How to Install Recessed Lighting in Drop Ceiling Panels

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Things You'll Need

  • Graph paper

  • Pencil

  • Ladder

  • Tape measure

  • Pencil dividers

  • Keyhole saw

  • Linemen’s pliers

  • Drill

  • Phillips screw tip

  • 1 inch wood screws

  • Ceiling wire suspension clips

  • Ceiling suspension wire

Drop ceilings or suspended ceilings are commonly used as a ceiling finish in basements and home theaters. Installing recessed lights has become a popular lighting option for rooms with a drop ceiling. Whether installing a new drop ceiling or mounting the recessed lights in an existing ceiling, you need to address the electrical requirements of the lights and the additional support that each recessed light fixture will require.


Step 1

Determine the locations for the recessed lights. Use the graph paper to make a scale drawing of the room and layout each recessed light location on the drawing. Remove one tile from the drop ceiling and measure the distance from the ceiling grid to the floor joists, multiply the distance by four. Each recessed light will require four additional support points. Multiplying by four will give you a rough idea of the amount of suspension wire needed for each recessed light.

Step 2

Remove the ceiling tile at each recessed light location. Run the wire to each location or hire an electrician if you do not have electrical experience. Screw four suspension wire clips to the floor joists above the ceiling tile where the light will be located. Two clips are needed per side, located 7 inches off the center of the recessed light location.


Step 3

Cut the suspension wire to the distance between the mounting clip and the main T-bar plus 24 inches. An additional 6 inches for a top wrap and 18 inches for the bottom wrap are required to properly secure the suspension wire. Place a 90 degree bend on one end of each wire using the linemen's pliers.

Step 4

Feed the bent end of the wire through the wire suspension clip. Bend the wire down and over the length of wire hanging towards the ceiling grid. Grasp both pieces of wire with the linemen's pliers and twist clockwise three or four times to lock the wires together. Hang all the wires from the clips.


Step 5

Bend the loose end of the suspension wire and feed it through the main T-bar. Bend the wire over itself, keeping the wire taunt, care needs to be taken not to pull the main out of level. If the suspension wires around you start to get slack, release tension on the suspension wire you are installing.

Step 6

Mark the center-line for the recessed hole on the finished face of the ceiling tile. Set the dividers to scribe a circle that is sized per the installation instructions. Scribe the circle using the center-line that you marked on the tile.

Step 7

Cut out the hole using the keyhole saw. Insert the keyhole saw by applying pressure into the ceiling tile and moving the saw from side to side. Support the tile while you make the cut to reduce the chances that the tile will break. Lightly move the keyhole saw back and forth with light pressure to cut the hole. Run your hand around the cut to remove loose particles from the tile. Set each tile back into its opening.


Step 8

Remove a ceiling tile next to the cut tile. Slide a C channel into each side of the recessed light can and clip the channels onto the T-bar main. Wire each light or have an electrician perform the task.

Step 9

Replace the ceiling tile and move onto the next recessed light. Install the light bulbs and snap the trim ring onto the recessed light housing. Turn on the power to the circuit for the lights. Turn on the light switch to ensure that the lights are wired properly.


references & resources

C.L. Rease

C.L. Rease , based in Texas, has been a professional construction and outdoor writer since 2003. His articles have appeared in The News-Press, a local Southwest Florida newspaper and a small Southwest Florida fishing magazine. Rease served a four year apprenticeship to become a union sheet metal journeyman and earned a construction management degree from Florida State University.