Recessed Lighting In Kitchens: Dos and Don'ts



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Lighting is a crucial part of designing a well-functioning kitchen. Strategically placed lights can help make small kitchens feel larger or highlight your favorite decor pieces. You can also use lighting to enhance functionality by making countertops and islands brighter for an optimally lit cooking environment. This guide will cover important considerations for installing recessed lighting in your kitchen so you can enjoy optimal illumination.

Understanding Different Types of Lighting

There are three main types of lighting: General lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting. Each has a different purpose, and incorporating all three can ensure your kitchen is well-lit and functional. Here’s what you need to know about each type of lighting:

General Lighting

General lighting is meant to create comfortable everyday lighting for day-to-day activities. It’s also known as “ambient lighting.” In a kitchen, general lighting ensures that the entire area is adequately lit for things like meal prep,dining, and socializing.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is designed to add focused light to spaces where activities occur, such as cooking and preparing ingredients. In a kitchen, task lighting can provide bright, directed light to countertops, islands, and other work surfaces.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting creates visual interest and depth in space by highlighting specific architectural features or design elements. In a kitchen, accent lighting can showcase a backsplash, highlight your interior decor, or draw attention to whatever you want the room's visual centerpiece to be.

The Don'ts of Recessed Lighting in Kitchens

Avoiding Common Placement Mistakes

Understanding the common mistakes in recessed light placement is key to avoiding potential lighting issues in your kitchen. Installing lights too close together can create harsh shadows and uneven lighting. Placing too many recessed lights directly above shiny or reflective surfaces causes glare and discomfort. Conversely, placing too few lights can make your kitchen feel dim and uninviting.

Choosing the Wrong Color Temperature

When installing recessed lighting in your kitchen, avoid going too warm (yellowish) or too cool (bluish-white). Instead, aim for a color temperature of around 3000K, which provides a balanced and comfortable lighting experience. This temperature creates a welcoming atmosphere while maintaining good task visibility.

Overlighting the Space

Overlighting can be problematic in smaller kitchens, leading to a harsh and overly bright environment. To avoid this, focus on strategic placement to provide adequate illumination without overwhelming the space. Dimmer switches can give you extra control over how bright your kitchen is.

How Many Recessed Lights Per Room? Less is More

Recessed lights may look small, but each one packs mighty lighting power. A general rule is not to exceed 4-6 lights per 100 feet. If you’re using recessed lighting primarily for accent lights, you will likely need fewer lights overall.

Not Measuring and Calculating Light Placement

Measuring and calculating light placement is a crucial step in ensuring optimal kitchen lighting. Before installation, it's important to measure the room's size and shape, and consider any obstacles or architectural features that may impact lighting distribution. By carefully planning and calculating, you can feel confident that your recessed lights will enhance your kitchen's functionality and aesthetics.

How Far Apart Should Recessed Lights Be?

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to how to layout recessed lighting. For general lighting purposes in a kitchen, aim for spacing between lights approximately equal half the ceiling height. For example, if your kitchen has a ceiling height of 8 feet, space the lights about 4 feet apart. This spacing provides even coverage without creating overly bright or dark spots.

Buying the Wrong Recessed Light

Buying the wrong type of recessed lighting can derail your kitchen remodel before it even begins. Note the differences between each type so you can choose the right one for your home.


Retrofit lights are designed to fit into standard recessed can housings, making them easy to install without needing rewiring or modifications. Recessed lights have two main types of bases:

  • GU5.3: The GU5.3 base, known as a bi-pin base, is commonly used for low-voltage LED bulbs. These bulbs have two pins that align with the socket for a secure and stable connection.
  • E26 base: This base is standard for household LED bulbs and is a versatile option for retrofitting recessed lights.


Retrofit recessed light installation


Canless lights are ideal if you do not have a recessed can in your ceiling. These lights feature a compact design that eliminates the need for traditional recessed cans. Canless lights come in various sizes and styles, providing flexibility in design and installation.


Canless recessed light installation

Disk Light Duel Installation Option

Disk Light Dual Installation Option combines the advantages of recessed lighting and surface-mounted fixtures in one versatile design. These lights feature a flat, disk-shaped profile for flush mounting on ceilings or walls. However, the lights are not recessed. 


The Dos of Recessed Lighting in Kitchens

Choosing the Right Type of Recessed Lighting

When it comes to recessed lights, quality matters. High-quality bulbs will last longer, burn brighter, save energy, and give you more flexibility over color temperature and dimming. Here are some features you should prioritize when looking for recessed lighting:
  • 5 CCT COLOR CHANGING OPTIONS: 5-in-1 CCT options allow you to toggle between 2700K soft white, 3000K warm white, 3500K neutral white, 4000K cool white, and 5000K daylight.
  • DIMMABLE 10-100%: This feature ensures you can adjust brightness from 100% to 10% using most dimmers on 120AC without flickering.
  • HD COLOR ACCURACY (CRI 90): A Color Rendering Index or CRI of 90 or higher is considered excellent and will provide optimal color clarity.
  • ENERGY STAR: ENERGY STAR certification shows that the bulbs meet strict specifications of safety, quality, and performance standards.
  • DAMP RATED: This ensures that the bulbs are safe to use in locations where moisture and water are present.
  • IC RATED AIRTIGHT: This feature simplifies installation and enhances energy efficiency by minimizing heat loss through the ceiling.

Strategic Placement of Recessed Lights

Recessed lights are best used strategically, as they’re meant to be more functional than decorative. Common places to install recessed lights in a kitchen include above countertops, under cabinets, or near the sink. Adding extra lighting in these areas can help make seeing what you’re doing easier as you prep, cook, and clean up.

Ensuring Proper Task Lighting

To ensure proper task lighting, consider where you do most of your cooking. Then, strategically place task lighting fixtures like under-cabinet, recessed, or track lighting to illuminate these areas. Dimmer switches can also help you adjust brightness according to a specific task or mood.

Incorporating Accent Lighting Effectively

Accent lighting is a great way to highlight a specific area, but it’s best used sparingly for a more dramatic effect. Installing accent lights over the kitchen island, dining table, or corners is popular to eliminate dark spots. The bottom line is, if there’s something in your kitchen that you’d like to draw attention to, use accent lighting to help it stand out.

How Many Recessed Lights Do I Need?

The total number of recessed lights in a room depends on size, ceiling height, and desired brightness. To calculate more precisely, divide the room's square footage by the recommended spacing between lights (e.g., 4 feet), adjusting as needed based on your kitchen's specific lighting needs. Consulting with a lighting professional can also provide valuable insights into optimizing the number and placement of recessed lights for functionality and aesthetics.


Strategically combining general, task, and accent lighting is key for well-balanced kitchen lighting design. Check out NuWatt’s Retrofit Recessed Lighting and Canless Recessed Lighting options to explore how to bring optimal lighting to your kitchen.