were any obstacles. We ended up having to move four lights because of ceiling joists or plumbing pipes. But, ultimately we had a grid with the lights being about 48″ apart and centered in the middle of the kitchen (no need to located lights too close to the cabinets because we will have undercabinet lighting.)

      We do have a second floor above the kitchen. But, luckily, we had exposed a lot of the joists and plumbing pipes when we took out the soffits. But, yes, the electrician did have to run wires through the joists (and we added nail plates underneath the holes for added security.)


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