Tracked vs. Recessed Kitchen Lighting


What works best for kitchen lighting?

If you decide to renovate your kitchen, there will be a lot of important decisions to make. Metal or tile backsplash? Wood or stone countertops? White-enameled cabinets or natural wood? One of the most fundamental decisions is the choice of task lighting in your new kitchen.

There are two standard options for kitchen task lighting. Recessed lights have long been a standard fixture in custom kitchens. Track lighting is also featured in many modern redesigns. Do you know the differences, advantages, and disadvantages between recessed and track lighting?

Recessed Lighting

recessed lightingRecessed lights (often known as can lights) are mounted between the ceiling joists in your kitchen. The lightbulb is surrounded by a metal or plastic cylinder (the can) which keeps the light focused directly downward. Once an electrician mounts the can and wires it to a junction box and a lightswitch, recessed lights are hidden behind sheetrock or plaster and neatly capped with a decorative ring. These rings can be matched to the design of your kitchen, with options ranging from unobtrusive white to brushed metal or decoratively embossed finishes.

Recessed Lighting Advantages

  • Kitchens look bigger without lamps taking up ceiling space.
  • A strong spotlight effect makes it easy to work at a counter or sink.
  • No exposed globe or support fixture means no dusting and low maintenance.

Recessed Lighting Disadvantages

  • There is no easy way to reposition the lamps once installed.
  • The placement of lights is limited by the location of ducts and other architectural elements in the ceiling.
  • Some people are put-off by the high contrast between the focused areas and the rest of the room, what a lot of people call the “cave effect”.

Track Lighting

tracked-kitchen-lightingTrack lighting is an alternate form of task lighting. As the name implies, lights are mounted on support bar (the track) which attaches to your ceiling. Track lights can be repositioned to point in different directions.  These lights can come in a range or designs from purely functional work lights to attractively sleek and modern lamps that can be matched to any decor. There are also different options for how the track is mounted, depending on your decor, space, and preferences.

Traditional track lighting has a metal bar mounted flat against your ceiling, with the lamp heads angled down from that bar. This set-up is extremely functional, but it doesn’t leave much room for creative interior design, and older systems can look downright industrial.

Monorail track lighting suspends the track below your ceiling on metal rods. There are a lot of advantages to this system. From a flexibility standpoint, the track can be shaped to fit any space or match any design. Whether you want curvy, organic shapes, a track that follows a curved ceiling, or any other imaginable arrangement, monorail track lighting can be installed that will follow you or your designer’s ideas. Monorail track lighting also allows much greater freedom and selection  because every component, including the track itself and the support rods, can be selected in a variety of styles and finishes to match any kitchen.

There is a third type of track lighting available called rail lighting.  It uses two parallel support bars, with a light suspended between them. These systems are usually reserved for industrial warehouses and large open galleries where the extra support is necessary, but are rarely used in a home.

Another big advantage of track lighting is the ability to mix-and-match different light fixtures on the same track. The same rail can have two task lights pointed at your countertop and a pendant lamp hanging down over your kitchen island, a versatility not shared by other lighting systems.

Track Lighting Advantages

  • Lights can be repositioned to focus on different areas.
  • Spotlights, pendant lights, and more can be added to the lighting track.
  • Lights are available in a variety of designs to accent any theme or decor.

Track Lighting Disadvantages

  • Generally, costs more than similar recessed lighting.
  • Requires frequent dusting to keep up appearances.
  • Hanging fixtures can make a room look smaller, and aren’t safe in rooms with low ceilings.

Which light should you choose for your kitchen?

Modern track lighting is an all-around better system than track lighting for the majority of renovated kitchens. The lights will become a part of your decor, and you can choose from a variety of attractive lamps, globes, or pendant lights when designing your new kitchen.

As dedicated task lights, track lights also have the advantage of being easily refocused if you find yourself working in an unexpected area of your kitchen. Most track lights also have a wider field of illumination than recessed lighting, reducing the spotlight effect that some people find unpleasant. And if you are concerned about keeping your electric bill down, over 700 track-lighting products meet the EPA’s Energy Star guidelines for energy efficiency.

The only major disadvantages to track lighting is initial cost and ceiling height. If you are extremely budget-conscious, the cheapest recessed lights are going to cost less than the cheapest track lighting systems. And if your kitchen has unusually low ceilings, there may be a risk of knocking your head on overhead lighting.

Erin Emanuel