Your Easy Downlight Layout Guide

Table Of Contents

Downlights are lighting fixtures that direct the flow of light downwards to illuminate the area below them. They are also known as ceiling lights. They are popular and mostly found in modern building structures. They are used to either light up the entire space or to illuminate a specific area. Once you have downlights installed in your house, you will notice a significant difference as they will provide it with warm lighting.

Now let's run through the type of downlights suitable for different areas of your home, the things to consider when choosing a downlight and reliable guidelines for the layout.

Types of Downlights

Before switching from traditional lighting to a downlight fixture, you should know the types of downlights available in the market and the ones most suitable for your layout. They include:

Recessed Downlights

This type of downlight is installed deeply into the ceiling and has its body fully concealed. Only the frontal fittings parallel to the surface of the ceiling are visible.  Once installed, a recessed downlight blends in with your ceiling’s design. This type of downlight fixture is popular and usually used in hotels, offices and residential buildings. It is suitable for installation into false ceilings. Recessed downlights vary from fixed to adjustable ones.

Pendant Downlights/ Dropped Ceiling Lighting

This type is suitable for decorative ceiling lighting. It is an aesthetic form of lighting because it hangs off the ceiling after installation hence its name. It has a light distribution that can produce decorative effects and functional illumination at once.

Moreover, it can suit the design of your ceiling or surroundings, whether used alone or alongside other types of lighting fixtures. It is available in various styles ranging from contemporary to traditional and modern designs.

Surface Mount Downlight

As its name suggests, this type of downlight fixture is designed for mounting on the surface of the ceiling. Its body is not concealed but visible after the installation, unlike a recessed downlight. Since its body is visible, a recessed downlight is made to suit the architectural design of the building structure. 

Their designs range from simple to decorative styles. They are good alternatives for commercial buildings and homes with concrete ceilings.

Partially or Semi-Recessed Downlights

This type of downlight has its main body fully concealed into the ceiling and its bezel protruding and visible. It is suitable for buildings and structures designed to have their ceiling features visible.

LED Downlights

Light Emitting Diode (LED) downlights are subtle architectural lightings that can be used for accent, ambient and task light. For an LED lighting fixture to work, electrical current has to pass through a semiconducting material (the diode) found in the LED bulb to cast light.

LED lighting has distinct features and advantages over other types of lighting fixtures. They include:

• Unlike the traditional recessed lighting, LED downlight takes up little space.

• They are energy-saving and extremely long-lasting as they do not have a metal filament to burn out, unlike incandescent bulbs.

• They do not produce heat, unlike other lighting fixtures that run on heat.

• Most types of LED lighting are self-containing light fixtures that do not need a bulb or require a bulb replacement.

• LED lights are easy to maintain as they require low maintenance.

• Another advantage LED lighting has over other lighting fixtures is that: LED lighting can be integrated easily into a home’s smart lighting system either on its own or into an already existing home lighting system. Moreover, LED bulbs can connect to a WiFi network to allow for remote control of the lights.

• They can replace most traditional light fixtures like lamps, track lighting, halogen bulbs, accent lighting and outdoor floodlights.

• They are available in many designs, colours, sizes and temperatures to suit your home design needs. A coloured LED lighting can serve as decorative lighting.

Tips for Choosing a Downlight

When choosing a downlight for your home layout, there are a lot of factors to consider; they include the following:

Colour Temperature

Downlights are available in cool white, warm white, daylight or natural white colour temperatures. Cool white is a colour temperature suitable for places or rooms like your laundry room or kitchen that can get hot. On the other hand, warm white downlights are ideal for areas you want to be warm and cosy, like your bedroom and sitting room. Finally, downlights with a natural white or daylight colour temperature are suitable for every area of your home because they are cool, give clean illumination, feel warm and do not overpower your eyes.

Beam Angles

A beam angle refers to the angle at which light emits from a lighting source and the amount of light distributed from that given angle. A beam angle is measured in degrees. 

A regular light bulb is likely to have a beam angle of 360°, whereas recessed light has a smaller beam degree.

Because most downlights are recessed, they have a beam angle of 45°. Downlights with a wider beam angle of 60° giving a soft diffuse light and are most suitable for your living or sitting room. Downlights with a narrow beam angle of 25° provide concentrated light and are ideal for use in places like your kitchen requiring task lighting.

If you are indecisive on the beam angle to select, you can opt for a downlight with a beam angle between 60-120° that will work just fine. 

IP Ratings

Consider the IP ratings of a downlight before choosing it. IP stands for international protection and is also popularly known as Ingress Protection. Two digits denote the IP ratings of a downlight contained in a bracket. The first digit (0-min 6-max) refers to its resistance to dust and the second digit (0-min 8-max) refers to its water resistance. 

IP ratings are crucial for downlights used in bathrooms and their zones. For instance, a bathroom downlight installed inside a bathtub or shower must have an IP rating of at least IP67.

The Lifespan of Your Downlight of Choice

Ensure to enquire and find out how long a downlight will last before purchasing one.

For instance:

A downlight with a halogen bulb has an average lifespan of 2,000  hours, which is roughly 12-18 months of usage. An LED downlight has a lifespan of 50,000 hours, equivalent to 27 years if you use it daily for 5 hours a day.

Other considerations include:

• If you decide to install dimmers, go for push-button dimmers, they have slick designs and can equally act as off/on switches.

• To save more on electricity, use light level dimmers along with your downlight. However, ensure that your dimmers are compatible with your LED dimmable lights when you are going for LED downlights.

• If you intend on changing from halogen lighting bulbs to LED lighting, go for LED lights with the same colour temperature as your halogen bulbs.

• While choosing your downlights, bear in mind that bright coloured walls will reflect light better than dark coloured surfaces, which are light absorbers.

• Ensure to buy your downlights from a reputable brand with good quality lighting fixtures. As for LED downlights, go for 90mm size as they are made in many quantities and are commonly available in the market.

• Consider using a plug base with Australian standards that will allow you to plug in and flick your lights without having to reach out to the services of an electrician. Once you get your lighting, hire a good electrician to help you hook it up.

Downlight Layout Guidelines

After selecting the type of downlights you want, here are the guidelines to observe while installing your downlight to achieve a perfect layout.

• Start by measuring the square footage of the room you intend to light up with downlights. Multiplying the width (in feet) of the room and the length (in feet) of the room will give you the square foot. Then, multiply the square foot by 1.5 to get the total wattage required to light up the space. 

Furthermore, divide the total wattage derived from the above calculation by the number of bulbs and wattage you intend to use for your layout. It will give you the total number of fixtures needed to make up the total wattage required to light up your space.

Note: The above step is crucial for when you want to light up your entire space. However, you should skip it if you intend only to light up a specific area of your room.

Below are further guidelines to consider:


• Downlight Spacing

Spacing will determine how illuminated your space will become. Ensure to place your light two feet away from the edges of your walls to avoid creating shadows around the edge of your ceiling. Having shadows around the ceiling edge will give the room a gloomy and blurry appearance. 

The best way to determine how far apart to keep your recessed downlights is by applying the rule of thumb. It involves dividing your ceiling height by 2, which will give you the space required between each downlight. For example, if your ceiling is 8 or 10 feet high, you should install the light 4 feet or 5 feet apart.

The spacing criteria for LED downlights is different from that of recessed lighting. For instance, a 5-wattage LED downlight with a beam angle of 45° should be spaced 2.4 metres apart, and a 9-wattage LED downlight with a coverage of 60° should be spaced 3.5 metres apart.

In addition, ensure to keep your downlights far away from your exhaust fan because keeping them close to it will cause a flicker that is bound to affect the entire room.

• The Focal Points

Focus on the areas in a room that need more light first before installing light in other areas. For example, if you plan a lighting scheme for a bathroom or kitchen, your light installation starting point should be the shaving area, around the mirror or the kitchen task area that requires the most brightness.

• Determine the Type of Task Lighting to Use

Use downlights with a narrow beam angle in areas above a kitchen surface used for food preparation or above a vanity mirror in the bathroom. Such task performance areas require focus task lighting.


• Room Usage

What you intend to use a room for is essential in determining a suitable lighting scheme. The functionality of a room will determine the position of the focal point and the level of brightness required to light up the rest of the room. LED downlights can be placed at strategic points to provide an indoor lighting solution tailored to the needs of a room, unlike traditional lighting that uses a single central dropped ceiling light plus an additional standard par lamp.

• Are they Dimmable?

Going for dimmable downlights is a smart move that gives you the option to control and play with the lights according to the mood you want. This option allows you to install a lighting source that emits a lot of light that can be adjusted as required.

Recently, downlights have gained popularity among other forms of home lighting fixtures. They offer a variety of options as they come in different sizes, colours, types and designs. Therefore, if you are interested in switching to downlight lighting, the above guide is what you need for the switch.

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