Recessed Vs Surface Mounted – Basement Lighting
Written by Todd Fratzel.
Last week one of my readers asked a question: Which is better? Recessed lights or surface mount ceiling lights for basement lighting?
Basement Lighting Options
For starters basements typically have a lower ceiling height than the main floors. Most modern construction today results in the ceiling joists (1st floor joists) being 7′-6″ above the concrete slab in the basement. So the first consideration will be head room if you install surface mount lights. Obviously a chandelier won’t fit in your basement.
Basement Lighting Issues – Recessed Vs Surface Mounted
The following is a list of issues to consider when choosing between recessed and surface mount lights in your basement:
- Cost – Most projects end up being governed by your budget so it’s important to talk about the cost comparison between recessed lights and surface mounted lights. For talking purposes let’s assume you’re finishing a 10′ x 10′ basement room. In this example you could install one surface mounted light fixture or a minimum of four recessed lights (we think you’d probably want five or six to make it really bright). With this example it’s very easy to see that recessed lights are going to cost quite a bit more. In fact, you’re going to spend 4 to 5 times a much with the recessed light option when compared to a standard surface mounted light fixture.
- Aesthetics – Obviously aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder. My wife and I completely disagree about recessed lights. I really like them and find them to be a much cleaner, modern look. She on the other hand thinks they are tacky and cheap. The real issue here depends on the look you’re going for. Are you looking for a clean look or a decorative one. Recessed lights disappear within the room while surface mounted lights can become a focal point.
- Installation Difficulty – This category is fairly straight forward also. Recessed lights take much more time to install and it can be quite challenging to come up with a layout that works well aesthetically while not interfering with the structure. When you install recessed lights, whether new construction or remodel, the fixtures must be installed between floor joists. This makes it quite challenging sometimes to get the light laid out symmetrically and effectively. Obviously the recessed lights require more labor to run the wire from junction box to junction box. You also need to consider whether the recessed light fixture will come in contact with insulation, that will determine the type you purchase.
- Flexibility – Recessed lights obviously pose many challenges. The fixtures must be laid out to avoid plumbing pipes, joists, and other mechanical systems. However, recessed lights allow you to utilize a room with lower ceiling heights and make the room feel much more spacious.
- Remodel Vs New Construction – Installing surface mounted light fixtures in a remodel situation is certainly easier for a couple of reasons. First off you’ll be fishing quite a lot less wire with the surface mount lights. Secondly, the junction box can be installed using a “old work” box. Recessed lights require a precise circular hole to be cut in the ceiling and then wires to be daisy chained from fixture to fixture.
Obviously both types of light fixtures can be used in a number of really nice ways for finished basements. Both types of lights also offer pros and cons so it’s important to plan ahead and understand all the pitfalls before you make a decision. If you’re doing the work yourself make sure you’re not tackling a job that’s outside your comfort level. If you’re going to hire an electrician be prepared to pay $100 to $200 for each recessed light fixture installed.
Recommended Basement Lighting Fixtures
The following are some recommended lighting fixtures you can use in your basement.
The Halo H7RICT 6-Inch IC Housing for Remodels is perfect for remodeling when an existing ceiling is obstructing the rough framing. This fixture is one of the most widely used remodeling recessed can fixtures on the market. I’ve used it many times and highly recommend it. The can is rated for direct contact with insulation which I recommend for every situation just to be careful.
The Halo H7ICTNB 6-Inch Air Tite IC Recessed Light Housing is made for new construction. I’ve used this recessed light in the past and it is also one of the most popular recessed lighting cans on the market. I like the fact that this unit is designed to be in direct contact with insulation and it’s also air tight.
Surface mount lighting fixtures have been a staple for years and using them in the basement is a cost effective lighting solution. The Hardware House 460212 Granada 6-1/2-Inch by 13-Inch Ceiling Lighting Fixture Antique Copper is one example of a traditional surface mounted light fixture. These lights tend to be quite in expensive and come in many different finishes and sizes. If you’re looking for a way to keep your budget down then I recommend the surface mount lights.
Do any of you have an opinion or advice to other readers trying to make this decision?
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