Best Ceiling Lights

Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for Best ceiling lights

Having the right lighting for your home is key from both a practical and a design standpoint. Ceiling lights are an excellent option for lighting an entire room, and they don’t take up any floor or table space.

Ceiling lights are exactly what they sound like: lights that attach to a room’s ceiling. Some ceiling lights are mounted flush with the ceiling, others are suspended from the ceiling, and some are recessed into the ceiling. No matter what type you choose, you can find a wide range of styles, making it easy to match the décor in any room. They’re also available in various sizes, so you can find one to fit any space. Many ceiling lights also have convenient features that allow you to control the intensity of the light in your room.

However, picking a ceiling light can be challenging because there are so many options to choose from. 

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Choose damp- or wet-rated ceiling lights for your bathroom. These lights are exposed to moisture regularly, so you want to make sure that they can operate safely. 

Key considerations

Purpose

When you’re shopping for ceiling lights, first figure out how you intend to use them. Certain types are better suited for some uses than others. There are three main types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent.

Ambient lighting, also called general lighting, provides overall illumination in a space. It offers a uniform amount of light for the entire room, but it’s often used with other types of lighting. Ceiling lights work extremely well as ambient lighting, particularly if you choose the right size and style for the room.

Task lighting is targeted in a particular spot to provide concentrated light where you might be reading or working. It’s often used to light work surfaces in the kitchen, home office, or other rooms. Ceiling lights can work well as task lighting if you choose the right size and design.

Accent lighting is used to highlight items in a room. It works well if you have paintings, photos, plants, sculptures, or other décor you want to serve as a focal point. Some ceiling lights can work well as accent lighting.

Type

Ceiling lights are available in several different styles depending on how they’re mounted.

Flush mounts are lights that are installed to sit right against the ceiling. They have a simple, minimalist look that works well in many applications. They’re ideal for areas with low ceilings that are less than 8 feet high.

Semi-flush mounts extend just a bit from the ceiling and usually offer a highly decorative element. They typically hang 4 to 8 inches below the ceiling and work well as a chandelier replacement in rooms with 8- to 10- foot ceilings. Semi-flush fixtures direct light down over the room and up toward the ceiling rather than just downward like flush mount fixtures. It’s easier to change the bulbs in a semi-flush light too.

Recessed lights are mounted inside the ceiling, so they work well for extremely low ceilings. The installation process is fairly complex and requires several inches of space above the ceiling. Recessed lights don’t cast light over a very large area, making them a better option for task lighting.

Hanging ceiling lights are used for both task and ambient lighting. As their name implies, they hang down from the ceiling into the room, so they require a fairly high ceiling. Chandeliers are a common hanging option. They usually have multiple bulbs and an ornate look that works well for a dining room, living room, or entryway. Pendant lights are another type of hanging light, but they only have a single bulb. They work well for task lighting and can be used in groups of two or more to provide additional light.

Track lighting features a series of lights on a track mounted to the ceiling, with many styles allowing you to adjust the light’s direction. Some track lighting is suspended from the ceiling. Track lighting works well as accent lighting, to highlight specific items in a room, but you can also use it as ambient lighting.

Size

Getting the right size ceiling light is essential if you want it to successfully illuminate your room. Start by measuring the length, width, and ceiling height of the room.

Width: To determine the best width for your ceiling light, add the room’s length and width measurements together in feet and use that number in inches. For example, if you’re lighting a room that’s 10 feet long and 20 feet wide, you want a light that’s approximately 30 inches wide. If you’re placing the fixture over a dining table, you should opt for a light that’s 12 inches narrower — 6 inches on each side — than the table itself.

Height: In terms of height, a ceiling light should be 3 inches tall for every foot of ceiling height. For example, with a 10-foot ceiling, the light should hang down 30 inches from the ceiling. In homes with lower ceilings, flush mounts, semi-flush mounts, and recessed lighting are your best options.

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Did You Know?
Some recessed and track lighting can be positioned to shine on specific areas or items in a room.
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Features

Certification

UL: When choosing any kind of lights, it’s always important to verify that you can operate them safely. Opt for ceiling lights certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent testing organization that determines the safety of consumer products. If a ceiling light is UL certified, it has undergone third-party testing to ensure its safety.

Energy Star: If you want to keep your energy bills down, you definitely want to choose an Energy Star-certified ceiling light. These lights are tested to make sure that they’re energy-efficient, so they don’t use as much electricity as other light fixtures.

Adjustability

Many ceiling lights can be dimmed, allowing you to control how bright the light is. You can usually turn the light up or down via a dial or slider, so you can soften the lighting for an intimate dinner party or make it brighter when hosting game night. Dimmable ceiling lights can also help you save money because they don’t use as much energy on the dimmest setting.

Bulb

Some ceiling lights include a bulb, so you can use the light right after installation. While most ceiling lights use bulbs that are easy to find, it’s extremely convenient to buy a light with an included bulb to ensure you have the right wattage.

Motion sensor

Depending on where you intend to install your ceiling light, you might want to consider a model with a motion sensor. The light automatically turns on when movement is detected by its built-in sensor. In a space like a bathroom or hallway, a ceiling light with a motion sensor can save energy because the light only turns on if someone is in the area.

Ceiling adapter

If your home has sloped ceilings, you need a ceiling light that comes with a sloped ceiling adapter. It includes special housing to allow the light to shine straight downward.

Recessed lighting works well in small spaces like hallways since it doesn’t take up any space.

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Ceiling light prices

Ceiling lights vary in price based on type, size, and other features. Most lights cost $10 to $1,000 and more.

Inexpensive: The most affordable ceiling lights are usually recessed or flush mount. They typically aren’t very large and don’t offer many special features beyond dimming. You’ll generally pay between $10 and $50 for these ceiling lights.

Mid-range: These ceiling lights are usually flush mount, semi-flush, track, or hanging lights. The flush and semi-flush lights are typically medium to large, but hanging lights in this price range are generally on the small side. You’ll pay between $55 and $225 for these lights.

Expensive: The most expensive ceiling lights are typically semi-flush and hanging lights. They’re usually medium to large in size and have special features like dimming and Energy Star certification. Most models cost between $225 and $800. Some oversize chandeliers with crystals can cost more than $1,000.

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Did You Know?
It’s best to limit the wattage of a chandelier or other hanging ceiling light to 100 watts in a dining room. That keeps the lighting soft and relaxed.
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Tips

  • Use the right bulb. A flush mount ceiling light is ideal for a bathroom or kitchen, but the light can sometimes be too harsh for other spaces. Use a low-wattage bulb in a flush mount light if you’re concerned about the brightness.
  • Combine different types of lighting. Most rooms benefit from a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting, so you might want to use a few different types of ceiling lights to create the ideal lighting scheme for your space.
  • Try a hanging light. A hanging ceiling light like a chandelier or pendant is ideal for installation over your dining table. However, it can also work well over a kitchen island or in your front hallway or entryway.
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If you’re choosing a ceiling light to install in your dining room, take the shape and size of your table into account. You might want to use several pendant lights over a long, rectangular table but a single chandelier over a round table.

FAQ

Q. Can I install a ceiling light myself?

A. The installation process itself can be fairly simple, so you might be able to handle the task if you’re comfortable with DIY projects. However, you might need to call an electrician to wire the lighting into your home’s electrical system.

Q. Can I use a ceiling light in an outdoor setting like a porch or patio?

A. You can use a ceiling light on a porch or patio if you choose the right one. Most lights are designed for use in a dry indoor location, so they aren’t suitable for installation in an area where they’ll be exposed to moisture. Opt for a light that is designed to be used in damp locations. It can handle some moisture, but it shouldn’t be directly exposed to water. You can also find wet-location lights that can withstand direct water exposure.

Q. How much ceiling space do I need for recessed ceiling lights?

A. You usually need at least 4.75 inches of space above the ceiling to install recessed lights. If your recessed lights are adjustable, make sure they also have 2 inches of clearance around them to allow for adequate movement.

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