General lighting in the kitchen has been a necessity since the beginning of time. However, the type of light fixtures has transformed in the past century. When electricity was first introduced, the most common type of light was the incandescent ceiling lights used to illuminate most of the room. Along with natural light, this was the best way to light up the entire kitchen.

The quality of artificial light improved in the 1960s and continues today. Recessed lighting for your kitchen layout has become a fundamental change in new homes and remodeling. Also referred to as pot lights or can lights, recessed lights serve many purposes. Not only for overall illumination but improving the comfort and aesthetic look of a room. 


The Importance of Bulbs

Bulbs are an exciting type of lighting for artificial light. They all have their characteristics of merit in use as recessed lighting.

Incandescent Bulbs

The original traditional light bulb, incandescent bulbs, get the job done but are the least efficient in light. Only 10% of consumed energy converts into light, while 90% gets converted into heat. 

Halogen bulbs

One step up from incandescent bulbs, the enclosed halogen lamps create brighter light and last longer than their cousin, incandescent lamps.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)

CFLs are like long fluorescent bulbs but compacted to fit into a smaller base. They are not incandescent but are interchangeable with them. Offering 75% less energy to operate, they also outlive them by 15 times.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

LED light bulbs do not burn out like the other forms of lamps. They fade away as they lose their thermal management throughout their life. You can tell led lights are burning out since not as much light emits when compared to the original install. LED lighting is the most versatile, efficient, and longest-burning light source.

You should also note that if you look at a package of light bulbs, they give information on the light appearance that ranges from 2000k to 6500k. This is the average color temperature for most bulbs in residential lighting. The lower the Kelvin degree (k), the softer the light. 

Lumens Have Replaced Watts

It’s hard to change one’s way of thinking. Just like changing inches to meters can give you brain freeze. However, determining how much illumination is needed in a room has been upgraded to lumens instead of watts. Here is an easy formula for you to use when you need to replace a bulb:

  • 40-watt bulb = approximately 450 lumens
  • 60-watt bulb = approximately 800 lumens
  • 75-watt bulb = approximately 1100 lumens

Remember to use over one bulb to light up an area when adding recessed lighting. The lighting spacing and the diameter of each canister are recommended by lighting experts that work with mood lighting, architectural details, and comfort each day. Deciding on brightness is up to you.

For instance, kitchens and bathrooms require more lumens than a bedroom or hallway. The ceiling height and dimming capabilities also play a part in this determination. A lighting expert can help with questions on creating the right balance of light output.

Regulations for Installation of Recessed Lighting

An important rule for placing recessed lighting is based on the height of the ceiling: both high ceilings and low ceilings, following government code. The first things that need to be verified before installation are:

  • Details on air sealing
  • Thermal rating on fixtures
  • Presence of insulation materials and the need for IC housings

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, field inspectors will check code compliance to assure the energy savings and safety of all recessed lighting. Recessed lighting kits are available for the do-it-yourself-er (DIYer) to address these areas of concern, but taking the time to double-check is always a good idea.

Lighting Layout for Kitchen Types

Many factors need to be considered in a kitchen lighting plan. There is no one perfect recessed lighting layout. A common rule of thumb is to start with the room’s perimeter and devise a good kitchen lighting plan before construction starts. Most new homes got built with an eight-foot ceiling. The height of the ceiling plays a part in the common layout. Follow this guideline for approximate spacing and sizing of flush mount fixtures:

  • One recessed light for each 4 to 6 square feet of ceiling space or only around the perimeter of your room
  • Twelve inches of space between fixtures and twelve to eighteen inches away from cabinets

Use graph paper to outline your new kitchen space and to determine the type of bulb, size of fixtures, and areas where extra lighting is needed. Consider the recommended spacing and lay out your lights. For example, a focal point of glass doors along kitchen cabinets that rest against the kitchen ceiling can use recessed lights as directional accent lighting merged with ambient canned lights. 

Single-wall Kitchen

A one-wall kitchen layout can be seen in smaller homes or apartments. It is an excellent way to stretch your limited space and still have a sleek, clean look. This does not mean that fewer lighting fixtures are necessary. Strategic placement in a small kitchen can be even more critical than in a large kitchen. 


Overlapping ambient lighting and task lighting are important features for making your work more efficient in a small space. A straight line of 4-inch recessed lights will suffice in a single-wall kitchen. A common rule of thumb is that there should be approximately 12 to 18 inches from the upper cabinets and 4 feet from each fixture. Aim for the edge of the countertop with light for a balanced look. Cabinet lights may add more depth to lighting in certain use cases, but pendant lights also help in specific areas of your kitchen workspace.

If you only have an 8-foot-long single countertop, two larger or three smaller lights will work closely together. Manipulate them so they are targeted at the outer corner of the counter top.

Consider using undercabinet lighting to illuminate your work surface.

Galley Kitchen

A galley kitchen is like a single-wall kitchen except that some cabinets and counters face each other. This can make the space appear cramped and dark. Depending on the length and width of the traffic area, you can line up recessed lighting in one or two rows of lights. When angled correctly, they will illuminate the front of the cabinet and the kitchen countertops without direct light.

Kitchen Interior with Kitchen Soffit Trim

AdvertisementsUsing the general rule of one light per 4-square feet will tell you how many usable square feet of ceiling space there is to work with. A single recessed fixture above the kitchen sink is a good choice for beginning your lighting design layout. This can provide lots of light when needed most. Under the cabinet lights will illuminate counter areas.

Measure your way out to the countertop edges to ensure enough light is delivered to your work area. You may have to redetermine the spacing to have a proper placement in proportion.

L-Shaped Kitchen

L-shaped kitchens have a little more flexibility in arranging recessed lighting. A hanging light in the center of the room may even be considered. Using a mixture of wide-angle and narrow-beam lights will provide a mix of good lighting for different needs. 

Often roomy enough for a kitchen island, decorative lighting with a hanging center of the room kitchen ceiling light or pendant lights will fit perfectly among the recessed lighting. Whether using a row of lights or the perimeter of the room for your decorative fixtures, the L-shaped kitchen is easy to work with.

Kitchen Contemporary in brown with white walls and marble floors and recessed lighting

When shared with a dining room or living room, the straight line of fixtures can be extended into these other areas to present a cohesive look for better flow. Dimmer switches for each separate area can control the brightness and mood of each entire room.

U-Shaped Kitchen

A U-shaped kitchen is practical and makes common sense when updating a kitchen. Everything is conveniently located, and shedding a lot of light toward the work space and counter spaces is easily controlled through recessed lighting.

Kitchen luxury design with high-quality designer choice cabinetry

Incorporating a large square of light on the ceiling will guarantee those base cabinets, and a wall wash will be included in the overall illumination. Ensure the first light installed catches the edge of the countertops for a correct measurement for your kitchen design.

Peninsula and Island Kitchens

A peninsula in a kitchen extends existing cabinets and counters. An island is a freestanding unit that can be placed anywhere it is needed. A peninsula can change an L-shaped kitchen into a U-shaped kitchen with little trouble and create a permanent structure.

With an island, we must take care to decide whether you will add a temporary placement or a permanent one. Because recessed lighting has a lot to do with the features below, consider how this can affect the placement of an island. There are best practices to follow when including an island. This includes deciding what specific tasks you will undertake in the kitchen.

Beautiful kitchen room with green island, farm sink and farmhouse style accents

If casual dining and conversation are the only purposes of your island, pendant lighting mixed with recessed lighting is adequate. However, consider your lighting needs carefully if you have a peninsula or permanent island with a stovetop. Either look for exhaust hoods with built-in direct lighting or manipulate the brightness and angle of surrounding recessed lighting so that your cooking surface is well lit.

Recessed lighting can change your kitchen’s entire look and feel when planned correctly. However, there are so many factors to consider. How often will bulbs need to be changed? Is the extra cost worth the upgrade? Should I hire a lighting expert?

These are personal questions based on your lifestyle. Answers will come to light as you plan your lighting needs on paper. Contractors and home improvement personnel are also great places to get advice.


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