Commercial recessed lighting is usually installed into an electrically-serviced ceiling or wall void. It has many possible advantages over conventional light forms, not least because of its inconspicuous nature. In a commercial environment the streamlined look allows extra attention to be focused on décor, products, or features, and to accommodate all of these and other purposes the fixtures themselves are varied in their design.
Recessed lighting usually comes in the form of circular downlights, but the category also encompasses fluorescent and LED lighting panels. Downlights are available in countless forms: they can be dimmable by various means to create mood or save energy; they can be mains powered or low-voltage, with the latter sometimes yielding a slightly crisper light but the former easier to install; plus they can be fire-rated.
In the unfortunate event of a fire, flames take hold very quickly if they can gain purchase over an edge, or corner. Fire-rated recessed lights protect against that by their use of heat-expandable materials, which stops flames from easily accessing the lighting cut-out. Usually a fire-rated downlight will preserve the integrity of the ceiling for up to 90 minutes, allowing residents to hopefully evacuate before a ceiling collapse.
Approved Document B for England and Wales (fire safety) requires that any residential premises with a top floor height of up to 18 metres above the ground should have ceilings resistant to fire for 60 minutes. Residential premises with top floors of between 18 and 30 metres should have ceilings resistant to fire for 90 minutes. Similar rules apply to commercial buildings, with timespans influenced in some instances by the installation or otherwise of a sprinkler system.
When installing recessed lights into washrooms, bathrooms, or inherently wet areas such as a swimming pool changing room, you’ll need to pay particular regard to the IP rating of the fitting. The second figure in the IP rating signifies the degree of waterproofing, so for instance IPX3 or IPX4 ratings can withstand light sprays or splashes of water, while an IPX5 rating is impervious to jets of water. Take a look at our definitive guide to IP ratings~ for more information.
As with many forms of light, the usual technologies jostle for position with their various advantages and disadvantages. From the point of view of a specifier, architect, or electrician, LED is fast becoming a comfortable way to stay ahead of Part L Building Regulation requirements, which are likely to gradually become more demanding as low-powered efficacy performance improves. Here are brief appraisals of the main runners and riders:
Offering a staggering 90% energy-saving advantage over original incandescent technology, LED is universally perceived as the future of lighting, though conflicting design ‘wants’ hamper its progress just a little, e.g. efficacy v colour accuracy. But still, performance is being rapidly driven up in both regards by intense levels of R&D.
Compactness and cooler operating temperatures allow for extremely low-profile designs in LED recessed lights, too, so they can often be installed in particularly shallow ceiling cavities.
Phenomenal lifespans of up to 50,000 hours in recessed LED lights result in greatly reduced maintenance costs. Lifespan is usually measured to a point where the fitting delivers 70% of its original output (occasionally abbreviated to 70L, meaning 70% lumen flux).
For some purposes the directional nature of LED is also highly advantageous. In emergency lighting, for instance, a focused intensity of light can clearly define escape routes and comply with safety regulations with minimal wastage or unnecessary expenditure. Conversely, highly diffused LED ceiling panels produce an impressively even spread of light that is difficult to match using multiple fluorescent tubes.
Low energy fluorescent recessed downlights still have a much deserved place on the market, and for the moment they generally remain markedly less expensive than LED alternatives. Fluorescent lights are approximately 50% cheaper to run than an energy-saving halogen alternative, with a high-frequency ballast in modern fittings enhancing their low-powered advantage.
Lifespan, too, is an advantage of a fluorescent light source over incandescent, with CFL lamps and tubes usually lasting 5,000 to 15,000 hours against the normal 2,000 hours of halogen.
Having shaken off its old reputation as an unhealthy, humming and flickering light source likely to induce a migraine, modern high-frequency fluorescent ceiling panels offer a comparatively affordable and extremely viable alternative to LED equivalents. Buy with confidence.
The disadvantage of halogen never changes: it’s hot and less energy-efficient than other light sources. The sheer heat generated by a halogen lamp results in a need for more deeply recessed light fittings, since the dissipation requirements are more onerous.
On the plus side, halogen remains a great choice for crisp, bright light, which is a little whiter in effect than a traditional incandescent. The light is also inherently colour-accurate thanks to its continuous spectrum.
With these things considered a recessed halogen light is ideal in exhibition, gallery, or high-end retail environments, for instance, where there may be a discerning need to show off items to their best advantage and reliably display their hue.
Fixed and directional
Directional downlights can be useful for highlighting features such as bookshelves or display cabinets, or for accent lighting, and they’re a good solution as task lights, though some thought should be given to the likely position of the players in such a scenario - in a kitchen for instance the height and fixed location of a directional downlight is going to be a limiting factor if the cook blocks the beam.
Fixed downlights are good for overall illumination, and returning briefly to the various technologies in play you might consider the inherently directional nature of LED versus the more widespread illumination of other sources. The design of the light fitting itself has a strong role to play in making LED a general-purpose light, or transforming a halogen source into a spotlight! In some lighting ranges you can add modifying lenses to recessed downlights in order to achieve a particular effect.
Maximize and focus …
Recessed lighting is a near-invisible solution designed to maximise space and focus attention, and never have the choices been more varied or flexible than they are now.