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Track Lighting Basics

Add Focused Light with Track Lighting

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Track Lighting Basics

This simple white track provides good lighting.

Track lighting has come of age. Instead of the clunky tracks and heads, today’s track lights have many options for both the track itself as well as the size, style, and color of the light fixtures.

Tracks are easy to install, even when remodeling or redecorating a room, since power is usually already available in the wiring of an existing ceiling fixture. Track lights are perfect when you want to accent objects with light or work under a directional task light.

Here are some basic tips on what to look for when considering installing track lighting.

Why You Want Track Lighting

  • Track lighting is a contemporary fixture that’s as perfect for new construction as it is for renewed spaces in existing homes.
  • Tracks are versatile, allowing flexibility in sizing, placement and fixture styles.
  • Lights can be aimed at artwork, countertops, walls, or other room features as needed, making them infinitely useful if you like to change your furniture or artwork around from time to time. Go with white fixture heads to blend into a ceiling or make a statement with black or silver heads.

When to Use Track Lighting

  • Tracks are especially handy when a room has an existing electrical box in the ceiling yet needs additional light directed throughout the room. For example, install a track in an older kitchen or home office when you can replace an outdated ceiling light with a track that aims light right where you need it -- on work surfaces and into pantries or closets.

Where to Place Track Light Fixtures

  • Run a straight track along a hallway ceiling and aim fixtures at artwork on either wall.
  • Customize a track to fit your kitchen space. A U-shaped configuration may allow you to place light right where you need it – over an island or onto the countertops.
  • Install a track 20- to 40-inches out from the walls in a room.
  • Consider installing a track to highlight a large collection of artwork hung over a mantel or on a wall, since the heads can be adjusted to point at specific areas of the display.
  • A track installed in a dark closet will let you position a number of heads right where you need light – on clothes or shelves.
  • Higher ceilings can take track units that are dropped from a central electrical box location or via stems or cable systems.
  • Watch that track heads won’t interfere with the operation of doors, cabinets, or other movable room elements.

Sizing

  • Heads are available in large, small, and mini sizes.
  • Track ligthing is manufactured in specific lengths (such as 4- or 8-foot sections), though track sections can be joined via connectors in a straight line, L-shape, or T-shape.

Basics

  • When purchasing track lighting, buy all of the parts from one manufacturer, since components are not interchangeable.
  • Power runs through the track to run each light head that is clipped into the track.
  • The heads can usually be pointed in any direction or rotated up or down, or side to side as needed.

Types of Light Bulbs for Track Lighting
You may want to select the type of bulb you prefer before selecting the heads and track for your system.

  • Line voltage halogen lamps (also known as PAR lamps) are good all-purpose bulbs for most applications.
  • MR16’s (also known as low voltage halogen) are best for accent lighting and also require transformers either on each fixture head or installed into the ceiling.

When to Skip Track Lighting

  • Track lighting is specialized lighting and is not designed for use as general light in a room.
  • Rooms with low ceilings are not good candidates for track lighting, since the heads hang down from the ceiling and could present an obstacle.
  • Finally, consider other lighting alternatives for spaces that are decorated very traditionally or formally, where track lighting may have too contemporary a look.

Cautions

  • Get advice from an experienced electrical salesperson on what parts are needed for a track lighting installation in your space – including connectors, heads, tracks, and other parts. In some local areas you may be required to obtain building permits to upgrade lighting, so check to make sure. If this project is too advanced for your skills, have your new track lights installed by a qualified electrician.

Read about How to Begin a Lighting Project.

Learn How-to Install Track Lighting.

Find out about Energy Wise Lighting

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