A history of recessed and track lighting

Eaton’s Halo® product line is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2016; more than half a century after hitting the market, recessed and track lighting are still popular for their versatile style and range of applications. 

Bryant Bilal, marketing manager for Eaton and an expert on Halo, says recessed and track lighting products are crucial to the history of electrified lighting.

“From cozy living rooms to high-bay industrial settings, customers can choose from thousands of products to ensure ideal lighting for any space,” said Bilal. “To better understand all the options that are available today, it’s worth taking a look at where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Recessed lighting

Recessed lighting products were pioneered in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Early examples were focused in commercial applications such as retail stores and offices. Replacing a hanging fixture with a light source in the ceiling was a space-saving measure that had a clean look, provided adequate light for displays and accented certain areas. Because ceiling heights were typically lower during this era, recessed lights also made rooms look larger. These housings were paired with finishing trims to cover the unfinished holes in the ceiling.

Then, in 1956, Halo came onto the scene with its H1 product, a recessed can designed to hold an incandescent lamp. Many different types of recessed housings followed the H1, all the way up to the H7, which is still sold today.

Over the years, recessed lighting increasingly found its way into residential applications. “In today’s world, it’s difficult to find a newer home that does not have recessed downlights,” said Bilal. “At Eaton alone, we offer tens of thousands of combinations of trims and housings.” Today, lighting designers are doing a great job of mixing recessed downlights with surface lights, like wall fixtures and pendants, for a functional solution that offers a blended look. 

For the past decade, the industry has been focused on another big shift. Department of Energy research shows that incandescent and compact fluorescent lamps are increasingly being replaced by LEDs.

 “LED is the future, and it’s in that space that we develop our new products,” said Bilal. “Costs are falling, and usage is rising. Still, there is a lot of opportunity and room to grow.”

When it comes to recessed lighting, one added benefit of LEDs is that they allow for smaller holes. “Five- and six-inch apertures have been the standard for more than 50 years, but now we’re getting a lot of requests for two, three and four-inch  apertures,” said Bilal. “LEDs offer a similar light output in a smaller diameter aperture and trim for a modern, clean look. While we’ve been putting them into high-end hotels and restaurants for several years, they’ve gotten to a price point that’s reasonable for residential customers.”

Since recessed lighting has been popular for so long, recent advancements in LED technology are creating a huge retrofit market. Bilal says Halo offers remodeler housings and that many of the company’s LED downlights have a proprietary retrofit connection method that make it possible to install a modern LED downlight – with all of the associated benefits – into a recessed housing that is 60 years old.

Track lighting

Track lighting got its start in the 1960s, bursting onto the commercial lighting scene and retail settings, where the unique design helped stores highlight displays and clothing racks. Like recessed lighting, track lighting trickled down to the residential market, where it quickly took off, by the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Sources covered a broad range, from incandescent and CFL to HID and ceramic metal halide. 

Today, track lighting has nearly disappeared from the residential space. It survives mainly in older homes and in special applications, like ceilings with exposed beams for a mid-century modern look, or small apartment kitchens that require limited feet of track and fewer heads.  And, as with recessed lighting, track lighting has begun shifting from traditional sources in favor of LEDs.

A bright future

The cost of LED technology will only continue to decrease, and Bilal predicts that its applications will continue to grow in recessed and track lighting. LEDs are becoming more widespread in traditional markets, like commercial and multifamily, and even penetrating into new spaces.

“LED solutions use less watts, equaling lower energy costs,” he said. “Big-box retailers that use high-bay and track lighting for aisles love LEDs, because they’re lighting so much square footage, the savings are substantial. LEDs also last longer, eliminating the hassle or expense of climbing up on a ladder or lift to change hundreds of lamps in commercial settings.”

Bilal says that now, many homebuilders are also opting for full LED installations.

“The residential market was somewhat slower to change, because lighting budgets were made on a more conservative basis,” he said. “But as LEDs continue to come down in price, we will see even more installations, applications and customers ready to make the conversion. It’s an exciting time to be in this space.”