How to Convert a Ceiling Light to a Recessed Light

Converting a ceiling light to a recessed light can seem daunting, but with the right planning and materials, it can be a straightforward DIY project. Recessed lighting creates a clean, integrated look, can make a room feel bigger, and puts the light where you need it most. Follow this guide to learn everything you need to know to convert your existing ceiling light to a recessed fixture.

Choosing the Right Recessed Light

When selecting a recessed light to replace your ceiling fixture, consider the size of the room, what you will use the light for, and aesthetic preferences.

Size of the Recessed Light

  • Smaller 4-6 inch recessed lights are good for accent lighting. Use them to highlight architectural details or wall art.
  • Larger 5-7 inch recessed lights provide better ambient lighting for living spaces, kitchens, and hallways.

The size needed depends on your goals. If you want the recessed light to be the primary light source, go with a larger 7 inch size. If you only want to accent the room, a 4-6 inch light will suffice.

Beam Angle

The beam angle determines the spread of light.

  • Narrow beam angles like 15-30 degrees concentrate light in a small area.
  • Wide beam angles (45-90 degrees) spread light over a broader space.

If your goal is to spotlight a particular area, choose a narrow beam. For general ambient lighting, go with a wide beam angle.

Light Appearance

Recessed lights come in different colors, known as color temperatures.

  • Soft white (2700-3000K) gives a warm, cozy glow.
  • Bright white (3500-4100K) has a crisp, neutral appearance.
  • Daylight (5000-6500K) has a bluish, energizing tone.

Select the color temperature that fits the room’s purpose and your lighting preference. Soft white works well in living rooms and bedrooms, while daylight matches the tone of natural light.

Specialty Options

Some other available options include:

  • Dimmable – Allows you to control the light level. Great for living rooms and bedrooms.
  • Insulated – Prevents heat transfer to the space above. Helps reduce energy costs.
  • Airtight – Seals the fixture from air leaks, insulation, and moisture. Improves efficiency.
  • Rotatable – Allows you to adjust the direction of the light as needed.

Consider functions like these if you want more flexibility from your recessed lighting.

Checking Electrical Load Limits

Before purchasing a recessed light, determine if your electrical system can handle the added load.

Here are a few tips:

  • Check the wattage of your existing ceiling light. The new recessed light should have an equal or lower wattage. Most are in the 9-100 watt range.
  • Identify the circuit your ceiling light is on. Locate the breaker and any other lights/outlets on the same circuit.
  • Add up the wattage of all fixtures on the circuit. Calculate 80% of the circuit’s amperage rating. Do not exceed that load limit.
  • For example, a typical 15 amp breaker can safely support 12 amps. With 120 volts, that’s 1440 watts.

If the existing circuit is overloaded, you may need to upgrade wiring or rebalance the load on your electrical system. Check with an electrician if uncertain.

Gathering the Right Tools and Materials

Converting a ceiling light requires just a few common DIY tools and basic materials. Here is what you will need:


  • Step ladder
  • Wire cutters/strippers
  • Voltage tester
  • Drill with hole saw bit (matched to can size)


  • Recessed light fixture
  • Electrical box extender (if needed)
  • Wire nuts
  • Eye protection

Make sure to turn off the power at the circuit breaker before starting. Have all tools and materials ready to go beforehand.

Removing the Existing Ceiling Light

Start by taking down the old ceiling light fixture:

  1. Climb up on a step ladder and access the ceiling light. Remove the glass dome or fixture cover.
  2. Take photos of the wiring connections for reference later.
  3. Disconnect the electrical wires, uncapping each wire one at a time. Take care not to let wires touch.
  4. Unscrew the mounting bracket from the electrical box. Carefully bring down the fixture.
  5. Confirm power is off using a voltage tester. Verify no wires are left hanging in the electrical box.

With the old light removed, the ceiling is now ready for the new recessed fixture.

Installing the Recessed Housing

Follow these steps to install the metal recessed housing into the ceiling:

  1. Double check power is off to the circuit. Accidents can happen when wiring is live.
  2. Use a drywall saw to cut a hole sized just larger than the can’s outer rim. Cutting too big will reduce stability.
  3. Connect an electrical box extender if the recessed can is thicker than the junction box. Secure it to the existing box.
  4. Feed the electrical wires from the box through the hole in the recessed housing.
  5. Position the can correctly and attach it securely to the extender or ceiling using included brackets.
  6. From inside the can, neatly tuck wires into the box extender, leaving access to the screw terminals.

With the new housing anchored in place, you can move on to the wiring.

Wiring the New Recessed Fixture

Follow local building codes when connecting the new recessed light wires. Use safe practices:

  • Match wire colors – Connect hot to hot, neutral to neutral, ground to ground.
  • Secure connections – Wrap clockwise around screws and tighten. No bare wire should show.
  • Cap all unused wires individually with wire nuts. Tuck them safely into the recessed housing.
  • Double check work – Verify you have the correct connections and no loose wires.

Attaching the wires properly ensures the fixture will be powered safely. Consult an electrician if you have any doubts.

Installing the Recessed Light Trim

The trim finishes off the recessed fixture and hides the housing:

  1. Make wire connections between the trim and housing per the manufacturer instructions. Many use quick connectors.
  2. Push all wires completely into the can to avoid pinching them later.
  3. Align the trim properly relative to the housing and push it snugly into place. Some rotation may help line things up.
  4. Install trim clips or screws around the perimeter to hold the trim tight to the ceiling. This prevents sagging.

With the trim fully fastened, the new recessed light is ready for use! Restore power at the circuit breaker and test it out.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

If your newly installed recessed light fails to turn on, there are a few issues worth checking:

  • Power – Verify power is on at the breaker and wall switch. Check connections.
  • Wiring – Make sure wire colors align properly. Check for loose wire nuts or connections.
  • Voltage – Use a multimeter to test voltage. No voltage means bad connections or wrong wires.
  • Fixture issues – If voltage is present, the problem may be a bad recessed fixture. Contact the manufacturer.
  • Junction box – Outdated or overloaded boxes can cause problems. Consult an electrician if needed.

With some close inspection and testing, you can often identify the source of the problem. Minor issues are usually easy fixes.

FAQs About Converting Recessed Lights

Here are answers to some common questions about switching ceiling lights to recessed fixtures:

How much does it cost to convert a ceiling light to a recessed light?

The cost can range from $50-250 depending on the type of fixture and complexity of the installation. Professional wiring assistance may also add to costs.

Do I need a housing box for a recessed light?

Yes, recessed lights require a metal housing secured inside the ceiling to hold the fixture. The trim then mounts flush to the housing.

What size hole do I cut for a recessed light?

Check the specific can dimensions, but the hole generally needs to be 1/8″ to 1/2″ larger than the can to allow space for adjustments. Cutting too large can reduce stability.

Can I put a dimmer switch on a recessed light?

Many recessed lights are now available with dimmable LED technology. Swap the wall switch for a dimmer compatible with LED loads. Check manufacturer guidelines.

Should recessed lights be IC or non-IC?

IC (insulation contact) fixtures are designed to be surrounded by insulation. Non-IC must have clearance. Choose based on your insulation plans.

How far apart should recessed lights be spaced?

For ambient lighting, space 6-12 inch recessed lights 12-15 feet apart. Narrow beam accent lights can be further apart. Arrange to evenly light the room.

Can you put recessed lights anywhere in a room?

Recessed fixtures must be a certain clearance from combustible materials like insulation. Some locations like air ducts also have restrictions. Check local codes.

Converting to Recessed Lighting: In Closing

Upgrading an existing ceiling fixture to clean, integrated recessed lighting is a worthwhile project for many homes. With good planning and safe electrical practices, it can be a manageable DIY endeavor. The improved lighting ambiance and design possibilities make it well worth the effort. Just take it step-by-step to ensure it is done right.


I hope this detailed guide gives you everything you need to know to successfully convert an existing ceiling light into a new streamlined recessed fixture. Installed properly, recessed lights provide attractive, unobtrusive lighting that can transform the look and feel of a room. By breaking the project down into manageable steps and following sensible safety precautions, it can be an approachable DIY undertaking for a motivated homeowner. Just make sure to do your prep work in choosing the right fixture, verifying your electrical capacity, gathering materials, and shutting off power. Feel free to refer back to the information and tips outlined above before you get started. With a methodical, safety-focused approach, you can achieve beautiful results. So turn that outdated ceiling mount into a recessed feature that maximizes your home’s style and illumination in no time!