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Old 05-01-2017, 12:18 PM   #1
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Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


I'm trying to pick between using one or the other for lighting in the house. I like recessed in the basement because it gives that illusion of more clearance and the fixture can easily go between floor joists. I don't like the recessed fixtures being used on the main floor because the cans stick up in the attic and always seem to be bothersome for energy efficiency with leaks around the fixture plus air leaks around the trim piece itself and the drywall.

Have any of you used both and had a preference over the other?
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Old 05-01-2017, 05:53 PM   #2
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


I think it's very much a matter of personal taste and what you want the light to do. Recessed lights have their place but I have seen them overused. They're fine for general and 'wall wash' lighting but don't add anything to the appearance of the room, which a well-chosen fixture can do. I'll leave it to others to comment on the energy efficiency of recessed fixtures.

My brother recently installed some ultrathin led fixtures that mimic recessed but are only 1/2" thick that seem to be suitable for areas lacking clearance for a traditional recessed. I just bought one for an application at my place.
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Old 05-01-2017, 07:03 PM   #3
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


lenaitch - I agree that a certain degree of it depends on personal taste. I have seen both but do not know if the high dollar flush mount ones look better than the cheaper ones. I am the type of person who does not believe there can be too much light in a room. I'm always looking for the highest lumen or watt equivalency.

On the green building websites, recessed are bashed for air leakage but I believe they can be installed to be air-tight if you take your time. If they were the same price this would be an easier choice, but it seems quality flush mount lights are about twice or triple the price when compared to recessed + the fixture. I look for best price per wattage/lumen. Recessed have been around a long time so I believe there are some superior brands. I am liking the Halo series and they sell both recessed and flush mount lights. The 5 or 6" cans are about $10-$12 and rated IC/AT and then the trim with LED build into it is $15-$20 while the flush mount is $50 to $60 for comparable lumens.

What did you purchase the flush mount for? I see they can be great for cathedral ceilings.
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Old 05-07-2017, 04:41 AM   #4
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


Recessed lights aid in contributing to ice dams whether air tight, insulated, incandescent, LED or made with a gold overlay it makes no difference, the potential is still there.
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Old 05-07-2017, 08:50 AM   #5
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


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Originally Posted by CTSNicholas View Post

On the green building websites, recessed are bashed for air leakage but I believe they can be installed to be air-tight if you take your time.
Do these people realize with a flush mount light you still have a box in the ceiling that is a potential area for air leakage.

I would not worry about the air leakage, it will all depend on how well your vapour barrier is done.
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Old 05-07-2017, 09:11 AM   #6
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


In both recessed and esp flush mounts, I've had led bulbs burn out. Despite led price, it is not true that they last as promised. Phillips. LED bulbs burn transistors (my basic understanding) and the heat has to escape. In enclosed space, the heat can prematurely damage the transistor. I asked at the box stores how they honor the 25 yr promise, and they don't. It's just months. There is no identifying mark on the bulb.
I use ceiling mounts. Bulb for bulb, ceiling mounts light better.
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Old 05-07-2017, 11:36 AM   #7
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


I did residential service ice work for several years and one thing I learned early on it was not about the husbands personal taste it was about his wife's personal taste.

After hanging a few chandeliers or locating a few lights at the husbands direction the wife would show up and say WTF, of course he'd almost always say, that is not how I told him.
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Old 05-07-2017, 12:25 PM   #8
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


Senior - I believe that (ice dams) are more of an issue with older recessed can lights that are very warm & have no air sealing done. I would like to know if they also cause that issue when in a vented attic versus cathedral ceiling. In a cathedral ceiling I believe recessed lights are not a good idea unless there is enough room to get good insulation in. I realize gumball lights work best in cathedral ceiling, but I still believe in good insulation practice.

Now, in a vented attic, there is no 'vapor' barrier when using cellulose insulation. THe drywall is sealed to serve as an air-barrier and any moisture in the attic is removed through constant venting + the fact that cellulose can handle being damp and dry out without an issue. Damp, not rained on.

Darren, I believe the point of flush mount lights that install to a junction box is that the junction box is signficantly smaller in terms of surface area exposed to extreme temps. I realize what you mean though, and yes, that is true. A junction box must be sealed. There are certain companies now producing air-tight junction boxes that basically have a two outer plastic channels for wire to run though, be sealed, and effectively have no air movement.

carp - I believe all LED have to have a transformer, and that does get warm. A junction box that is truly sealed would not provide any ventilation for the transformer. I have not been around long enough to know if they are truly 20-30 year items or only 5 to 10 years at best. There are SO many off brands out there - both recessed and flush mount - but LED Recessed cans are more popular and have some more history. The whole reason for this post is to try and have others chime in with their own experience. Curious about all pros and cons before I decide to put all recessed or all flush mount. I like a well lit area, so it's a large investment on either side of ceiling light. Since I will have a traditional vented attic, with R40 to R50 cellulose, I believe a recessed can fixture will not impede very much insulation quality. I also believe a junction box is a lot easier to install in rough in!

Bria - True, but that is not part of the picture.
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Old 05-10-2017, 09:57 PM   #9
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


Here in California, we have Title24 Energy requirements, so all recessed fixtures must be IC AT, and be efficient . IC / AT cans work only if installers use all the gaskets, foam inserts given to them, remodel or new construction. Unfortunately inspectors rarely check for proper install (of the air gaskets ) before drywalling.

Nora lighting and DMF lighting make some of the highest lumen output fixture in 6" and 4" cans. I use Elite 5" and 4" trim in my house, 3500k. Kelvin temperature does matter in lumen output, as you compare trim by trim and see the different the Kelvin temperature has on lumen out put. If you go more towards cool white ( 4000k and up ) you'll get higher lumen output.

DMF is unique in that they have a system based on a 4" module ( different color temps/ lumen available ), with interchangeable cam locked trim rings, and use a deep special 4 inch octagon box which is IC / AT rated. Though installing them wiring wise makes for a bit of a tight fit.

LEDs use drivers, and cramming all that technology into a a A19 base bulb and factoring for heat dissipation cannot compare to a LED trim in a 6" can where the driver is not that small, has a good heat sink, and thus dos not suffer from premature failures like a Bulb based LED will. It's true in that you get what you pay for. The LED trims I used are about 75.00 each ( the IC AT can was a bargain at 10.00 ), but they are commercial grade and will out last any LED A19 based lamp ( bulb ). I see this as an investment, so the high up front cost in my house over rides any savings I might get if I went for a cheaper LED trim.

The new style surface mount LEDs, well I am still out on those, I have installed a few of the bigger 12" square panels on some projects, and am quite surprised how well they perform. But it's the long term I do not know about since they do not have the track record like the recessed cans do. But all the majors are making them ( Halo, Nora, etc ), so it is a trend in lighting.

With recessed you can fit anyone's trim to anyone's can, since the connector is universal, though the issue of warranty may come into play from mixing between manufacturers, since most will say keep the trim the same manufacturer as the recessed can.

Junction box surface mount of course does not have that issue, but I am not a fan of surface mount, unless there are no other options.

The other issue is dimming.

Recessed LED lighting are generally dimmable with few issues provided you get the right LED dimmer ( I am a huge fan of Lutron products ), though do not expect dimming like a incandescent lamp, LEDs do drop off at around 10% .The A19 LED based solutions, can be a pain to dim, as some are more finicky than other in what dimmer you can pair it with. The surface mounts LED as far as I can tell are also dimmable, though I have never tied one yet to one ( since the ones I installed were replacement for a surface mount 1 to 2 lamp fixture in a utility room )

just my 2 cents

Last edited by intelpcguy; 05-10-2017 at 09:59 PM.
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Old 05-10-2017, 10:49 PM   #10
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


Quote:
Originally Posted by CTSNicholas View Post
Now, in a vented attic, there is no 'vapor' barrier when using cellulose insulation. THe drywall is sealed to serve as an air-barrier and any moisture in the attic is removed through constant venting + the fact that cellulose can handle being damp and dry out without an issue. Damp, not rained on.
Not necessarily true - depends on local building codes.

In Post #3 you asked me what did I use my flush mount for. It was an ultra-thin downlight similar to this: (but not this one)

https://www.homedepot.ca/en/home/p.l...000826915.html

It was for the bottom of a set of stairs that lacked a light and was a little too dark. I had the space for a traditional recessed light but saw these and thought I'd give it a try.
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Old 05-11-2017, 09:44 AM   #11
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


intelpc -
Can you link the 3k and 3.5k NORA LEDs you use?

What about the halo recessed fixtures? I like them and they are readily available here while nora is not something readily available. It seems a bead of sealant would solve a lot of air leaks. I'm all about quality and bright LED lights. I am looking heavily into HALO either recessed or flush mount. They I like the 3k to 4k range, so 3.5k is my happy medium. I also want around 800 to 1.2k lumens per light. If they are over 900 I'll probably invest in dimmers.

I also do not like the idea of a lot of cans in the ceiling, I have done reading on lighting the ceiling only, as that seems to be the best way to light a room. Interesting theory but it seems to hold true. In my office, I would want to do both down and up lighting. HALO seems to be a better name brand than anything else at the big bog stores and has a good reputation.

This is the flush mount that has really caught my eye. Great lumens and price. I don't like low CRI lights either. So these are all around the best performing ones I can find for price per lumen, CRI, and kelvin. http://www.homedepot.com/p/Halo-5-in...-206936174-_-N

If they sold these in the trim kit for recessed cans, I would consider them instead but the brightest can light I can find form HALO is only 850 to 900 lumens The ones I linked work for cans, but what's the point when the LED Driver is still crammed in a tiny package, while as you said trim LED lights seem to have more heatsink.

lenaitch - That little guy is only 620 lumens! And priced higher than the 1200lumen HALO. It does look sexy though, I'll give you that.

AFAIK a true vapor barrier (sheet of plastic with x<1 perm) is not suggested or required anyway when using all cellulose in the attic. I found this odd, but on GBA they say not to use one with cellulose because it handles moisture quite well?? If you have info stating otherwise link it and I'll check into it because I orignally thought cellulose was like mineral wool in that it needs a vapor barrier, but all I see/hear is the ceiling drywall just needs to be air tight, which, should not be a problem considering all joints are mudded and I am using AT rated lights!

Last edited by CTSNicholas; 05-11-2017 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 05-11-2017, 11:05 PM   #12
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Re: Recessed or Flush/Surface Mount Lights


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Originally Posted by CTSNicholas View Post
lenaitch - That little guy is only 620 lumens! And priced higher than the 1200lumen HALO. It does look sexy though, I'll give you that.

I can't remember the lumens of the one I bought and tossed the box. I bought it 'cause it mimicked a 60w incandescent (that's the extent of my technological engagement with lighting). As I said, I bought it just to give it a try. Keep in mind the link showed Canuckian prices.

AFAIK a true vapor barrier (sheet of plastic with x<1 perm) is not suggested or required anyway when using all cellulose in the attic. I found this odd, but on GBA they say not to use one with cellulose because it handles moisture quite well?? If you have info stating otherwise link it and I'll check into it because I orignally thought cellulose was like mineral wool in that it needs a vapor barrier, but all I see/hear is the ceiling drywall just needs to be air tight, which, should not be a problem considering all joints are mudded and I am using AT rated lights!

As I mentioned, it all depends on your local building code. Keep in mind this site has multinational contributors.
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