Lighting with downlights

By March 8, 2019 May 22nd, 2019 Interior Design, Lighting, Knowledge & Tips

Downlights: lighting friend or foe?

These popular (ubiquitous?) light fittings can be used to work well to provide ambient light in spaces where decorative pendants aren’t practical or don’t fit with the design feel. However, they can also render a space cold and clinical. Read on for our advice on avoiding the pitfalls.

Go off grid

The most common arrangement for downlights is a dense grid covering the ceiling (known as a ‘developer grid’). This is simple and cheap for contractors to install (in joisted or false ceilings) but rarely the most effective way to ensure enjoyable illumination throughout.

Consider the gaps left by other light sources in the room and position the downlights accordingly. Directional downlights in key locations can be used to provide task lighting where it is needed. Make sure you avoid pointing them at reflective surfaces.

Read Part 1 to learn about the other lighting types and considerations when designing your overall lighting plan. For advice on brightening a particularly dark room, read our guide to decorating dark spaces.

Kitchen with yellow splash-back lit with downlights, and an overhead pendant over the kitchen island
Downlights work well in combination with more decorative lighting like pendants

Choosing your fittings

Using the same fittings throughout your home will create a cohesive feel – just like with door handles and electrical faceplates. Give consideration to which fitting will meet your needs & budget throughout.

  • Recessed downlights look beautiful and modern – especially trimless ones. These tend to be higher in price, and most models require a deep recess – so are not suitable for all properties.
  • Simple, white framed downlights are usually the best value choice. ‘Plug & Play’ options are popular with electricians as they are easy to fit, and compact enough for most ceilings. However, the ‘warm white’ options are usually 3000k (see explanation below) which is too cold for a bedroom or living space.
  • Surface mounted downlights are a smart alternative where your ceiling recess is very shallow or non-existent (in the case of concrete ceilings)
Surface mounted downlight, recessed downlight in concrete ceiling, white plastic downlight fitting
From L-R: Astro surface mounted downlights / Astro Recessed downlights / TP24 ‘Plug and Play’ fittings

Choosing your lamp

Halogen bulbs were once the only option for downlight ‘lamps’ (the technical term for lightbulbs). LED lamps, new technology really not very long ago, are now considerably more efficient, long lasting and safer since they produce less heat. If your home has Halogen bulbs, it is a good idea to replace them. You may be able to simply replace the bulb, but if the fittings are old there will be benefits to updating the fittings too (cost, efficiency, fire safety).

Considerations when choosing your lamp are:

  • Colour temperature: This ranges from very warm (orangey) to unpleasantly cold (blue). Some bulbs labelled as ‘warm’ are in fact bright white. Beware!  Colour temperature is (effectively) measured in Kelvins – the higher, the colder.
  • Quality: Lower quality LED lamps can vary in colour. This is important to consider in places where the lights will be casting a pool of light onto a wall.
  • Dimmability: Not all LED lamps are dimmable.
The Kelvin scale: We recommend 2700k for living spaces and bedrooms

Safety features

Downlights come with a variety of safety-driven technical properties:

  • IP Rating indicates how water resistant the fitting is. If you are fitting downlights in your bathroom you must choose a suitable IP rating based on the exact situation in the bathroom (over a basin, next to a shower head).
  • Fire Rating indicates whether the fitting will help stop the spread of fire. This is necessary if the nature of the fitting compromises the fire-retardant properties of the plasterboard, and highly advisable in all cases.
  • Insulation guards: Some fittings have a special guard allowing insulation to be laid over them safely. Without the guard, insulation could come into contact with hot components, creating a fire hazard.

There is a lot to consider – so if your home is in need of a lighting overhaul then get in touch! Look out for upcoming installations for advice on choosing beautiful pendants, and smart-home lighting systems.

For advice lighting your home, read our Lighting series: