Downlights: the ultimate guide - Lifestyle NZ
Downlights: the ultimate guide

Downlights: the ultimate guide

Are you planning to install LED downlights? Here’s the ultimate guide to choosing the design and layout of your recessed spotlights.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

In the past year, we’ve all spent a lot more time in our homes. During this time, you may have noticed that some parts of your house could do with a little more illumination. If you want to create more light without drawing attention to a feature light fitting, then adding downlights can be a great solution.

However, there are key tips and tricks for using LED downlights correctly. Read on to learn more about how downlights should be used.

Eurotech Lighting - Venius - V02 - Large Ceiling Button Light

What are downlights?

Downlights, also called recessed lights, are a light fixture designed to illuminate one specific item or area. They usually throw a narrow beam, and they’re recessed into the ceiling, rather than having an external light fixture on the surface.

You may see downlights in areas where you need a little extra task illumination or a spotlight. They’re one of the most popular type of ceiling lights in kitchens as a way to light up countertops and workspaces, as well as for general ambient lighting in larger rooms.

Related Read: The Complete Guide to Ceiling Lights

Layout considerations

The first thing you need to do is figure out the layout of your downlights. Decide which lights will illuminate the whole space and which lights will be used for task lighting. 

How many downlights do you need per room?

To calculate how many downlights to use, measure the width and length of your room to get the total area. Then multiply the area of your room by 25 to get the overall wattage needed for your space.

Once you’ve chosen which down lights you’ll use, divide the wattage between the fixtures to know how many you will require to get the right amount of illumination in the space.

Place your downlights about two feet away from the walls and about half your ceiling height apart from each other for general lighting. Then add task lighting anywhere in the room you may need it. Try to consider where the shadows will fall in the room, and use higher wattage bulbs for taller ceilings.

FIT - DOMUS Line™ LED Spotlights

Colour Temperature

The colour temperature you choose will depend on what your preference is for the look and feel of your space. You might choose a 6000K cool blue for a sun-flooded space, a 4000K natural white to create the look of natural light or a 3000K warm white to make a space appear warmer and cosier.

There’s no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing colour temperature, but consider how each will make your space feel.

What is the best beam angle for downlights?

A bulb on a hanging pendant with no lampshade has a beam angle of 360 degrees, whereas due to the recessed nature of downlights, most only have a beam angle of 45 degrees. Some downlights have a slightly wider 60 degree beam angle which is suitable for when you’re trying to create ambient light in a room.

Downlights with a narrow 25 degree beam are great if you’re spotlighting onto a kitchen bench, for example, or you need more concentrated light.

ECC Architectural - Micro Battery Downlight by

Common Mistakes

There are a few common mistakes you should watch out for when choosing downlights. First of all, people often rely too heavily on downlights to handle all their lighting needs in a space. In a room, you need ambient, task, and accent lighting. Downlighting is suited to the first two of these, but needs to be applied in different ways, with different sized fittings.

Often, it can be tempting to solve your lighting challenges by cranking up the wattage on your bulbs or filling the ceiling full of downlights, but this can leave a space feeling stark and the lighting overblown. Instead, keep your wattage low, use your downlighting in the appropriate spaces, and handle your ambient lighting needs by layering different fixtures in the space.

It also pays to put dimmers on downlights, so that you can change the level of brightness in the room throughout the day.

Inlite Diro SBL

Ceiling insulation and downlights

Since new insulation standards were introduced, homeowners are required to insulate all new houses, but increasingly owners of older homes are also installing it in their ceiling cavities. In response to the new insulation standards, downlights compatible with insulated roof cavities were developed. 

The two insulation-compatible downlights are called Insulation Contact (IC) and Insulation Contact - Fire Resistant (IC-F). If you have an insulated ceiling cavity, you will need to install these two types of downlights.

Older versions of downlights required a gap of 150mm between the ceiling insulation and the light fitting, with the cans (inside the ceiling) not able to be in contact with insulation. The reason for this is the output of heat from the halogen and incandescent light fittings was high and posed a fire risk.

In addition, the big holes that needed to be cut into the ceiling insulation rendered the insulation inefficient as the warm air and moisture from the room below was drawn up into the ceiling cavity.

Fortunately, the new technology in IC and IC-F fittings means the heat output of downlights is reduced dramatically and the light cans can either be in contact with insulation, or only require a small gap.

Just be aware, IC-F downlights are not necessarily fire rated, so check with the manufacturer first if you need fire-rated lights.

ECC Light Cut Mini


Dimmers were initially introduced to reduce the power usage of incandescent bulbs, but with the advent of LED, that is no longer a primary reason for installing them.

Having the ability to reduce the intensity of the light in a room means homeowners can now control the mood of their space.

Dimmers are available in analogue and digital options, but they need to be paired with dimmable bulbs. There are dimmable versions of most types of downlight bulbs available. Non dimmable bulbs can be used in dimmable light fittings, but they will only turn on when 100% voltage is applied.

If you’d like to learn more about how to improve your home, check out ArchiPro’s Products and Projects sections. We are the all-in-one platform helping Kiwis find solutions for their building projects. Get started today and find products, browse projects, and learn about building, all in one place.

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