Lighting Research Center

Advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment

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Downlight Fixtures

Downlights direct light from the ceiling to the floor or to a work surface immediately below the fixture. They can be found in many configurations. They can be mounted onto the ceiling, recessed into the ceiling, or suspended from the ceiling like a pendant. Although downlights with fluorescent tubes are often used in commercial and office environments, downlights used in homes are smaller and usually employ incandescent, halogen, or compact fluorescent bulbs.

  • Recessed or certain types of surface-mounted downlights can be used over the sink, stove, countertops (where undercabinet lighting is not possible), and other fixed work areas. Never locate a downlight in a position that would place the person between the light and the work surface (e.g., counter, table, or sink). Fixtures should be located to the side and slightly in front of the position where a person would usually stand to see the task. This will minimize reflected glare and shadows on the work surface.
  • Recessed or certain types of surface-mounted downlights should have the light bulb recessed at least two and a half inches inside the fixture to shield a direct view of the lamp. The inside surface of the fixture should have a matte finish to minimize reflected images of the lamp. Contact luminaire manufacturers for more information on downlight fixture selection.
Place recessed downlights slightly to the side and in front of the position where a person stands to see the task.
  • Pendant downlights are sometimes used for task lighting. When used to light a visually demanding task, place the pendant downlight close to the work surface. To give more flexibility in locating the fixture, choose one that has a retractable cord or a chain that allows the fixture to be repositioned.
  • Pendant downlights should have shades that shield a direct view of the light bulb from any sitting or standing position.
Use a shade that hides direct view of the light source.

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