How many recessed lights do you need for your basement?

How many recessed lights do you need for your finished basement?  That's what you're wondering. Right?

I thought about scouring the internet for that perfect illumination calculator that GE probably built. I'm sure it has some crazy complicated math that hinges on the light spectrum, what phase the moon is in and the color your eyes… but then I thought, "F" that.

I'm going to shoot a video of me, walking around my basement, showing you how many recessed lights I put in and where I put them and then I'm going to give you 5 awesome tips to help you finish your basement with recessed lighting.

Here's the video

The truth is that there is no universal basement lighting truth.  Everybody has an opinion and to a degree they're all kind of right.

So please allow me to sprinkle some of my insights into your basement dreams and desires (in regards to lighting). These aren't the end all be all  - these are just 5 rules of thumb to consider when designing your lighting. If you follow these, you'll be pretty happy with how things turn out.

When in Doubt - Add an Extra Light

basement recessed lighting ideas

Basements are dark. Even though it may seem like 5 lights should be plenty, one extra is probably the right answer.

Yes, that means another $25 or so worth of lighting material. Yes, that means one more pot light to wire. But you'll thank me later.

Think in Terms of Rooms

When trying to decide where the light switch for a set of lights should go think about the "room".  Even if it's a big open space (like mine) you have to imagine each section of that space as a room.

Once you've done that you can say to yourself  "If I was going to walk in this "room" to watch TV where would I want the light switch?"

Divide A Room By Task

For my workshop I have two distinct areas in a single room.  The workbench and then the rest of the room.  The work bench has its own switch, separate from the other area.

If one room as two distinct tasks then give them their own lights and light switch.  Think dart boards, foosball table, air hockey, pool table, etc.

I Love Surprises...NOT!

If you want your basement to feel natural, comfortable and a part of the house, then try not to surprise people.

Install a switch near the entrance of the basement that will illuminate the entire basement just enough so someone can see what they're walking into.  Don't make me walk in the dark to get to that next room.

horse lamp for a finished basement

Oh, and don't get cute and put a switch really high on the wall or 4 feet away from the door. Measure the height of the switch in your house and not how far away they are from the door. Do the same in your basement.

Plug-in Lamps

With LED light bulbs and timers you can basically set it and forget it. Plan on incorporating some cool or wacky lighting into your plan. It doesn't have to be switched.

You don't want to just have a bunch of boring ceiling lights. Plan for some light to be at eye level. Pre-plan a plug-in the ceiling so you can have lighting behind some crown molding.

For my basement I installed a light in the art niche and plug-in light above the Foosball table.  I also pre-installed a switched plug-in the ceiling of the family room for some up lighting in the crown molding.

how to finish a basement JasonSo, was the video helpful?

What other cool lighting ideas am I forgetting? Do you have any questions or suggestions for additional content?  Leave a message in the comments below. Remember, this is a basement, it's okay to get a crazy.

Cheers -


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Questions and Comments

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  1. Chris Beachum says

    Hey Jason, do you have any preference to lining up your can lights in a grid type fashion in a room vs sort of staggering them?

    • says

      Hey Chris - I went with even spacing per room but not an exact pattern / grid across the whole ceiling. You really want to try and break up some of the recessed lighting with sconce lighting or switched plugs if you can. Having only recessed lights makes it seem more like a basement and less like a house. Bottom line, I would avoid and single grid patter across the entire basement ceiling, but within a room you do want them evenly spaced and generally aligned. - Jason

  2. Barbara says

    Hey there, great job! I'm in the beginning stages of a basement renovation. What size, styke, type of fixtures did you use for the can/pot lights? Thanks!


  3. Roman says

    Hi Jason,

    You mentioned that you used 6" cans in your basement. Any regrets with the 6". The reason why I ask. All the folks that I talk to say the 6" is old style and that I need to go with 4". Honestly I'd rather do the 6". Your thoughts would be helpful. My basement is 7' in height.
    Thank you,

    • says

      Hey Roman - Great question. The main reason for me (and many people) is light spread. With a 4" can you have to buy a smaller bulb and since you'll mostly likely be using LED bulbs (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) the smaller LED bulb has a really narrow light "footprint". You can compensate by spacing the cans closer together, but it really jacks up the cost and to me, looks worse than the larger 6" cans.

      A good test is to go see what the new builders are doing in your area. Find the swankiest new neighborhood with the most expensive homes and check out the model home. Walk down to the basement and see what they're using. They are constantly battling the latest trends versus cost and functionality - if they're going with 6" can lights (which last time I checked they were) then you probably should too.

      Hope that helps. - Jason

  4. Lee says

    Hi Jason, I have a 24 ft by 24 ft basement. There is an I beam running the 24 ft length. I was considering using six 4" Halo recessed LED lights on each 12 ft side of the Beam. These cans can only use a max of 50 watt bulbs. The ceiling is 7Ft and I will have 4 sconces 2 on each side. I am also considering hanging the cans on the recessed ceiling rails since the ceiling is 2 in below the Joists. What do you think?

    • says

      Lee - Well I've never been a big fan of the 4" can, 6 is my design preference; even with a lower ceiling. I do like the sconces idea. I'm not sure about "hanging" the cans on the rails, I'd have to see a picture of what you mean - as long as it's sturdy thought, there really shouldn't be an issue.

      Hopefully that helps. - Jason

      • Lee says

        Hi Jason,
        Thanks for the quick response. Due to ceiling constraints I am only able to upgrade to 5" Cans.
        In the large room in your video, How high are the ceilings and what is the wattage of the recessed lights.

  5. Dan says

    My basement is basically one large room. How many led can lights can I put on one led dimmer? I'm guessing not as many as 20, which would be ideal for me. If it's a non-dimmer switch would that make the same 20 lights possible?

    • says

      Hey Dan - Dimmers are rated in watts, as long as the total lights wattage is at or below the rating of the dimmer, everything should be fine. The most important thing is to buy and LED dimmer and LED bulbs - since LED bulbs pull a lot fewer watts you can fit a lot more fixtures on to them. A 65Watts equivalent LED bulb might pull 10 watts. If your dimmer can handle 150 watts then you could theoretically put 15 bulbs on it. Here's a great 150 Watt LED dimmer from Leviton.

      Perhaps consider breaking the room up into areas of 2 or 3 then assigning dimmable switches for each. - Jason

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