Ceiling Light Buying Guide
A light fixture can really make or break a room design. The right light fixture should match the size of the room, provide you with the kind of lighting you need and complement the other design elements.
Related: The Different Light Options
A. Ceiling Lights Mounted on The Ceiling
A ceiling light mounted flush to the ceiling or close to the ceiling is ideal for medium or large rooms or low ceilings. These fixtures are your best options if you need ambient light for an entire room.
1. Flush Lights
Source: The Home Depot
Flush fixtures are flat attachments mounted on your ceiling. This is a very versatile style, and you can easily find fixtures between 12 and 24” wide in function of the size of the room you are shopping for.
Flush ceiling lights are one of the most popular designs for light fixtures because it is discreet and provides optimal lighting for any room as long as you choose a fixture with a diameter that is wide enough and install a bulb that is bright enough.
2. Semi-flush Lights
This is another popular and versatile type of ceiling light fixture. Semi-flush lights typically hang 4 to 8” below the ceiling and look best if you have a ceiling between 8 and 10 feet high.
The main advantage of semi-flush lights is that changing a lightbulb is quick and easy. Semi-flush light fixtures are common in kitchens and small dining rooms, but you can make this style work in other areas. You can easily find semi-flush ceiling lights with a diameter between 7 and 23”.
If you are hesitating between a flush and a semi-flush light fixture, there is one thing you should know. A flush light fixture will direct the light down to the room. A semi-flush light fixture will direct light down to the room and light up the ceiling at the same time. This will make a small room seem larger and your ceiling will seem higher.
3. Recessed Lights
Some retailers call recessed lights pot or can lights. This type of light fixture is mounted inside of the ceiling and is probably your best choice if you have a room with a low ceiling.
You need to have at least 6” of clearance above your ceiling to install a recessed light. The light fixture sits inside of the ceiling and a glass panel diffuses the light inside of the room. There is trim around the glass panel and the result is very discreet.
Note that you need a ceiling with good insulation since humidity can build up inside of the light fixture.
The downside of recessed lights is that they do not diffuse light to an entire room. This type of ceiling light works best for ambient or task lighting.
Recessed lights require a more complex installation process compared to flush or semi-flush fixtures, but there are some things to say in favor of this design:
• You can find recessed lights with an eyeball trim. This feature allows you to direct the light on a wall to draw attention to artwork or to create optimal task lighting for your desk.
• You can direct a recessed light on an empty wall to reflect the light and make the entire room seem larger and brighter.
• This is a very discreet and efficient solution if you have a small room with a sloped ceiling.
• You can light up a large space or an entire room by installing several recessed lights in a row or in a square.
• Professional installation costs between $130 and $200 so this is still an affordable option even though installation is more complex than for a simple flush light.
4. Utility Lighting
Are you looking for a no-frill light fixture for your garage, laundry room or basement? Shopping for utility lights is probably your best option.
Utility lights are either very simple fixtures mounted flush to the ceiling or casings for LED bulbs. This second option would be ideal for your garage workshop since you will need something brighter and more energy-efficient.
Utility lighting can seem like a small upgrade but it can really transform the way you use a space. If you often work on DIY projects in your garage, some LED bulbs will be a welcome addition.
5. LED indirect lighting
LED indirect lighting is an original take on ceiling lights. Instead of mounting a light fixture on your ceiling, this method consists in installed strips of LED lights around your ceiling.
Your ceiling will reflect light from the LED strips, which allows you to create the impression that the room is a lot larger. LED indirect lighting can change colors if you choose light-changing LEDs.
This type of ceiling light will work with a more modern style. LEDs are energy-efficient, and this is a fun DIY project that you can do for under $400 since LED lights are very affordable when you purchase them by the foot.
The trick consists in installing crown molding around your ceiling. The molding will hide the LED strips, direct the light towards the ceiling and add a touch of classic charm to your room.
B. Hanging Ceiling Lights
Hanging light fixtures are more adapted for task and ambient lighting. This type of fixture concentrates lights to a small area and can easily become one of the main points of focus when you design a room.
1. Pendant Lights
Source : Destination Lighting
Pendant lights are somewhat similar to chandeliers since they hang low. However, pendant lights provide you with only one source of light.
A pendant ceiling light can make a great addition to a room where you already have a flush light fixture if you would like additional lighting for a specific area.
You can also install several pendant lights for a smaller room or to provide task lighting in different areas. Shop for mini-pendants if you want to light up a hallway or another small.
Mini-pendants are a great way to make a room visually interesting if you don’t have enough space to display decor items.
Because pendant lights typically hang low from the ceiling, these fixtures will become very noticeable and absolutely need to work with the style of the room.
Pay attention to the size of the pendant light, to how long it will hang and to whether the design corresponds to the style of the furnishing and decor items you already own.
Themed pendant lights can be a great addition to a nursery! Look for themed light fixtures so you can find pendants that will work with the objects you have already selected to decorate this room.
2. Inverted Pendant Lights
Inverted pendant lights instantly create a subdued atmosphere for any room. A lot of homeowners use inverted pendant lights for their kitchen island, but this style can do wonders in a bedroom or even in a living room.
Retailers often use the term bowl pendants to refer to these pendant lights, but you can find other shapes for a more modern effect. Think about adding a crown molding in the center of the room since the inverted pendant light will draw attention to this design element and create an intricate effect by directing light at the molding.
A chandelier is definitely going to add some pizazz to your living room or dining room! Because this type of light fixture will instantly become the central point of focus of the room, you need to choose the style of your chandelier very carefully. It is also important to properly adjust the height of this type of ceiling light.
The lowest part of your chandelier should be at 30” above your dining room table. Anything higher might be too small for the room, and anything lower might get in the way or make the room look smaller.
Chandeliers are a popular option for dining rooms, and you can find many different styles, including modern designs. This type of ceiling light is ideal if you want to fill in a large empty space and turn a dining room table into the main point of focus of your room.
Here is how you can determine the ideal size of your chandelier:
• If the chandelier will go above your dining room table, the diameter of the chandelier should correspond to half of the table width.
• For another room, add the length and the width of the room. This number in inches will correspond to the ideal diameter of the light fixture.
There are a few additional things to consider when shopping for a chandelier:
• You can choose a chain-hung fixture for a more traditional look or opt for a suspension chandelier that will be closer to the ceiling.
• A chandelier with more branches will provide more lighting. You can find chandeliers with two or three branches for smaller rooms.
• You can find uplight and downlight designs. An uplight design is ideal if you want to make a room appear larger.
Having a professional install a chandelier should cost between $100 and $400, depending on the fixture you selected. Replacing an old chandelier with a newer one should be even more affordable since you won’t need to install new wiring.
4. Track And Rail Lighting
Track lighting fixtures create a very modern effect. These fixtures are ideal for accent or task lighting since several individual lights hang from a track.
You can either mount the track on the ceiling or suspend it from the ceiling depending on the effect and height you want. Some track lighting fixtures let you adjust the direction of the individual lights, which is perfect for your food prep space or your desk!
Track lighting is a popular design element of modern kitchens and bathrooms but it is also an interesting alternative to semi-flush fixtures if you have opted for a modern design in your home.
You can combine track lighting with pendant lights by choosing a fixture designed to hang individual pendants. You can create an original effect and get optimal task lighting by hanging the pendants at different heights.
Track lighting stands out from other options because you can easily customize these fixtures. The installation cost is affordable since have a professional install track lighting in your home typically costs around $500.
Rail lighting is similar to track lighting but you can adjust the shape and position of the rail. Some fixtures also give you the possibility to move the position of each individual light fixtures.
Rail lighting makes sense if you want to add task lighting in a corner or feel that a curved design would look best.
5. Island Lighting
This means the light fixtures typically hang lower than what most track lighting fixtures allow for. You can also find other designs, including circles and squares to shed task lighting on a larger area.
Island lighting will become the main point of focus of your kitchen and is a staple of many modern kitchen designs.
C. Types Of Ceiling Lights By Material
Now that you know more about the different designs you can shop for, let’s take a look at the most popular materials for ceiling lights.
The material of a light fixture will really determine if this design element fits within the overall tone and atmosphere of a room.
1. Glass Ceiling Lights
Glass is a popular material for light fixtures since it diffuses light very well. This material easily blends in with your home decor, and it is very easy to find glass ceiling lights that do not make a strong statement if you are looking for something that is more functional than decorative.
However, there are many ways to work with glass. You can find light fixtures with colored glass or for another type of finish that really add some pizazz to a room.
Most flush and recessed lights are made with glass. This material is also common for semi-flushed and pendant lights.
2. Fabric Light Fixtures
Fabric creates a warmer effect right away and can really set a relaxing mood. Fabric shades are popular for the bedroom but you can definitely make this style work in your living room or dining room.
Flush and semi-flush lights with a fabric shade are fairly common. If you are interested in fabric, keep in mind that the color of the fabric will determine how noticeable the fixture is and will also impact the mood the lighting sets.
3. Crystal Light Fixtures
Source: Pottery Barn
Crystal is the material of choice for chandeliers, but this delicate material is also used to make semi-flush fixtures and some pendant lights.
Crystal can be more expensive, but it makes a stronger statement than a glass ceiling light. This material is particularly interesting because of the way light bounces off crystal facets.
A large crystal light fixture can become a statement piece for a large dining room, whether you opt for a chandelier or another type of ceiling light. However, a crystal fixture can easily make a smaller room seem too crowded.
4. Metal Ceiling Lights
Metal might seem like an unusual material for light fixtures, but this style is becoming more popular. Metal obviously works best with modern designs.
This material is primarily used for track and rail lighting but you can also find modern kitchen islands inspired by industrial designs.
Metal is a versatile material. You can add a discreet metal track fixture for accent lighting in your bathroom or make a metal island fixture the central point of focus of your modern industrial kitchen design.
Other Things To Consider
There are a few other things to consider when shopping for a ceiling light. The primary purpose of a light fixture is to provide ambient, task or accent lighting but there are other features you should take advantage of.
A. Dimmer Switches
Replacing a ceiling light is the perfect occasion to add a dimmer switch to the wiring. Dimmer switches have really improved and are more energy-efficient than ever before
A dimmer switch allows you to adjust the brightness level, save energy and use fewer light bulbs. You can use CFL, LED and some incandescent light bulbs in a light fixture that has been upgraded with a dimmer switch.
Adding a dimmer to a light fixture will only cost you $60 to $130, which makes this simple upgrade worth considering. You should also know that some dimmer switches work with Smart home systems. This means you can control your lights automatically or via your phone.
B. Ceiling Fans
You can find ceiling fans with built-in lights or kits that you can mount on a ceiling light. This second option would be more adapted if you want to upgrade a room without replacing an existing ceiling light or if you have a specific light fixture in mind.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a ceiling fan:
• Is the fan energy-efficient?
• Can you choose from different speeds?
• Is the size of the fan and number of blades adapted to the room?
• How low will the fan hang from the ceiling?
• Can you mount a ceiling fan kit on your current light fixture?
You can easily mount a ceiling fan kit above a pendant light or inverted pendant light. These kits should also work with a chandelier. If you have another type of ceiling light, you will probably need to replace it with a ceiling fan that includes a built-in light fixture.
C. Light Bulbs
You need to choose the right type of light bulb in function of the effect you want and in function of how large the room is. When shopping for a new light fixture, make sure the type of light bulbs you use will fit in the light fixture.
These are the different types of light bulbs offered by most retailers:
• Compact Fluorescent Light or CFL is the most common type of light bulbs. These light bulbs are affordable and energy-efficient. They work for ambient and task lighting.
• LED light bulbs use 90% less energy and stay cool. They are more durable and more expensive. Because LEDs are directional lights, these are better suited for task lighting. However, not all light fixtures will maximize the efficiency of LED bulbs.
• Halogens bulbs are another affordable, durable and energy-efficient option. They emit light that is very similar to natural sunlight.
• Incandescent bulbs are no longer made due to low energy-efficiency. However, you can still find some specialty incandescent light bulbs for chandeliers. You should look at alternatives if you have a chandelier since finding compatible CFL or LED bulbs should not be difficult.
Compare the wattage of different light bulbs to determine which product will be more energy-efficient. You should also look at the lumens, which indicate the amount of light a bulb emits.
If you have a dimmer switch, make sure you choose dimmable light bulbs.
You will need to pay attention to the size and shape of the bulbs you purchase if you opt for mini pendant lights, track lighting or install a chandelier. Other types of ceiling lights should easily fit standard light bulb sizes and shapes.
Below are answers to commonly asked questions about ceiling lights.
Are ceiling lights easy to install?
The ease of installing ceiling lights will depend on your existing lighting situation. If you are simply replacing an existing fixture, then the process is relatively easy since the junction boxes and wiring are already in place. However, if you are installing ceiling lighting where no such lighting exists, you will need to make an opening in the ceiling and then install the wiring, junction boxes, switch plates, and other necessary components. It is also important to note whether or not you have access to the attic space. Once you have assessed the situation, the installation requires simply following the installation instructions that come with your fixture.
Are LED ceiling lights dimmable?
Not all LED lights are dimmable. Read the product specifications on the LED bulb packaging to determine whether or not the bulb is dimmable. Also, be aware of the type of dimmer you have. Older household dimmers, called leading edge dimmers, were made for incandescent lightbulbs and may not be compatible with LED lights.
What are flush-mounted ceiling lights?
Flush-mounted ceiling lights are any light fixture whose base and lighting components are mounted flush or directly to the ceiling without any gaps or extensions. A common style among flush-mounted ceiling lights is a dome-shaped light.
What are recessed ceiling lights?
Recessed ceiling lights are lights that are installed inside the ceiling in a housing unit that is sometimes called a canister. The housing unit installs above the ceiling line with a visible trim that is flush with the ceiling and may be decorative. The light from the bulb will shine directly downward. Recessed lights are also known as can lights and downlights.
Can ceiling lights be used on walls?
Not all ceiling lights are compatible for wall mounting. The weight and the heat emitted from the fixture need to be considered. It is important to read the instructions and warranty of the ceiling light before considering a wall installation. A wall mount may void the warranty and be considered an incorrect installation.
How long do LED ceiling lights last?
If you are considering moving the LED ceiling lights, you can expect them to last up to 500% longer than the traditional light bulb. This means you can get 18 to 22 years out of most LED ceiling lights. This is a much longer lifespan than other bulbs that counted their lifespan in hours.
Why do my ceiling lights flicker? Buzz?
If you dim your LED ceiling lights and they start to flicker, this means that the LED light is sending signals to reduce the output of the light through short currents. This vibration creates the buzzing or humming sounds that you hear. If you have an LED light that is not meant to be dimmed, this is a significant problem because it will not stop.
Why don’t hotels have ceiling lights?
If you have visited a hotel lately, you may have been looking for lighting options. Most hotel rooms avoid putting lights on the ceiling. This is because they have too many to maintain and they are not as readily accessible as other light fixtures.
Are lamps better than ceiling lights?
Lamps are not necessarily better than ceiling lights because an area can still be dark even without them. However, lamps have the flexibility to move easier and can be changed to fit lighting preferences. Ceiling lights have to be replaced completely.
Can you paint ceiling light fixtures? How about with spray paint?
If you have a ceiling light fixture that you want to keep, but you want a different color, then spray paint will come to the rescue. Ceiling light fixtures need at least two coats of paint when they are removed and taped off. After the second coat of paint dries, check it for any runs in the paint, and then reinstall when you are satisfied with your fixture. Spray paint comes in a variety of options so you can paint a plastic or metal light fixture easily.
How low can ceiling lights be?
Ceiling lights can be as low as you want them or as tight and form-fitting to the ceiling. Rooms with low ceilings do not need low-hanging ceiling lights because it makes the room appear smaller. In these areas, you want to have ceiling lights as compacted as possible. In a room with a large ceiling, you can let them hang a little lower, but you do not want them to be too low. Keep them at least 8 feet from the ground so no one is bumping their head.
Are there battery-powered ceiling lights?
There are ceiling lights that are portable and work on battery power. These lights are convenient for folks who need to change up the lighting in an area or want to add them to lighting that is already installed in the ceiling. They give you the option to turn the light off and on, as well as many come with the ability to dim or brighten the light to your preference.
Where to Buy Ceiling Lights Online
These retailers have an excellent selection of ceiling lights: