How to choose and install track lighting
Follow these guidelines to choose and install a track lighting system in your home that will add function and a decorative element.
Photo Credit: Lisa F. Young
By Tara Gilbert
Track lighting provides focused light to showcase decorative artwork or design elements. Track lighting is also versatile with connectors and lighting heads that can be added or removed quickly. With some planning, track lighting is also easy to install.
Picking The Right Track Lighting System
1. Start with a plan. – Not all track lighting systems are designed for the same purpose, so it is best to first determine your lighting needs and then choose a system. Begin by planning what you want the light to focus on. The number of spots of light you want will equal the number of lighting heads you will need.
Also, plan on where you want the track to be. For a small area, a single track in the center of the room will work well. Large areas will need a more elaborate system that borders the ceiling. Take the measurements of the room’s dimension with you when you go to purchase your track lighting.
2. Choose the right bulb. – You should also pick a track lighting system based on the type of light you need. For example, if you want general light over a dining room table, then a system that uses pendant fixtures and incandescent lights will be best for you. If you desire light to focus on artwork or design elements, then halogen lights with its focus beam should be chosen. Fluorescent bulbs with their intense light work best for task lighting.
3. Pick the right style. – Track lighting systems come in a variety of styles. You can choose to have tracks that fade into the ceiling or pop out as a design element. For subtle track lighting, pick tracks that match the color of the ceiling or are thin cable wires. For a bolder look, chose tracks with a metallic finish or that contrast with the ceiling’s color.
The light heads of track lighting can also make an impact. You can find lighting heads with colorful glass covers or metal boxes. They also come in basic white and black for a more subtle look.
4. Start with a system you can live with. – You can find inexpensive track lighting kits that come with a 4 foot section of track and three lighting heads, but they often do not have pieces available to expand the system. If you only have a small area and plan not to change the lights, then this is a cost saving solution for you.
But, if you want a system for a large room or one that can change over time, then start with a system that has connectors and light heads that can be purchased separately. Begin by purchasing kits for your foundation since they are cheaper than buying the parts separately, and then buy special pieces as you need them.
Installing A Track Lighting System
Track lighting systems can plug into an outlet or be wired into a junction box. While plug-in systems are very easy to install, hardwired systems do not have unsightly cords running across the ceiling and walls. The following steps will guide you through hardwiring a typical track lighting system since it is the most common type of installation.
1. Read manufacturer’s instructions. – Manufacturers follow a basic plan for installing track lighting systems, but there are variations. Be sure to check their wiring instructions, as well as how they advise attaching connections and light heads.
2. Attach the mounting plate. – Begin by turning the power off to the circuit through the circuit box. Double-check that the power is off by turning on the old light or fan. Next, remove the old light or install a new junction box and lighting switch. If you are unfamiliar with installing a junction box and lighting switch, consider hiring a professional electrician who can wire the boxes according to code.
Then, attach the wires from the track lighting fixture to the circuit wires with wire connectors. Begin with the ground wire, and then the white and black wires. Tuck the wires into the electrical box. Attach the mounting plate over the ceiling box. Usually the manufacture will include screws, but some units simply tape into place.
3. Connect the track to the mounting plate. – Place the track onto the mounting plate, but do not snap into place. Mark the anchor holes where the track will attach into the ceiling and pre-drill the holes. If you are mounting the track into a ceiling joist, lock the track onto the mounting plate and screw it into place. Otherwise, use molly screws to secure the track in place.
4. Install the connector and cover plate. – With the track anchored, snap the connector into the track and twist until it snaps into place. If the piece does not easily slide into place, check to be sure the connector is seated properly in the track. Once in place, attach the cover plate over the connector.
5. Add track connectors and additional track sections. – Snap connector pieces at the end of the already installed track. Then, slide additional track sections into place and mark drill holes. Pre-drill the holes, and then secure the track in place.
6. Mount head lights into the track. – With the track completed, snap head light fixtures into place. Point the fixtures in the direction you would like the light to be focused toward. Install the light bulbs recommended by the manufacturer.
7. Make final adjustments. – When you are finished installing the lighting system, turn the circuit and lights on. Check the placement of each light and make any necessary adjustments, but be careful when handling the light fixtures since they can heat up quickly.
With adjustments made, you can now enjoy your track lighting system.
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