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Spacing guide for recessed LED lighting

Getting the spacing right for recessed LED lighting can make or break a design. Proper spacing not only provides the necessary amount of light for each space and its function, but it can also enhance the home’s interior design by drawing attention to architectural details, feature walls and special materials.

But how to correctly space recessed LED lighting is a source of confusion for many. We spoke with Bryant Bilal, marketing manager at Eaton’s Lighting Division, to set the record straight.

Are there formulas or rules of thumb that designers can follow when spacing recessed LED lighting?

BB: Yes. The most important factor to consider when spacing recessed lighting is ceiling height. Every manufacturer provides a maximum spacing criterion, which is a ratio to help determine the maximum distance you can put between each light. This number, which is usually between 0.5 and 1.5, is multiplied by the ceiling height in order to determine the maximum distance allowed for each light.

For example:

Spacing criterion × ceiling height = maximum space between each light

If a 6-inch light has a spacing criteria of 1.5 and the ceiling height is 8 feet, the maximum space between each light should be 12 feet.

This formula is critical for lighting a space because if the lights are too far apart, they will look like spotlights with big shadows between each other. Alternately, if they are too close, the lighting can wash out the room or create glare, and the space will be overlit.

Are there different rules about spacing recessed LEDs versus conventional lighting?

BB: The formula above stays the same whether you are spacing recessed LEDs or other conventional sources. However, one difference is the amount of lumen output you can get in smaller apertures by using LED. The formula doesn’t change. Instead, you will see the differences in types of lighting reflected in the manufacturer’s spacing criterion.

Remember that the formula provides the maximum spacing distance for each light. So, if the homeowner likes the way it looks with the lights closer together, there is still some flexibility with design by choosing LEDs with lower or higher lumen output.

So, lumen output is more important than size when spacing recessed LEDs?

BB: From a lumen output perspective, the size of the recessed LEDs doesn’t really matter. In the past, for high ceilings, you would have to use a heavy-duty lamp and robust recessed can to dissipate the heat. But now, manufacturers can shoot out a high number of lumens from a small 4-inch light, which means you can have much smaller lights in the ceiling.

However, from a design perspective, 4-inch products might look a little odd if they are too far apart, so this is where you might want to add an extra row of lights to make the spacing more even. Understanding the lumen output and the spacing criterion for each light makes it easier to decide the overall look of the design in relation to how much light you really need.

Should the spacing be different in different rooms of a house?

BB: There isn’t really a difference for living rooms versus kitchens or bedrooms. We want to make sure there is enough light for the tasks in each space, but that the spaces aren’t overlit. I do think the one area of the home that is overlooked is closets. Having the right amount of light in a closet will definitely make you happier.

How does recessed LED spacing affect energy efficiency?

BB: If a living room has six recessed lights and each uses 10 watts, you are using 60 watts of power every time you turn it on. If the room only needs four recessed lights according to your calculations, you could save 20 watts, or in this scenario, a third of the energy that is being used. If you could reduce energy use by a third just by spacing lights correctly, this could have big implications across an entire home.