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A downlight is a light that is recessed into a ceiling and that throws light downwards in a narrow beam. When it is turned on, it looks like light is shining down out of the ceiling. Downlights are composed of a housing that is inset into the ceiling, the globe, and a transformer to convert the power voltage into one that is safe for the downlight to use. They are very popular because they use less energy, produce less heat, and emit more light than fluorescent and incandescent globes.

Tips on downlights:

  • Positioning downlights is the most common mistake people make. Make sure that the downlights are no closer than 600mm from the walls. You should now work out the position of the other lights by spacing them at intervals of between 900mm and 1200mm. From these figures you should now be able to calculate how many fitting will be in a row and how many rows you will need. 
  • The differences between downlights are in their types of globes: halogen, CFL (compact fluorescent light) and LED.
  • If you want to achieve mood light, definitely consider dimmable downlights.
  • It is worth noting that LED downlights are more expensive but the amount of energy you will be able to save and the fact that they are long-lasting will be worth your investment. LED downlights can last up to 50,000 hours, which is 10 times longer than your average halogen or CFL downlight. Another benefit is that LED downlights are safe and do not produce a lot of heat, which means they can even be installed near flammable materials. Also LED lights do not produce UV radiation which makes them effective for installation in areas where works of art or treasured possessions are to be displayed.
  • Space your downlights around the room - don't cram.
  • Do NOT trust your electrician to design the spacing of your downlights! They are not interior designers!
  • In the bathroom, the downlight should be installed over the basin to make shaving or applying makeup easy.
  • In corridors, put the downlights in the centre of the corridor and increase the spacing depending on the width of the corridor. Typically the spacing can be a lot greater because this is a transit area and does not require a lot of light. In narrow corridors the spacing can be as much as 1500mm. Do not start more than about 1000mm from the beginning or end of the corridor and think about doorways and light switches.

Types of downlights:

  • Fixed downlights: these have the globe fixed within the holder either by using a spring clip or by a twist lock mechanism. Once the globe is in, it cannot move and points directly down.
  • Gimbles: with these, the centre of the fitting can be tilted allowing adjustment of the spotlight beam. These can be an advantage if you want to point the light in different directions.
  • Eyeballs: these are a type of gimbal that can be adjusted through quite a large range. They have a protruding eyeball containing the globe.
  • Square: most downlights are round but square downlights offer something a little bit extra, with a flare of style.
  • Diffusers: these are downlights that have a semi-transparent pane of glass in front of them to diffuse the light. They are very classy.
  • Twins: these contain two square downlights and offer a more modern design.