Recessed LED Lighting for your Basement – Save $700

In this post I will tell you exactly what to buy to install recessed lights in your basement. Plus, how you can save $24.19 per light. For my basement, with 30 recessed light fixtures, that's $725.00. Would you like 725 dollars? Of course you would!

4 components of LED lighting

Please excuse my crude drawing. I'm trying out my ipad mini to draw diagrams. The 4 components of LED lighting are: housing, switch, trim and bulb.

My eyes are tired and my fingers are sore.  Why?  Because I've been scouring the inter-webs researching LED lighting for finishing your basement.  This is by far my most researched article ever.  Good thing, because this stuff is crazy complicated.

First some back story. When I finished my basement a couple of years ago I did not put in LED recessed lighting. The price and features just weren't all there.

But now, in 2013,  I strongly recommend LED lighting for your basement.  I'll have a separate article on the exact details but the price, features and benefits are all here, it's time. DO NOT buy anything but LED.

What do you need to buy?

Just LED bulbs (what type)?

What about the can enclosures?

What about light switches?

Let's get it on!

Can Enclosures - Recessed Housing

housing for recessed lightingThe housing is the metal piece that gets nailed to your floor joists.  It holds the wiring junction and the socket connection. I recommend the HALO 6" recessed lighting housing - which runs about $6.78 per can at Home Depot.

Home Depot also features LED lighting "kits" with integrated housing, bulb and trim. I'm not recommending those, more on that in a minute. If you prefer 5", that's good too. I wouldn't go much small than 5".

The can enclosure is not bulb specific.  LED, Incandescent, CFL... doesn't matter. Leroy at the Home Depot was very helpful in clarifying this.  The integrated kits are about the bulb and the trim - not the can.

The Light Bulb

LED, LED, LED.  If you buy incandescent (you know, the kind invented like a hundred years ago by Thomas Edison) then I will not speak to you, I refuse.  Do not buy CFL (the swirly kind that looks like an ice cream cone). Do not buy fluorescent (the long tubes) unless you're setting up a workshop.

LED light bulb features Costco

5 Things You Need to Know About LED bulbs:

  1. The light color is now very good. You can get "soft white". I hate with a passion those "blue-white" LED bulbs. That's fixed now.  Look for "warm" or "soft" white.
  2. They are now dimmable.  Buy bulbs that say "dimmable" LED
  3. They aren't crazy expensive - I bought some at Costco for $15 a piece, use to be $40. Home Depot sells them for about $21.
  4. The light is diffused and gradual.  The beam used to be narrow and tight, it looked weird, now they're much better.
  5. They last a long time, they're durable (won't break due to footsteps above you), they use a lot less energy and put off a lot less heat.

The picture above is exactly what I buy - they're great! Couldn't find that price online but here's the same bulb on Amazon, still a better price than HD or Lowes.

LED Dimmer Switches (better Aks somebody !)

LED-dimmer-switch-for-finishing-a-basement.jpg

Question. Who buys the Almond color? I'd like to know. I always get white. Is this some cultural thing I'm missing?

If you've been reading this blog then you know what I'm about to say.

Wait for it… Wait….

DIMMERS!

Plan to install dimmers switches for most of your rooms. Only place I didn't was the furnace and storage room.

You need to buy LED dimmer switches.  NOT a regular incandescent dimmer switch.  The LED dimmer switches are engineered for LED dimmable light bulbs.

A regular dimming light switch can dim a dimmable LED bulb… but, there may be problems… Here some of the common ones.

  1. A non LED dimmer switch can't dim the LED bulb low enough.  Maybe only dims it to 20% instead of 5% or 1%
  2. Drop outs - a regular switch might cause the LED bulb to turn off if you dim it to low.
  3. Humming noise -  I hate that freakin humming noise. It makes me puke. A regular switch might cause the humming noise in the bulb when the light is dimmed.
  4. Lights won't come on - LED bulbs need a certain load to turn on. If your whole room is LED bulbs the regular dimming switch won't work. An LED rated dimming switch will handle the low load.  (Read more on that here if you want.)

Look.  You can spend about 2 hours researching if you want or you can take my word for it.  LED dimmable switch - that is what you want.  Available on Amazon - Dimmable LED Switch.  Don't get confused. You want and LED dimmer, not a dimmer with an LED light indicator (two different things)

light switch for 69 cents

BOOM goes the Dynamite! The price is right with this regular light switch. It works fine with basement LED lighting.

UPDATE:  Just got back from a little field trip to the 'Po.  Saw something there that I have to mention.

$.69 cent light switches.  As in plain ol' regular switches, for 69 cents.

Don't take my dimmer recommendation as an absolute necessity. If you are scrimpin' every dollar - buy these 69 cent switches.

They won't dim, obviously, but they work just fine. LED Dimmer - $20+ bucks. Regular light switch .69 cent.  If you have 5 or 6 rooms that's a hundred bucks plus McDonald's money. You can put in LED dimmer switches later.

Recessed Lighting Trim

Once you have the housing, a bulb and a switch you just need one more piece…. The trim.  This is almost purely aesthetic.

The trim or baffle is the piece that makes the light look good. It goes on at the very end - after drywall and after painting.

The only functional part of the trim is that it does reflect light in different ways - like a reflective metal trim versus a white matte trim. It's really personal and situational preference.

Save $700 in Basement Lighting Costs !

save money on basement lightingNow for the cost savings....  A full LED integrated 5" recessed light kit at Home Depot was running at $49.96 as of April. 2014. The kit has the housing, the LED bulb and the trim.  (no switch).

I almost was going to recommend it but it's very expensive for very little additional value.  I searched everywhere online and couldn't find it for less than the Home Depot price.

Soooo instead I recommend buying the components separately.

If you buy the components separately, you can save roughly $25 per light. 

  • Halo can enclosure - 7.47.
  • White baffle trim - 9.99.
  • LED light bulb - 15.99.

All of these you can also buy at Home Depot. There is little to no time saved by buying the integrated kit.

30 cans in basement x $25 savings = $700.  Instead you can buy that toilet with the heated seat and remote control!

I hope that helps.  I strongly recommend the LED light bulbs and dimmable LED light switches.  To save about $725 buy the components separately rather than as a kit.

how to finish a basement JasonIf you're like me and your basement already has regular light bulbs and regular dimmer switches don't despair.  Whenever one burns out replace it with an LED bulb.  And when you're fed up with any issue the switch may be causing - swap it out with an LED rated switch.

That's what I'm doing, about half of my regular bulbs have burned out or (more likely) broken.

Cheers - Jason

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Questions and Comments

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  1. Khan says

    where can I buy individual components?
    ■Halo can enclosure – 6.78.
    ■White baffle trim – 9.99.
    ■LED light bulb – 15.99

  2. Brandon says

    I been thinkin lights lately. Started with “Where will my first few ‘Work Lights’ go?” then all of a sudden I was trying to map out the whole basement lighting plan.

    Few questions, would appreciate anyone’s advice!
    – I defaulted to recessed lights, but, with 10′ ceilings and 9′ at the soffits should I try for as many surface mounts as possible?? For those with 8’ceilings, have you thought “Man it would be nice to have some surface mount lights”?
    – If recessed lights in the 10′ areas, what’s good spacing? Could always generalize with “Can’t have too many lights!” Yeah, well, they’re not free, so…
    – Should I put recessed (big or small) in the soffits, since some soffits are two, four, or five feet wide? I ask because I want to avoid shadowing on the walls, so does anyone have them in the soffits like one foot from the wall and how does it look??

      • says

        The universe knows your true self Brandon – do not reject the cosmic fate you’ve been assigned by the internet. Besides, 90% of the NFL is pink right now, those guys are pretty macho. Or, go to gravatar.com and setup a custom profile – use whatever picture you want. Maybe something black with dark grey. – Jason

    • says

      B dog – Hope you don’t mind me calling you b-dog, that’s what I call all guys named Brandon. You bring up a good point. With 10 foot ceilings I would highly recommend throwing in some sconce lighting and switched outlets for table top lighting. Even with standard height basements this is a good design move. 100% recessed looks out of character with the rest of your house.

      As to recessed lighting in the soffit, I haven’t really seen that done. You’d have to frame it with some room to hold everything so that might be a factor. I see what you about the shadowing. It wasn’t too bad for me. I did move my foosball table along the wall under the soffit, then I hung a light from the ceiling of the soffit over the table and plugged it into a light timer.

      Just my 2.5 cents.

      Jason

  3. Brandon says

    Great, I also found your post on how to place recessed lighting and that was helpful as well. When in doubt, ask your wife what she wants then it doesn’t matter “what’s right.”

    I think I will space four or five recessed in the trey’ed (?) 10′ sections, with big surface mounts for Game Area, Kitchenette/Bar, Office, and Toy Room. Then try to incorporate some sconces like you mentioned. Really liking the LED option too; we recently took on CREE as a customer of our adhesives, and they sent us free trials (great product, need more in our house!)

    I went to Houzz.com and searched “basement lighting,” found lots of good ideas!

  4. Bennett says

    Great info Jason, I’d like to mention that here in Massachusetts the Home Depot has the integrated trim and bulb kit (EcoSmart brand) for about $26-$28 depending on the time of year. I went earlier this year and they were $40 but just went back last week and they were marked as $26 and change, which I assume is due to NSTAR electric (utility) putting a subsidy on them. I really liked your description of the LED dimmer, people see dimmable and just use any dimmer, and while I’ve had success using standard LED replacement bulbs with them, the trim kits don’t like them as much.

    • says

      Hey Bennett – Thanks for the heads up. This article is on my list to update in Dec. I like to go through once a year and update all of the prices, etc. – Jason

  5. says

    My basement lighting needs are a little unique. 50% of the space is occupied by my model railroad, which has been lit with 4′ T8 florescent fixtures. I’ve had a very high failure rate for the florescent lights and want to switch to LEDs. What would you suggest for even, diffuse lighting that would produce minimal “hot spots”?

    • says

      Bob – LEDs are great for avoiding heat as they produce very little. They also last a lot longer and are less likely to break. I’ve yet to replace and LED flood bulb and have had some in my garage for almost 3 years.

  6. david says

    Hi, Jason, thanks fro the great post!
    I cannot find any Halo 5″ can for 6.78, and for those around $11 ones, I see several types for CFL, LED etc. for example, the one for LED is
    “Halo 5 in. New Construction T24 LED Recessed Housing Model # H550ICAT”, is the one you were talking about?
    Thanks!

    • says

      Hey David – Looks like the price for the 6″ has gone up slightly, to $7.47. That’s for the 6″, which is what I quote in the article, the 5″ can is more expensive. I’m guessing because they don’t make / sell as many.

      There are LED versions of canned lights, that costs a couple bucks more, honestly I’m not sure what you get for that extra money. LED lightbulbs work fine in the standard cans. Here’s a comparison page of the 6″ LED and 6″ regular, looks like you’re paying for Energy Star certification.

      Jason

      • david says

        I end up buying some H5ICAT, the 5″ ones, for the Trim, I think $10 is quite expensive consider a complex housing is only 9 bucks. I happened to find Costco sell LED light with trim, which is good for both 5″ and 6″. I got several of them to replace the trim on my main floor and plan to use the replaced trim in my basement. The LED is 23W for 1200 lumin (120W), and sell for $15.99, nice price since a LED bulb alone sell for more than that price.

  7. Jay says

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve got an older house with only 125A service, so I’m trying to minimize the wattage used by lighting. I wasn’t even going to bother with LEDs because I thought the quality was poor, but decided to give it a shot after reading this. They are AMAZING. I got a 4 pack of FEIT electric BR30 13 watt soft-white floods for < $50 at Lowes. They start up in 1/2 a second, and add tons of warm, even light. I've had them in for about a month as I finish up framing – no complaints. I've got 10 of them spaced at ~7' from each other, 3.5' from the walls.

    • says

      Sweet! Mine are still going strong. The only thing for me is that I didn’t put in the LED dimmers – wish I had. I’ll get around to replacing them some day. – Jason

  8. Dave says

    Heh Jason,

    Recommendations of places to buy concrete stain. I’m assuming that if the basement project has yet to be started you would stain the concrete first to avoid paint and acid spray???

    Cheers

    • says

      Hey Dave – Can’t say that I have specific recommendation. I bought mine from Home Depot, but as I said, I kind of screwed mine up. I used to work at a paint store when I was a teenager, I guess I’d recommend going to one near you. The guys there tend to know a lot more about the application of their products and could really help you more than the HD guys. Who are great btw, just not experts, in most cases. – Jason

  9. Jessie says

    I have a small basement. Foamed, Sheetrock and some nice natural light. Installed outlets and now currently struggling with some ceiling lighting. Purchased those LED kits but don’t like the glow or how in your face the light is. My ceilings are low, some plumbing will be exposed, steam heat pipes and want an end product I am not sure is realistic. Drop ceiling will make it feel so much lower. Discouraged and frustrated!

    • says

      Jessie – Have you thought about having no ceiling? It looks pretty good, and let’s you put in all types of lighting. Check out these examples.
      Don’t get discouraged, in my experience these challenges usually end up giving you something really unique and fun!

      Cheers – Jason

  10. Jill says

    hi, Jason!

    thanks for the great tips! i’m loving your site!

    Question about LED dimmers (and dimmers in general): Can they be used in a 3-way-switch operation? We want our basement family room lights to be controlled at the top and bottom of the steps, and I hadn’t entertained a dimmer until reading you post, and now I really want a dimmer — just makes sense!

    Thanks,
    Jill

  11. Eugene says

    Hi Jason,
    Why you do not recommend LED lighting “kits” with integrated housing?

    Here in Canada 5″ trim is around 12$ CAD + 17$CAD for 12W BR30, so it comes to 29$CAD.
    From another side 4″ CR4 LED Recessed Light with Integrated Trim is 34$ and there is Hydro-Quebec 10$ mail-in rebate for LED lights. So, at the end it comes to 24$ instead of 29$. 6″ Cree HD sells for the same 34$.
    5″ HALO housing is 12$ here

    • says

      Hi Eugene – The only reason I don’t recommend them is the price. So if you’ve found an integrated kit that’s cheaper than the components on their own, go for it! – Jason

  12. Mark says

    Hey, great site! I’ve bookmarked it. I’m having an issue and I wonder if anyone has found a solution? I just put up 6″ Halo cans and got some LED’s from Costco (now 18.99). They’re fairly heavy, when I raised the inside of can to accommodate the long bulb, and screwed the LED into it, the weight makes it sit a little crooked. I was thinking about not using a baffle, which would maybe remedy this but any other suggestions? Thanks

    • says

      What up Mark – I had that happen on a few lights, the metal sheet that basically holds the socket in place just need to be bent back in the opposite direction of then lead. Take the bulb out, see if you can push the metal on one side of the socket all the way in the other direction. This should straighten it out just enough. Aesthetically, I wouldn’t recommend going with without the baffle. In fact it may help make any remaining “lean” less obvious. Good luck! – Jason

  13. kavita says

    hi,
    Whats your take on these led recessed light fixtures:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A2ASPTG/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00A2ASPTG&linkCode=as2&tag=eikohtrablogf-20
    from what i believe, no houseing is required for these.. just make a hole and push it in, they come with thier own driver box..

    I am looking to install led recessed lights.. and although these would save me a TON of money, i am still a little doubtful..

    • says

      Hello. Cool, very interesting, I haven’t seen these recessed LED lights before. Here are my thoughts. I would NOT recommend them for a basement ceiling. 1. They’re new – so be prepared to bleed a little, the first version always has some gotchas. 2. Beam angle – 45 degrees is pretty narrow. You will need a lot of these to get a good flowing coverage of light. This means a lot of wiring. 3. I don’t see a ground wire on these or any wiring housing – in my state (VA) they won’t pass inspection without these.

      They seem to be more for commercial space or displays?

      Jason

      • kavita says

        Thanks so much for your response.
        1 & 2 does not concern me as much, the link i sent was just an example..the manufacturer has tons of over shapes / sizes / wattage and with or with out the tilt feature..

        I saw another brand on amazon that had excellent reviews where ppl were using then in thier houses for ceiling light.. However i never did think about the grounding part (your point #3).
        This now makes a whole lot of difference.. so glad i found your site..
        again, thanks for your response..

        I may just try a few to start with to see how they really are..

  14. Josh says

    Great website, helpful article. One small correction, Benjamin Franklin didn’t invent the light bulb. He did invent many things. But he died about 225 years ago and was one of our founding fathers. Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the light bulb, and you can say that without 99% of people blinking. To be fair, he didn’t invent the light bulb either, but did invent the first practical light bulb that could actually be usable. It’s like the mp3 player, Apple didn’t invent it, but was the first to create a commercially viable product, an Ipod.

    • says

      Jeez Josh – I’m off by a few hundred years and you’re on it like a fly on honey. I blame the fact that that I was thinking about saving Benjamins by using this tip. Anywoo – I’ve corrected this error and I will now return to the void of historical accuracy from whence I came.

  15. Ryan says

    I am working to finish my basement this winter. My basement is annoyingly low (especially where the duct work and gas pipe is), but I definitely want a ceiling (drywall), and putting in recessed lights as one of the first steps. (Walls are already drywalled.)

    Anyhow, what I’m trying to figure out is how to best layout the lights. Trouble is almost half of the useable basement has duct work. The room is roughly 12′ by 24′, but the duct work actually makes only about 7′ of that available to place lights (all to one side). Not sure the best way to lay out the cans to provide adequate lighting. I was thinking about putting in 6 total, or perhaps 8 total. (Ceilings are only about 7’4″ high….more like 7′ after I get the ceiling in).

    Any advice? Oh and by the way, CREE Soft White LED bulbs (60W equivalent) are now only about $5 at Home Depot. Commecial Electric 6″ cans are $6, and the baffles are $8. So, price per light is $19. Much better than the $40 LED kits!

    • says

      Hello Ryan – Low ceiling and lots duct work = a serious lighting challenge. Here’s my advice. Where there’s not duct work and room in the ceiling install recessed lighting. Where there is duct work use wall lighting, sconce lights. When you go to wire boxes for the sconce lights wire all of them or groups of them to a switch (preferably with an LED dimmer). Also, wire a few extra plugs to be hooked to a switch. This way you can still light up your basement just as if you had all recessed lights.

      I’ve seen this work out wonderfully before, almost to the point that I wish I had shorter ceilings. Good luck!

      Jason

      ps. Thanks for the updates on the LED bulb pricing, even more reason to buy the individual components.

      • Ryan says

        Thanks for the advice, Jason. Wall sconces are perfect idea. And, actually, can be cheaper than cans!

        And, of course, since I posted, the bulbs I mentioned have gone UP in price by $2 at Home depot, so they are now $7 not $5…but still cheaper than they were several months ago.

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