How To Install Recessed Lights Without Attic Access: 9 Steps
Repair of the Attic

How to install recessed lights without attic access: Let’s highlight all the issues

Ceiling recessed lighting is the perfect solution for adding some accent illumination. But there is one big BUT. You have no attic access to install lights from there.

When the rooms are on the first floor of a building, or you simply don’t have attic access, you have to think about some other way to install recessed lighting without attic access.

Fortunately, we have prepared for you step-by-step instructions on how to properly install recessed lights without attic access.

The Benefits of Recessed Luminaires

The demand for recessed fixtures is explained by the fact that they are universal. They can be installed both on the ceiling and on the walls, thereby dividing the room into separate functional zones. Landscape designers have also found a use for them, they use them as exterior lighting.

The scope of recessed lamps is quite wide, they are installed in apartments, houses, offices, shops, restaurants, beauty salons. They look appropriate everywhere, due to the concise design.

Many people want to install recessed lights because of the opportunity to save on electricity. Despite the fact that they consume few watts, this does not affect the quality of lighting in any way.

recessed lamps in restaurant

Ambient light

Recessed lights bring light into your home from lighting fixtures that are nearly invisible from many angles. This low profile luminaire frames the ceiling, revealing only a small ledge.

Recessed lights, also called canister lights or downlights, can be found in many modern homes because they emphasize the clean geometry of flats and lines.

The illumination of the recessed luminaires is diffuse and even. Close to natural light, it creates eye comfort.

If you have a power source nearby, you can easily install recessed lights yourself. Using a power source adds some time to the project, but this can be done by wiring your own circuit or by hiring an electrician.

So, How to Install Recessed Lights without Attic Access?

Firstly, it’s very important to contact a professional before you decide to install recessed lights. Without proper experience in this matter, it’s better not to start any work related to electricity on your own.

Get all the necessary materials to install recessed lights, i.e., wire strippers, light switch, new recessed lights. Remember that this is not an easy task.

If you are installing recessed lighting yourself, you will need patience and time. But in this way, you can save a lot of money and transform your space the way you want.

Start by turning off the circuit breaker for the circuit you will be working on. Make sure the power is off by checking with a non-contact voltage tester.

checking power

Light switch installation

If there is a switch that controls lighting power, use it for recessed fixtures. Locate the connection points and connect the wire coming from the switch to provide voltage.

If there is no switch, it must be installed. Find the nearest outlet from which you can wire to the new switch. Use a flexible drill to drill through the studs and run the wire from the switch to the outlet.

If necessary, remove the wires from the outlet and tie them to a new wire, along with short jumpers. Strip the ends of the wires with strippers, connect the wires with stamps. Strip the other ends of the jumpers and attach them to the outlet.

Recessed Luminaire

Buying Recessed Lights

There are many types of recessed lights. For ambient lighting, there are devices that are 5 inches in diameter. If you want to add accent lighting, pick 4″ low-voltage fixtures. Check fixture and lamp compatibility before purchasing. Choose standard open-frame housings with mounting brackets.

Remember that you need remodeling recessed lights because you don’t have the attic access. The housing to be covered with insulation requires an enclosure with an insulating contact (IC) as a precaution against combustible materials.

Low voltage light fixtures use standard 115-volt wires, but they have built-in transformers that convert the power for use on 12-volt lamps. Recessed low-voltage lighting is quite useful because changing lamps and trim styles allows you control accent lighting.

Lamp variants

You can use halogen bulbs, but they will produce a lot of heat and consume a lot of energy. 60 watt dimming light bulbs would be a suitable alternative.

They are not as good as incandescent and halogen lamps because compact fluorescent lamps have lower quality dimmers. But if you are willing to ignore it because CFLs are more practical, buy a CFL dimmer.

Go to the home centers to buy housings and trims at a normal price. If you need lamps that are harder to find, like four-inch low-voltage fixtures, then you can always order them online. If you want an offline store with a wide selection, then go to the lighting showrooms.

recessed lights in different sizes

Recessed light installation cost

Installing your own recessed lighting will of course be much cheaper than hiring a professional electrician who will plan everything for you and implement the whole process himself.

The electrician will charge $200 to $300 per lamp. But since most recessed fixtures are installed more than once, the total cost can be between $2,000 and $3,000 for ten fixtures.

When you install your own recessed luminaires, most of the costs come from the price of the luminaire itself: one light fixture will cost from $15-30, not counting the cost of a small 14-gauge electrical cable.

Codes and permissions

Often, you may need permission for any transformation of the living space, construction or change of lighting systems in residential premises. Check with your local permit office to see if you need one.

Prepare the location for recessed lights

Recessed Lighting Installation

You need to know everything you can about this type of lighting in advance, because you do not want to ruin the ceiling during the installation process. Then you will definitely have to turn to professionals for repairs and spend decent money. Knowledge is your weapon.

Sketch a lighting plan

To get it right the first time, draw a plan. Take graph paper and measure all the necessary distances. One ft length can be referred to as 1/4 inch on your drawing. Include furniture and artwork or trophies that you want to highlight. That way you’ll know how many fixtures you need and how to place them.

The distance between the lights should be four ft. If you are unsure if your drawing is good enough, contact lighting showroom. They will show you which fixtures and parts to use and where to best place them. To save money, you can go to the home center, but the choice will not be as great as in showrooms.

sketch a lighting plan

Wiring circuit: consistent

With this circuit, all the fixtures are connected with one wire in series. For example, a phase wire is connected to the zero input of the first lamp, and its phase output is connected to the zero input of the second lamp, etc. Less wires are required in series connection.

The brightness of the lamps becomes noticeably lower, the more of them, the dimmer the radiation.

If one lamp fails, the whole circuit stops working. In this case, it is necessary to check each lighting fixture, which can be difficult with a large number of them.

Define a circuit

For a junction box with more than one circuit, you will need a non-contact voltage tester to know when a circuit is off.

Then walk around the house, turning on the switches to check what is already connected to the circuit. Insert the circuit tester plug into the outlet you have turned off. For safety, switch to another circuit if anything connected to it turns on.

Maximum circuit power

Add wattage to what won’t turn on. Add to the resulting number of watts the lighting that you install. Do not connect more than 1440 watts to a 15 amp circuit, and do not connect more than 1920 watts to a 20 amp circuit. Connect lighting to another circuit if the number of watts is the maximum for this type of circuit.

It is possible to install a gray aluminum cable, with the help of a professional who will install a junction box with an integrated cable clamp that can handle more watts. Junction boxes should be listed for “through branch circuit wiring” so you can run one cable in and one out from fixture to fixture.

Wiring and installing lights

Making holes in the ceiling

By cutting a hole in the wall, you can install the appliance and wires without access to the attic. If you can’t get into the sub-ceiling space, you will need to remove about 15 inches of piece from the ceiling with a drywall saw. Ceiling joists should be in your plan.

The piece you remove should be six inches from the walls and large enough to include all the connections to which lights and power sources will be installed. It is necessary to make a path along which the cables and running wire will be laid through. Drill a small ceiling hole in the joist to make sure it is at least 7 inches deep to hold the housing.

Layout of light fixtures

Measure and mark with a pencil the places on the ceiling where you want to install the lights, make sure there are no obstructions. The mark should be in the middle of each built-in light.

The recessed light packaging might come with a paper template for tracing circles to represent the light’s diameter.

Use a drywall saw and cut out the circles. Check with your local health department in advance if your alterations could lead to your exposure to asbestos. Some insulating materials, sprays, and bonding compounds may contain hazardous asbestos, especially if you have a fairly old house.

Choosing and installing the cable

The choice of cable is determined by the rating of the circuit. You will need a 14 gauge for a 15 amp circuit, and a 12 gauge for a 20 amp circuit. Take the cable 15 percent longer than necessary and have 2 feet of wire sticking out of each cutout.

Attach the cables to the joists if you can. All holes made with a drill should have no more than one or two internal wires. The holes should be two inches from the bottom and top of the joists. Peel off 12 inches of sheathing with wire strippers and tuck them into the electrical box. The sheathing should be longer than the clamp by more than a quarter.

Set up a connection

Wiring and installing lights

For a switch controlled outlet, run the wires inside the wall from the outlet up.

Run the cables through the recessed lighting outlets using fish tape if needed, leaving about 6 inches hanging from the holes. Also leave a 6″ piece sticking out of the outlet.

Connect the red wire from the switch to the black wire you run to the ceiling. If necessary, cut a piece of drywall at the junction of the ceiling and wall to run the wire from wall to ceiling. Take the fixture and remove the junction box cover.

Stripping the insulation jacket

Firmly holding a utility knife strip off a couple of inches from the outer insulation jacket of every cable end you need to use to open up the inside insulated wires, be extremely careful so as not to damage the copper wire inside the jacket.

Alternatively you can use wire cutters or wire strippers, they work just as well as the knife, peel about three inches off the external insulation sheathing at each tip of the cable so that the insulated wires and the copper grounding or in your case it might be green ground wire are open and exposed. Insert the electrical cable into the hole in the light fixture’s electrical box.

cable structure

The test run

Insert the junction box and housing into the hole in the ceiling and insert the fixture until it is in contact with the ceiling. Plug in the bulbs, turn on the power and watch your bulbs light up the room!

Once you’ve finished installing recessed lighting, use the ceiling pieces you saved and secure the walls and ceiling with spackling and drywall screws.

Installing the lighting devices

When the power to all the lamps and other lighting elements is extended, we mount the lighting devices themselves according to their design and instructions.

Usually there are two spring-loaded fixing stops, they are squeezed with fingers and the device is inserted into the hole, after which the lamp can be released and it will sit in its place. It remains only to install decorative elements, if any.

luminaire installation

Installing Recessed Lighting: the Step by step Brief

Step 1: Understand the device

In the ceiling above recessed lighting, check for insulation. If not available, use insulating material to avoid overheating. If you are installing light fixtures that are between two floors, you will need at least 3 inches of vertical space above the ceiling.

To test this, drill a small hole and poke a wire through it. Note how deep it goes before touching the obstruction, use the rod finder to mark all the wires in your ceiling. Make sure you don’t place the light over the beam.

lighting fixture construction

Step 2: Prepare the location

In the electrical panel, be sure to turn off the power.

Use the included mounting templates to mark where the light fixture will be placed on your ceiling. Remember that you can not put it above the beam. For placement and distance recommendations, make a markup.

Step 3: Make holes

Use your hole saw to create the appropriate markings for your fixtures.

Make holes in ceilings

Step 4: Unplug your old light fixture

If there is an existing light fixture in place, unplug it from the power supply.

Step 5: Set up a connection

Pull the electrical cable from the power supply to the first recessed light and thread it through the ceiling hole. Leave about 18 cm of wire. This is enough to wire the rest of the fixtures.

Also, most ceilings have a tie-down under the drywall that leaves a gap under the ceiling beam, allowing you to run all the wire to run the wires from one fixture to the next. Repeat this step for the rest of the lights. If there is an attic above the ceiling, run the wire through it. If it is located above the ceiling, use a flexible drill bit to drill through the frame and run the wires that way.

Step 6: Connect lights

Open the light junction box and put the cable into the box. Place the cap over the connected wires and screw it on to tighten the connections. Wrap each cap with electrical tape. Repeat this step until you have connected all the lights. Roll up the wires, place in the box and close the lid.

Step 7: Install the recessed lights

Recessed lighting housings usually have four clamps that secure it to the ceiling. Pull the clips inward so that they do not protrude from the case. Place the body of the lamp into the hole you made, and then tuck it into the hole until it is flush with the ceiling. Gently, with your fingers, pull each light up and out until it clicks into place and secures the light.

recessed lighting device

Step 8: Attach the outer trim

The exterior trim of recessed lights is typically installed with helical or rod springs. If your fixture has coil springs, hook each spring into its assigned hole inside the housing. Pull each spring out and hook it onto the pad, carefully guiding the pad into place.

If your light fixture has rod springs, compress, and place both ends of each spring into their designated positions. Click on the trimmer so that it snaps into place.

Step 9: Screws and chandeliers

Install light bulbs according to the wattage recommended by your light fixture manufacturer.

Check that everything is working by turning on the power at the electrical panel and flipping the light switches.

There’s another simple and beautiful way to illuminate your attic by using LED Lights. There are lots of benefits of LED Lighting, like remote control and automation, long lifespan and great energy efficiency etc.

And lastly, we’ve watched tons of YouTube footage and saved you the best video:

Installation in Stretch Ceilings

To install a recessed lighting in a stretch ceiling, special tread and heat-insulating rings will be required. They are designed to protect the edges of the material from tearing and thermal effects of the light source.

Although many use U-shaped drywall mounts to install a recessed lighting:

This option is not optimal, since the stiffness of the suspension curved in this way is very small, which can eventually lead to sagging of the lamp, and the stretch ceiling will sag along with it.

The best solution is to use an adjustable fastener, which allows installers to easily select the optimal suspension height during the installation of a stretch ceiling.

Ambient light recessed fixtures

Important Points When Installing Recessed Lights


To create a straight line of built-in lights, it is best to use a laser level, a chopping cord (if the ceiling has not yet been painted) or a stretched thread is also suitable.

When installing in a drywall ceiling, one of the main problems is the likelihood of getting into the profile when drilling a hole with a crown. Therefore, it is very desirable to know the location of the profiles and make holes for the lamps before the ceiling putty.

Armstrong ceilings

When installing recessed luminaires in Armstrong type ceilings, it is easiest to find the center of the tile by pulling two threads diagonally, the center will be at the point of their intersection.

It is not allowed to lay wires on false ceiling profiles, it is necessary to fasten them to the ceiling and lay them in the corrugation (in wooden houses, the requirements for laying wiring are different, much more stringent).

recessed Lighting in armstrong ceilings

Above ceiling height

An important point in the installation of any ceilings and the choice of built-in lights is the height of the ceiling space. In most cases, they try to raise the suspended ceiling as much as possible to maintain the overall height of the room.

But it is imperative to take into account how high the recessed lights will be, so that their height does not turn out to be more than the height of the ceiling space, which will make their installation impossible.

There are LED lights with a minimum height, which allows you to maximize the false ceiling or solve a situation where it does not include conventional recessed luminaires.

Smart wiring

Groups of recessed luminaires are most often connected by a cable, which saves wire and significantly reduces installation time.

For situations where separate switching is required, for example, alternation through one, it’s not necessary to lay an additional power cable; to power the second group, you can use a four-core cable in which the neutral and ground will be common, and the phase wire for each group is separate.

The connection of copper and aluminum is not allowed, these metals form a galvanic couple, due to which they are actively oxidized, which leads to a significant deterioration in contact and can cause a fire. The connection of such wires is carried out through brass sleeves or terminal blocks.

stripping the insulation jacket

Removing the insulation jacket

To remove the insulation from the wires, it is advisable to use strippers (insulation strippers), they allow you to remove the protective sheath without damaging the current-carrying core.

When removing the protective insulation with a knife, there is a high probability of cutting off part of the cores in a stranded wire (this will lead to a decrease in the cross section) or cutting a core in a solid core, which can cause a break in this place.

Inside the electrical panel

An untinned wire is flattened in the terminal block with a clamping screw over time, which causes poor contact, and in some cases the wire may fall out of the terminal and cause a short circuit when it hits the profile. Fixing this type of problem is often a very difficult task.

Since LEDs are not sensitive to voltage drops, if a voltage relay is installed in the electrical panel of your facility, then the lighting lines can be connected past it so as not to leave the room without light during power surges. In the case of using halogen and fluorescent lamps, this should not be done, since they are sensitive to significant power surges and can fail.

electrical panel of your facility


Can recessed lighting be covered by insulation?

The IC rating determines that in general recessed lighting is safe to install under insulation such as fiberglass. If you want to use another type, such as spray foam, then it is better to consult a specialist.

Can recessed lights be installed anywhere?

Recessed lights can be installed in any size room or area, including kitchens, bathrooms, and stairwells.

Can you install recessed lighting in a finished ceiling?

Yes, they can be installed in a finished ceiling, but you will need expert advice, especially if you do not have electrical experience, a detailed plan and remarkable patience.

Can I install recessed lighting without attic access?

Yes, you can.

Without an attic, installing recessed lighting must be done from below the ceiling instead of the top. Remodeling recessed lights housing is the required model for the project. Its wires are held inside an electrical box that is connected to a metal light can.

install recessed lighting without attic access


To connect the wires to the box, connect the colored wires to the corresponding color wires by twisting the wires together, white wire to white, black to black etc. You can attach a wire nut to secure the connection if you find it necessary.

For an electrical outlet, wrap the black wire counterclockwise around the brass colored terminal screw. Then fasten the screw with a screwdriver.

Twist two bare copper grounding wires with the metal end of a green insulated pigtail wire and place a green splice over it. Screw the pigtail into the shield. Do this to all light switch wires, this will ground them. Do not cross wires while connecting them to the switch.

Key benefits of recessed lights

  • They do not heat up, so they can be mounted on any surface, even in drywall.
  • The range is wide, there are models round, square, rectangular, of different diameters, with and without protection.
  • Such lamps do not emit ultraviolet rays, therefore they are considered an environmentally friendly and safe product.
  • They do not require special care.

Unlike other types of lighting fixtures, recessed fixtures are able to work out more than one tens of thousands of hours.

The recessed lights are worth installing on the second floor, as well. It might be easier to do it there if you have an access to the attic. If you don’t have one yet, see our article How to build an attic access door: Choose the method that suits you.

How to install recessed lights without attic access

Leave a reply

We hope that we were able to answer the question of how to install recessed lights without attic access. Please, leave a reply to us if you still have any questions.

Take precautions and consult with experts if you have any concerns, regarding any issues that may arise starting from light switch hole ending with junction box installation.

As you can see, there are difficulties, but the presence of a high-quality working tool, related materials and, of course, skill will bring you closer to a successful result. The main thing is to know the installation methods and choose the right installation process for your individual case.

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