“I want to install some recessed lights in my living room, where there are no ceiling fixtures. The only electrical source is a wall receptacle. How do I run the wires from the receptacle up to the ceiling and then to the lights?” —YIN CHOI, ARLINGTON, VA
Putting lights in a ceiling that has no fixtures requires some detective work to determine which way the ceiling joists run (look at the ones in the basement) and whether there are overhead drainpipes if there’s a bathroom on the floor above. Read on to learn the steps for installing recessed lighting.
How to Install Recessed Lights
- Start by shutting off the breaker controlling the circuit you’ll be working on. Ensure that the power is off by testing with a non-contact voltage tester.
- If there is a switch controlling an outlet, you’ll want to use it for the recessed lights. Locate the outlet, rewire it for constant power, and rewire the wire coming from the switch to feed it with continuous power. If the copper tabs between the terminals are broken, remove the outlet and replace it with a new one. Use wire nuts to cap the electrical connections and secure them. Remove the electrical box from the wall.
- If there is no switch, you’ll need to install one. Find a suitable location near the door for an outlet and use a keyhole saw to cut out the drywall. Find a nearby outlet from which you can run a wire to the switch. Use the flexible drill bit to drill through the studs and run the wire from the switch locations to the outlet. If necessary, remove the wires from the outlet and tie them to the new wire along with short jumper wires. Strip the end of the wires with the wire strippers, twist them together with the lineman’s pliers, and cap them with wire nuts. Strip the other ends of the jumper wires and attach them to the outlet.
- Use a small mirror to look up into the wall cavity at the switch location to ensure there aren’t any pipes, wires, or other obstructions. Use the flexible drill bit to drill a hole through the top plate.
- Fit the dust shroud and hole saw to the drill and drill holes for recessed light locations.
- Feed the fish tape up from the switch location, through the top plate, into the ceiling, and to the closest light location. Attach a wire to the fish tape and pull it back through the wall to the switch location. Run wires from light location to light location following a similar procedure.
- Remove the sheathing from the wire at each light location and strip the ends of each wire. Make the electrical connections inside the junction boxes at each light and attach the box to the framing inside the ceiling. Plug the lights into the junction boxes and install them in place.
- Back at the switch, feed the wires through the electrical box and install it in place. Using the wire strippers, remove the jackets from the wires and secure them to the dimmer switch. Secure the switch to the electrical box and install the cover plate.
- Turn the breaker back on and check that the lights and dimmer switch are working properly.
Note: To make sure everything is properly connected, hire a licensed electrician to finish the wiring, then patch and paint where needed.
Heath installed HALO brand HLBSL 4 in. Color Selectable New Construction or Remodel Canless Recessed Integrated LED Kit, which are manufactured by Cooper Lighting.
Heath used other tools and materials to install the recessed lights, including the drill, dust shroud, and wiring, which can all be found at The Home Depot.
Shop recessed lighting options at The Home Depot
- Various wire nuts
- Electrical boxes
- Recessed lights
- Dimmable light switch
- Wall plate for the switch