How much does it cost to install recessed lighting?
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Recessed Lighting Installation Cost Guide
Updated: January 2, 2024
Recessed lighting is set deep into the ceiling, providing ambient light for the living space. It gives an extra layer to the lighting design when partnered with other light fixtures – and they’re perfect for low ceilings where a chandelier may hang too low. Also referred to as can lighting, recessed lighting is now available without the “cans.” Typically, homeowners install four to six lights per area, controlled simultaneously with one switch.
The national average to install recessed lighting is between $176 and $328 per light, with the average homeowner spending $1,467 to install six lights. On the low end, you can replace an existing light yourself for as little as $20. At the high end, a whole house installation of smart lighting can cost as much as $16,770. This cost guide will walk you through the factors that influence the cost of recessed lighting and help you see what fits into your budget.
Costs to install recessed lighting
National average cost
$1,056 - $1,968
Cost factors that influence the installation of recessed lighting
Installing recessed lighting includes a lot of variables. When it comes to choosing the lights, all the options might have your head spinning. So, let’s examine this project from all sides and the factors that may influence its cost.
Recessed lights are distinguished by their type of housing. Old-school recessed lighting had a can-shaped housing. But with smaller LED bulbs, the large housing is no longer necessary.
The housing type will vary depending on whether you have insulation in the attic, the kind of ceiling you have, and the location of the installation. Let’s look at each type more in-depth.
Depending on the type of bulb, can light housing can get hot. If attic insulation contacts the hot surface, it could cause a fire, depending on your insulation type. You can install lights withIC-rated housing in a ceiling where insulation will touch it.
Non-IC-rated housing can get hot and is used only in ceilings without insulation. Do not install these lights if you currently have attic insulation or plan to install it in the future.
To prevent airflow from one floor of the home to the other, use airtight housing. These lights have a tight seal around the can to prevent air leakage and ensure energy efficiency in homes with more than one HVAC zone.
Standard recessed lighting cans require 5- to 6-inches of depth for installation. If a ceiling has little space, choose lights with shallow housing. Their slim design allows installation directly below a joist. Shallow housing comes as thin as 2 inches.
By using an LED light, you can eliminate the bulky can housing. Canless lights are slimmer and more energy efficient than conventional can lights. Some models allow you to adjust the color temperature from warm to daylight. They’re also available for wet locations.
You want moisture-resistant lighting in areas like porches and showers. For this type of use, choose wet-rated housing. Other damp areas you may want to install recessed lighting include bathrooms, patios, gazebos, and saunas.
Vaulted ceiling housing
Typical recessed lighting provides light directly below the flat ceiling. But, since a vaulted ceiling is sloped, installing most can lights would direct the light out at an odd angle. For vaulted ceilings, choose recessed lighting that swivels and adjusts to the pitch of the ceiling, like a gimbal light. That way, you can angle the light as you need it.
The trim piece around most recessed lights is white to match the typical ceiling color. However, you can find trim finishes in other colors and styles to complement your home’s design better. Keep in mind that trim finishes will impact your light’s cost.
Light bulb type
Most recessed lighting fixtures accept multiple bulb types. They can include LED, halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent. Other recessed lighting fixtures have integrated LED lights that are not interchangeable.
To better integrate your smart home, you may consider smart voice-activated recessed lights. Of course, the cost of this advanced technology will increase the cost of your project.
Switches add to the overall cost of the remodel. While you can purchase a light switch for under a dollar, dimmer switches, smart switches, and designer switches cost more.
An electrician charges $88 to $163 per hour, and a drywall contractor charges $76 to $142 per hour, depending on the region of the country.
Unless you install high-level smart lights that run as much as $372 each, the average builder-grade materials cost $57 to $76 per light. Therefore, the total cost of this project depends largely on the labor cost. When hiring an electrician to do the installation for you, ask if they also repair the ceiling or if you’ll need to hire a drywall contractor.
Replacing existing lights
Replacing existing lights is less costly than installing new recessed lighting due to a lower material cost. Items like wiring, electrical boxes, and switches can be reused.
Installing new lights
Installing new recessed lighting in an existing ceiling, rather than in new construction, costs more than replacing existing lighting. The cost to run new electrical wiring, install the junction box, and possibly upgrade the circuit breaker are charges you don’t incur when replacing lights.
Average recessed lighting installation cost
The cost to install recessed lighting can fall into three pricing categories: budget-friendly, mid-range, and high-end. To help you stay within budget while getting the upgraded lighting your home deserves, we’ve listed some options you may find in each category.
Budget-friendly recessed lighting installation
A budget-friendly recessed lighting installation costs $30 to $400 per light.
Budget-level home improvement projects typically fall under the DIY category. To eliminate the labor cost, you can afford more and do more. However, when working with electricity, you have to be careful. So, we recommend limiting the DIY lighting jobs to replacing existing fixtures. When you replace existing lights, the cost is for the materials only.
Mid-range recessed lighting installation
A mid-range recessed lighting installation costs $550 to $1,500, depending on the number and type of lights.
Having the money to pay a professional electrician increases the cost of your lighting project. In this price range, you can expect to afford the labor to do the following.
- Install mid-grade lights in an entire room.
- Install one smart light.
Luxury recessed lighting installation
A luxury recessed lighting installation costs $3,000 to $16,770, depending on the number and type of lights.
When money is no option, you can do much more with your home's recessed lighting. From installing mid-grade lights in just a couple of rooms to having smart recessed lighting throughout, your home will have both class and style when you enter this pricing tier. Here are a few examples of what you can expect when you spend more money.
- Install mid-grade lights in both the living room and dining room.
- Install smart lighting in the foyer and hallways and mid-grade lighting in the living area.
- Install smart lighting throughout the home.
DIY vs. professional installation
Before attempting to DIY any home improvement project that involves electricity, think about what you’re doing. Replacing existing can lights by removing the old light and attaching the new one to the box already in place is like replacing a ceiling fan. Any skilled DIYer with basic knowledge of electrical work can do this. But if your home is old, it pays to have an electrician perform an inspection to see if rewiring is necessary.
On the other hand, retrofitting recessed lighting in an older home is a job for a professional. And safety isn’t the only reason. The benefits of hiring a professional electrician to install your recessed lighting include the following:
- Professionals install lights all day long. They have the process down and are very quick about it. If you want your lights done on time, don’t attempt to do it yourself.
- Also, because they install lights in many different types of homes, electricians know how to plan the layout of the fixtures and what kind of layouts work best to layer the lighting with other types of lighting in the space.
- Electricians help you stay on budget because they know the best products for each application. For instance, they know how to judge when to use IC-rated or wet-rated fixtures. They can also look for potential problems that could increase costs. There is little trial and error when choosing lights when you rely on their knowledge.
- They also know when your electrical panel will need to be upgraded to accommodate the new installation and how to do it.
- Electricians already have all the tools. This saves you money from renting or buying tools or the headache of borrowing them.
How to pay for a recessed lighting installation
Whether replacing existing recessed lighting fixtures or retrofitting new ones, the project can cost thousands of dollars. However, avoid taking out a home improvement loan for a comparatively small project. Here are a few options that make more sense when the total cost falls under $10,000.
- Withdraw funds from a HELOC: Having a home equity line of credit doesn’t cost you anything, so it’s nice to have it when needed. Borrowing against the equity in your home, you can withdraw as little or as much as you need when you need it and pay interest only on what you use. If you don’t have a HELOC in place, speak with a lender about your options.
- Use a retailer credit card: If you’re replacing existing light fixtures yourself, you’ll probably get them from the local big box store. If you don’t have a credit card account with the store, now’s a good time to open one. These retailers frequently offer cash-off incentives for opening a new account. And they often run special payment options like five percent off all purchases or no interest for two years. Take advantage of these perks to purchase the materials for less.
Ways to save money
Even with funding help, you still may need to save money on this project. Here are a few ideas to help.
- Shop sales – Large retailers host sales around major holidays, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.
- Place in easily accessible areas – You save on labor when the job is less time-consuming. And when your lights are in easy-to-reach locations, you save time.
- Region – All home improvement project costs vary depending on the geographic location. Prices tend to be higher in urban areas and lower in rural ones. For more accurate costs, consult a local professional.
- Permitting – Replacing existing recessed ceiling lights doesn’t require a permit. But you'll need an electrical permit when installing new lighting and the wiring it needs. The permit cost will add to the overall cost of the project.
Don’t sit in the dark
When you’re ready to layer your lighting by installing recessed lights, don’t get the shock of your life. Stay safe by allowing a professional electrician to do it for you. We can help you find one in your neighborhood.