Dear James: I have some recessed lights in my living room ceiling. I would like to replace them with more contemporary track lights. Is this something I can do myself, and if so, how do I do it? -- Ron H.
Dear Ron: Track lighting is attractive and actually much more effective than recessed lighting. Particularly with older recessed fixtures, much of the light never gets out of the recessed canister. If you have installed standard bulbs instead of reflector ones, the problem of lost light is even worse.
Since you already have recessed light fixtures in the ceiling with electric power to them, it should not be difficult to replace them with track lighting. The most difficult part will be making the drywall patches over the holes in the ceiling after you remove the old fixtures. With the light bulbs near them, poorly patched drywall will be readily apparent.
The new designs of track lighting use small decorative fixtures and lightweight tracks. You might want to consider installing two separate tracks at right angles to each other. This will provide more lighting flexibility and the possibility for some unique visual effects. Always follow the fixture manufacturer recommendations for the maximum bulb wattage that can be used.
Try using several types of bulbs in the fixtures for different areas. If there is a specific area in the living room where your children study or you read often, use PAR bulbs, or reflector bulbs. These focus the light more directly where you need it. Several halogen bulbs are ideal for areas where you eat because their light makes foods look more appetizing. Standard bulbs will be effective for most of the other fixtures.
It would be wise to start with a basic do-it-yourself kit, which you can find at most home center stores. This will have all the necessary basic components to get a track lighting system installed. If you get energetic, you can always add some extensions using T connectors, L connectors, etc., from one main wiring connection.
If you want more attractive, decorative track lighting kits, go to a dedicated lighting store or contact these manufacturers: Hubbell Lighting, Tech Lighting and Juno Lighting.
Whenever doing electrical work, switch off the electricity at the circuit breaker or fuse panel. Try to switch on the recessed lights just to make sure the power is actually off, or use a circuit tester. Remove the old lighting fixtures, and cap off the ends of the existing wires.
Before you finish off the holes in the ceiling, determine the pattern of the tracks you plan to install. They can all be powered from the wiring of one old fixture, or you may decide to install two separate tracks on different switches. If you use just one, make sure you can get connectors and angles to extend the track in different directions.
Mount the main support track to the ceiling. If it runs parallel to the ceiling joists and you missed them, use toggle bolts. Don't trust just putting screws into drywall. Attach the electrical adapter to the track and install the cover. Individual light fixtures are usually mounted to the track by inserting and twisting them.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.
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