DIY Recessed Lighting Installation in a Drop Ceiling (Ceiling Tiles), Part 3

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series DIY Recessed Lighting Installation


DIY Recessed Lighting InstallationDIY Recessed Lighting Installation | The Process so Far!

Now that the actual lighting fixture was installed, it was time to rinse and repeat, over and over again, for each fixture we wanted installed.

As a reminder, this was the layout that we were following to install the lights (each box with an L indicates where we were going to install a light).

Diagram of Recessed Lighting in Drop Ceiling

We had it printed out and consulted it continuously throughout the installation process.

Recessed lighting drop ceiling installation layout

As a reminder, we decided to have three “zones” of lights in the basement. Each zone would be controlled by an individual switch. We had those three switches installed by an electrician before we started the DIY portion of this project. Here are the three switches that we had installed by the electricians:

Switches installed for recessed lighting

We repeated the process that we followed in Part 2 for each of the light fixtures, connecting them together and setting them up.

Installing recessed lighting housing

 

Installing recessed lighting housing

 

Testing that the Recessed Lighting Housing was Set Up Correctly

And now it was time to play god and proclaim LET THERE BE LIGHT. Just kidding, it was just time to install the lightbulbs temporarily to make sure that everything was wired properly.

Halogen lightbulbs for recessed lighting Installing lightbulb during recessed lighting installation Installing lightbulb during recessed lighting installation

After we confirmed that the lights turned on (meaning that the fixture was properly set up), it was time to close up the fixture box with the cover plate that came with the fixtures. We waited until the very end to do this, after we had confirmed that all the fixtures were working.

Installing panel enclosure on recessed lighting housing Installing panel enclosure on recessed lighting housing Installing panel enclosure on recessed lighting housing

 

Cutting Holes in Ceiling Tiles for Recessed Lighting

Now it was time to actually make those lights look pretty in the ceiling. That involved cutting holes in our ceiling tiles.

Ken created a template to make cutting process easier.

First, he took a ceiling tile and drew an X on the back of it, using a yard stick to keep things straight. This marked the exact center of the ceiling tile.

Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting | Creating a template How to center a hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting installation Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting | Creating a template

Then he drilled a small hole at the center of the X that he had just marked.

Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting

And now it was time to put our template into action. We had a lot of ceiling tiles to cut holes in!

Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting

We laid a new ceiling tile on the table.

Using template to cut holes in ceiling tiles for recessed lighting installation

Then we placed the template (the tile that we had just drilled the hole in) on top of the ceiling tile.

Using template to cut holes in ceiling tiles for recessed lighting installation

We lined up the two tiles evenly.

Using template to cut holes in ceiling tiles for recessed lighting installation

And, we just drilled a hole through the existing hole in the template, all the way down to the new ceiling tile.

Now, that meant that the center of the new tile had been marked precisely without having to get out the yard stick. (Which would’ve gotten very tedious because we had so many ceiling tiles).

Next up, it was time to break out the hole saw. Our lighting trim was 4 3/8″ in diameter, so we bought this hole saw. Check out the instructions for your particular recessed lighting trim to determine what size hole saw you might need.

Hole saw used for cutting holes in ceiling tiles

We attached it to the drill.

Hole saw used for cutting holes in ceiling tiles

And then we were able to start drilling the hole precisely in the center of the ceiling tile, since we had just marked that using the template!

Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting Cutting hole in ceiling tile for recessed lighting

So now it was time to place the ceiling tile where one of the fixtures had already been installed.

Putting cut ceiling tiles back in ceiling around recessed lighting housing Putting cut ceiling tiles back in ceiling around recessed lighting housing Putting cut ceiling tiles back in ceiling around recessed lighting housing Putting cut ceiling tiles back in ceiling around recessed lighting housing

This took a little bit of maneuvering to get the fixture to plop precisely in the ceiling tile hole. But, it finally got there! For the trim piece that we were using, the light had to be slightly above “flush” with the ceiling tile. The positioning might vary depending on the trim style that you choose.

Recessed lighting housing in ceiling tile without trim piece

Installing Recessed Lighting Trim Piece

But, of course, it wasn’t quite done yet. Next we needed to install the trim piece. (We talked about the different trim options we considered back in Part 2).

Here is what the trim parts looked like.

Trim parts for recessed lighting

Those two metal pieces were basically little tension rods that would keep the trim piece in place. Then, there was some minimal assembly required.

Trim piece for recessed lighting

Notice the wingnut pictured here in the housing. We ended up taking it off (but while it was in the ceiling) to make the socket moveable, which we needed to do for the type of trim we were using.  So, after removing the wingnut, the socket part started to dangle.

Trim piece for recessed lighting Removing wing nuts from recessed lighting housing Socket dangling in recessed lighting housing

We discovered that, depending on the trim pieces you use, you may not have to do this step. We also discovered that some recessed lighting housings do not include “moveable” sockets, in which case you’d have to buy something like this, a socket extender.  One of the reasons we liked these housings is because it allowed the socket to be moved. So, that avoided the cost of having to buy extra extenders.

Now, we could finally install the trim piece!

Installing recessed lighting trim Installing recessed lighting trim Installing recessed lighting trim Installing recessed lighting trim Installing recessed lighting trim

Then, that was it (well, for that ceiling tile anyway!) It was just time to repeat the process for all the other ceiling tiles that would have lights! (Oh, and install the lightbulbs of course!)

Putting lightbulb in new recessed lighting fixture Final recessed lighting view Final recessed lighting view

The lighting in our basement now is SO much brighter with these recessed lights. Because we were installing so many lights, and because it was a learning process as we went, the installation process did take quite a while. Probably a month or more (just doing it in our spare time after work and on weekends). But, we estimate that it probably saved us $3000+ in electricians’ fees. (The electricians estimated it would be about 15 hours work for them at $175/hour). So, it was definitely worth it for us!


DIY Recessed Lighting Installation

DIY Recessed Lighting Installation (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series DIY Recessed Lighting Installation

So, after removing the old, ugly light fixtures that we didn’t want anymore, it was time to start fresh with our new fancy recessed lighting!

Keep in mind that we are NOT electricians! This is just the process we followed for installing the lights.

We bought our recessed lighting mounts from USA Light. We started out by buying the “housing,” aka the fixture, and a few different kinds of recessed “trims”, including recessed light trims that only point down, ones that you can point in different directions, and “wall wash” trims.

We ultimately decided on the ones that just point straight down. We didn’t really have any need for the directional ones.

Here’s what one of the fixtures looked like as it sat on our table: Seriously, if somebody had asked me what this was before I actually knew, I don’t think I would’ve ever guessed. I had no idea this is what recessed lights looked like. For what it’s worth, these types of fixtures are called “new construction” recessed lighting fixtures (as opposed to “remodel” fixtures, which are used in pre-constructed drywall ceilings).

Recessed light fixture for drop ceiling Recessed light fixture for drop ceiling

There was a small box on the one side of the fixture that we needed to work on before the light could ever go in the ceiling (It wasn’t totally necessary to work on it before putting it in the ceiling, but it was easier to work on it on the table instead of over our head!).

Box on the side of the recessed lighting fixture

The box had some cables in it, which Ken pulled out to make it easier to work with.

Wires inside the recessed lighting

Then, he turned the fixture to the side and removed one of the little round tabs.

Preparing recessed lighting fixtures for installation Preparing recessed lighting fixtures for installation Preparing recessed lighting fixtures for installation

(Note the wires coming out of the fixture. Those came pre-installed with the fixture. This is important because we refer to it later in this post. Those things on the ends of the wires are called “push-in connectors.”)

Then he flipped the fixture to the other side and removed the top round tab.  Keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter which of the tabs we removed. We just removed the ones we thought would be easiest to work with when we were wiring. Basically we needed two of them removed so that we could put wires going “in” to the fixture, as well as wires going “out” from the fixture to the neighboring fixture.  If this was the last fixture we were installing, we’d just punch out one of the tabs for the wires coming “in.”

Preparing recessed lighting fixtures for installation

Those round tabs he removed had to be replaced with these things called clamp connectors, which we made sure matched the size of the tab holes on our fixture. These were important to have because the hole where we removed the tabs were quite sharp on the edges. It also wouldn’t do much to secure the wires (from moving around) if you don’t have the clamp connectors.  Wires and sharp edges don’t sound very safe, so we definitely wanted to use the clamp connectors.

Installing clamp connectors on recessed lighting fixture

They’re actually two parts, and he unscrewed them because each part would have to go on opposite sides of the hole.

Installing clamp connectors on recessed lighting fixture Installing clamp connectors on recessed lighting fixture

Voila.

Now it was time to position the fixture in our ceiling and do some initial wiring.

Putting recessed lighting fixture in drop ceiling

The fixtures have these little slots in them that allow them to sit perfectly on the drop ceiling grid.

Putting recessed lighting fixture in drop ceiling Putting recessed lighting fixture in drop ceiling

Next, we took some wire called Romex 14/2 wire. Ken had figured it all out the type of Romex wire we needed. We wanted 14 gauge, and 2 (14/2) for the number of wires not counting the ground inside the wire.  Since, for this part, we weren’t wiring the fixture directly to a switch (just light fixture to light fixture, the wiring to the switch had already been done by the electricians), we didn’t need one of the “3” Romex wires.

Romex wire

(Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of the wire in the bag, so this crumpled up photo of the bag is all you get:)

Romex wire

Ken and I fished up the Romex wire into the ceiling, just roughly where it needed to go.

Installing romex wire during recessed lighting installation process

Then he took some wire strippers to cut off the outer sheath of the Romex wire.

Installing romex wire during recessed lighting installation process Installing romex wire during recessed lighting installation process Installing romex wire during recessed lighting installation process

The inside of that wire consisted of three thinner wires: one white, and one black, and one “bare” (copper) wire. Ken pulled those three wires (still attached to the white sheath), through the hole where he had removed those tabs from and had subsequently affixed the clamp connector to.

Wiring recessed lighting fixture Wiring recessed lighting fixture

Then he attached tightened the clamp connector, ensuring that the wires are secure and don’t move. (There were screws on the clamp connector to do this).

Now it was time to connect those new wires (from the stripped sheathing) to the existing wires that came with the recessed lighting fixture.  (The wires that we pointed out to remember in the earlier picture 🙂 )

He cut off the sheathing from the black and white wires (the insulation of the wires). Then, he matched “like with like” by inserting the freshly unsheathed wires into the “push in connector” of the wires that came with the fixture. So, he put the wire that had the black sheath in the push in connector that had the black wire on the fixture, the one with the white sheath to the white push-in connector, and the bare wire to the “green” wire push-in-connector.

Wiring recessed lighting fixture

Whew! Okay, I think that’s enough for Part 2, what do you think?  We’ll talk more about the next steps in our process in Part 3!

DIY Recessed Lighting Installation

DIY Recessed Lighting Installation in a Drop Ceiling (Ceiling Tiles) – Prep Work

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series DIY Recessed Lighting Installation

Last year, when I talked about our DIY DVD shelf project, I apologized in the post for the terrible lighting in our photos because our basement was so poorly lit. Our basement has zero windows. It has a set of french doors that lead out to our patio, but the doors are directly under our deck, meaning we get virtually no light. We had a whopping three ceiling lights in our 600 square foot basement, one of which we actually uninstalled after we moved in because it was right over our sofa and shined right in our eyes as we watched TV.

In other words, the ceiling lights in our basement were virtually useless and horrendously ugly. We tried to make do with floorlamps and task lights and even some sconces, but it was always dark in our basement, even in the middle of the afternoon.

DIY Recessed Lighting Installation

We had always tinkered with the idea of getting recessed lighting, but we shuddered at the thought of the electrician’s bill. We’d want 22 lights installed, and we estimated that would be about 16 hours of work. At $175/hour for our electricians, we just kept putting off the task as too expensive.

Then Ken started tinkering with the idea of doing the recessed lighting himself. He had done some other small scale electrical work around the house before, but I’m always pretty nervous when he’s playing with electrical wires. It doesn’t matter if the circuit breakers are turned off and his wire tester says the wires are off, it still makes me nervous, even though it shouldn’t.

Since we have a drop ceiling in our basement, all the wires he would need would be easily accessible, and doing it himself would save us a crap-ton of money. And, as the real bonus, of course, we’d actually BE ABLE TO SEE THINGS in our basement thanks to the added light.

 

Prep Work from the Electricians

So, I say we DIYed this project, but in reality, we did need to have the electricians come and do some preliminary work. But, it was only about 90 minutes of work instead of 16 hours. That’s a much smaller bill!

This is what we needed from our electricians:

  • Install switches on the electrical circuit breaker panel for the new lights.  We had one switch installed for each “zone” that we wanted (more on the zones below)
  • Install physical switches on the wall to control the lights. Then using their magical electrician work, they wired the wall switches to the electric panel.
Three new switches for our lighting, installed by the electricians

Diagraming the Basement Ceiling

Before the electricians came, however, we did a decent amount of prep work. First, Ken made a “map” of all our ceiling tiles. He made notations where the ceiling tiles could not be used for lights, such as ceiling tiles that already housed air conditioning vents, where we mount our movie projector, and where we have speakers mounted in the ceiling. Then, in the illustration, he marked where he intended to eventually install the lights.  (OL=tile with old light fixture. L=tile where we wanted new light fixtures installed).

Diagram of Recessed Lighting in Drop Ceiling

The illustration was so helpful in figuring out precisely where we wanted our new recessed lights. And it helped make sure they were evenly spaced out, and that we wouldn’t have a bright light right above our sofa shining in our face as we watched TV and made sure we didn’t accidentally plan to install recessed lights in a ceiling tile that was already being used, like for a vent or our projector.

Lighting Zones

Next, we needed to decide how many switches we wanted. We did this by deciding on different “zones” for our basement. We didn’t want all the basement lights to turn on at once. For instance, if we were working on a project on the one end of the basement, there would be no reason to have the lights on over by the couch and TV. However, if I’m doing a workout DVD in the basement, I might want the lights on by the TV, but don’t need them on in the other end of the basement.

You get the idea.

We decided on four zones (In the above diagram, zone one was columns 1-5 (with the exception of C5, which we added to zone two), zone two was columns 7-9, zone 3 was columns 11-15, and zone 4 was C1 and B2 (basically the lights we’d want on when walking up and down the stairs). Which meant that we needed the electricians to install three light switches, one for each zone, since we wanted to be able to control each zone separately. (The fourth zone, C1 and B2, were already controlled separately by an existing light switch, so we didn’t need any changes on that one).

The electricians installed the switches on the wall, wired it up to the new switches on the breaker panel, and then Ken was ready to proceed with his part of the project!

 

Removing the old, ugly light fixtures in preparation for the new ones!

Hopefully this goes without say, but WE ARE NOT ELECTRICIANS.  Working with electricity is risky, makes me nervous, and you should always ask an electrician for help! 

(It’s worth pointing out that we purchased some extra ceiling tiles before this project. We figured we’d mess a few of them up, and then we also needed some new ones to replace the spots where we were removing old light fixtures).

So, we started with removing the old, terrible, annoying lights that we didn’t want anymore. Please look at how hideous these lights were:

Ugly light fixture in drop ceiling Ugly light fixture in drop ceiling

First, we shut off the circuit breakers for all the ceiling lights. Then we took the tile out of the ceiling and just kind of let the fixture hang.

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Ken confirmed that the electricity was off to those fixtures by using his wire tester. In this photo, he first confirmed it was on, and then turned off the circuit breaker and verified again using the tester. It was a blinking red light, meaning the power was off).

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Then, after confirming that the electricity was off, Ken disconnected removed the front of the wire housing box

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Then he removed the wire from the old light fixture. He did that by using a screwdriver to loosen the “wire clamp” on the old fixture.

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For the wires inside the housing “box” in the fixture, Ken removed the yellow wire nuts (which are actually the wires that are “combined” in the thick white wire, but just not sheathed together).

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Since he had already removed the wire clamp above, the two individual wires (revealed after the wire nuts were removed) were able to just slip through the loosened clamp.  (He didn’t have to put wire nuts back on the ends because the power had been disconnected to those wires, so that wouldn’t pose danger in our ceiling)

All our prep work was done!  It was time to start installing the new light fixtures in the ceiling, which we’ll cover in the next post in this series!