I'm remodeling our family room (drywall is up and mud is almost done... and yes, I'm realizing I should have figured out a lot more specifics of lighting before finishing the drywall). The room has no lighting currently but I did run electrical for 3 way switches... we plan to do recessed lighting. Here's the question... how many canned lights is recommended?
The room is 16 by 21.5 ft. It's got a fireplace one the south side, large opening to dining/living room and kitchen bar on west side, large picture window w/casements on east side... the north end of the room has an entryway area (NE corner), and hall w/laundry, bathroom and garage entry (N center of room). The ceiling is 8'.
I'm reading mostly that the cans should be 4 ft apart (2-3 feet from the wall. That comes to 20 lights! Seem like a lot. I plan to do 2 for accent on the fireplace.
Not sure if I should do 4" or 6" cans... what determines that?
Also, I'm thinking about zoning them (i.e. put them on 3 or 4 different switches/groups).

Is there another approach I should be taking to figuring this out? I'm getting mixed answers/recommendations.

closed as primarily opinion-based by isherwood, Machavity, Daniel Griscom, Michael Karas Apr 2 at 20:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Voting to close as both opinion-based and too broad. It's entirely a matter of taste, prerogative and expected usage. – isherwood Apr 2 at 19:21
  • i would put in smart lights so that you can later re-group them or re-assign switches as usage necessitates, instead of trying to nail it perfectly before you even fill the room with furniture and people. Also consider LED strips along the soffets, door/window thresholds, and crown molding; an easy/cheap way to get flexible and even background lighting without a lot of cans, wiring, or work. – dandavis Apr 2 at 20:48

This is some anecdotal information without any technical references. There are ways to calculate the amount of light needed for a room, but I opted for an experimental approach and never learned how to calculate it.

I just replaced the fluorescent lights in my kitchen with recessed lights. I temporarily hung the lights from the ceiling with a cut up extension cord for power so I could test different brightnesses and color temperatures. It looked ridiculous. What I found is that I was going to need to try and match, lumen for lumen, the lights that I was removing.

There were 4 fluorescent bulbs that put out about 2000 lumens each (8000 total) positioned in an 8' strip (two sets of two) in the middle of the room. At first I assumed that I could get away with less lumens because I was spreading out the light, but what eventually happened was using 7 recessed cans (6") that each had LED drivers rated at around 1300 lumens. The cans were spaced about 5' apart. The apparent brightness of the 9100 lumen total was similar because we went with a warm white light. The harsh, cool white fluorescent lights seem a little brighter per lumen.

So how does any of this help you? Well, my advice is to experiment with lights. Hang up whatever lights you can find with a lumen rating and see what it looks like (day and night). I bought several types of lights to test and returned the ones I didn't use. Even if you just get 3-4 LED shop lights and hang them up you will get an idea of how many lumens you need. The can lights will be more spread out, but once you figure out the overall quantity of light you want, you will be in a much better place to finalize the design.

Other thoughts: Lower ceilings call for wider angle lights, so try to find the angle on any bulbs/LED modules you find. Lower ceilings can also call for tighter spacing on the lights. Spacing of 5' was good for my 9' ceilings, but you might need 4' spacing if you want a lot of light. I'd stick with 6" cans for such a large space. Color temperature is also important. You probably want a warm white (3000K) for a family area.

I found that LED modules in the 600-1000 lumen range were fairly easy to find. Anything over 1000 lumens is more rare, but available. For warm white, lights around 1300-1400 was the best I could find. Cree has 1600 lumen model (150w equivalent), but it only comes in a bright white. Also keep in mind that my goal was to get as much light as I could. A family room might be ok with less light (depending on how you use the room).


I have a room 16' x 20' with 4 canned lights. 5' in from the ends of the 20' wall with 10' between them. 4' in from the 16' wall with 8' between them. They are LED daylight 5000K 65 watt equivalent. Lots of light.

  • Well, this shows that "lots of light" is very subjective. Figuring out just how much light you want in a room is the important part. – JPhi1618 Apr 2 at 19:24

My opinion is that pot lights are over done. What tasks are you performing in the space.

Electricians get paid per pot light, manufacturers get paid per pot light, bulb people want to sell more bulbs - so there is going to be a lot of paid emphasis on putting more lighting in.

I went with ~2/3 based on that recommendation and I went with 4" lights but all my pot lights have a metal box that is install before drywall, how are you going to install the metal boxes and run the wire into each metal box? Sounds like a nightmare. I am relying on the pot lights as mood lighting. I have separate lights for task lighting.

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    Remodel cans that fit through the hole cut for the light are a thing and work well. Running wires from light to light isn't as challenging as it seems because you have a 4-6" hole to work with and they're only 4-5' apart. – JPhi1618 Apr 3 at 14:28
  • I'm just wanting general lighting... will use lamps for specific area lighting. The recessed lights will be dimable. I'm mostly worried about maximize the lighting to minimize dark corners (which can make a room feel smaller) or having dim spots in the room. – Nathan Taylor Apr 3 at 18:25

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