Guide to Recessed Lighting Spacing

living room with recessed lighting
  • Beginner

Recessed lights are a combination of practical function and whimsical fashion, and both will come out with the appropriate recessed lighting spacing. By spacing the lights out in just the right way, a room can seem larger, certain aspects of the room may be emphasized, or the room's ability to be a workplace may reach its potential. In other words, depending all on placement and then spacing, recessed lights can transform a room.

General Rules

When it comes to the basics of recessed lighting, spacing depends on the type of bulb wattage being used. Other variables are the desired amount of lighting and the size of the room, with emphasis on the height of the ceiling. Generally speaking, there are three simple ranges for the state of functionality:

  • For task areas, use 4-inch bulbs
  • For general lighting, use 5-inch bulbs
  • For large rooms, use 6-inch bulbs

Also, the diameter of the bulb is consistent with how far the spacing should be: 4-inch bulbs should be 4 feet apart, 5-inch bulbs should be 5 feet apart, and 6-inch bulbs 6 feet. Overall, the wattage should range from 2 1/2 to 3 per square foot.

What Not to Do

Fashion-wise, prevent using recessed lights in linear lines where the bulbs are close together down the center of a room. Otherwise, the aura of an airport will be created and does not feel home-like.


To emphasize a particular area of a room, be it for the sake of a collectible, a statue, architecture, or what have you, a centered lighting fixture about 12 to 18 inches away from the desired object should do justice. To further emphasize a three-dimensional object, such as a deep statue, lighting spacing should be on opposite sides of said object for the sake of playing with shadows.

When it comes to task lighting, or lighting for the sake of function only and not fashion, the lights have the opportunity to be placed directly overhead, diminishing any potential glare or shadow. To make a room seem larger than it is, place lights angled at a wall somewhat close, to bathe the wall in light, which will illuminate the rest of the room; this is called wall washing. To soften this quality by adding texture to the wall, space the lighting back 6 or more inches; grazing is the technique's name.


Absent of any design, down-lighting may come in a uniform sense, or where the bulbs are equally spaced closely together in rows. Direct light is created that illuminates horizontally. However, to add some design, use fewer or more spaced out rows and bulbs. By having more space between the bulbs, there will be an illusion that pools of light are illuminating the room.

With the help of spacing, a large design may be formed called light scallops. Down-lighting bulbs placed close enough to a wall will spill its light onto that wall, creating half circles, or scallops. These scallops may be elongated or not, depending again on the spacing and distance of the lighting. Note that this technique often comes about by accident.