One way to completely transform the look of a room is to install track lighting. It’s versatility in providing a focused light source allows you to highlight corners, walls, nooks, artwork and other artifacts like museum. It’s something it does very well, even better than canned/recessed lighting.
This ability to control what gets emphasized (or “lit”) in your home is made possible by how you install track lighting. Tracks can run in various forms and locations, and track lights can twist and rotate to get just the feel you want. Put them on a dimmer, and you’re a regular theatrical lighting technician. Fixtures can be traditional cans, or just about anything you can imagine in terms of shape and form, including cones, mesh or even pendants that hang down.
After you decide a track lighting system is the way to go, it’s good to learn some important steps and tips for installing track lighting. Some basics like which type is best for your needs, where to place and how to hang the tracks, how to connect into your existing fixture’s electricity and which kind of light bulbs to use are just a few things you should learn more about.
When you install your track lighting you should understand one basic concept: One end (or segment) of the track is designed to accept wiring from the ceiling outlet. From this point, electricity is carried along the track, but it only flows when you place a track light along the path. The portion that receives the current is attached via a plate that affixes to your ceiling electrical box with screws.
The wiring connection for track lighting is the same as any other fixture in your house–connect same-colored wires together and be sure that the green or bare-wire (ground) attaches to the grounding terminal on your track or electrical cover plate. With that, let’s go through the overall steps for replacing an existing light with track lighting.
How to install track lighting
In these steps, we’ll put up track lighting in place of your old fixture. Your first step is to turn off power to the circuit you’re working on. If you’re in doubt, definitely test the wires you see coming from your fixture’s box, or turn off power to the whole house during installation.
- With the old light fixture removed, pull the black or colored wire, white wire and green/bare wire through the opening in your track lighting’s cover plate or canopy.
- Attach your new plate to the ceiling box with screws that should be included with your track lighting system. Wires should just be hanging now, ready to tie into your track in a bit.
- Hold the lighting track in place on the ceiling in the location and position you want it to attach. You can have someone direct you from below to ensure it’s even. You can also do this yourself, by measuring equal distances for example from a nearby wall. Then put painter’s tape where the track should go. When in place, mark the locations of the holes where the track’s mounting screws need to go in.
- Next, drill your holes for the mounting bolts. See below for tips on what to use.
- Get the track in place and tighten down on the ceiling. If you’re using toggle bolts, sometimes you have to pre-assemble these through the track mounting holes first. The best tip here is to just follow the instructions carefully for the product you buy.
- Now, pull the wires you handled earlier and feed them to the screw terminals on the end (or electrical connecting part) of the track. Be sure to follow color-coded matches.
- Install the cover plate over the wires, so they are hidden.
- Now, the fun part–follow the directions on how to attach your light fixtures. Many track lights install by pressing into the track, then twisting it half way. You’ll know when it’s in, because it will stay in the track’s groove easily. Don’t force things if you run into resistance.
- Assess what you want track lighting to do before buying and installing a new track lighting system. You may want just a straight track, or it might make sense to create a shape using straight pieces of track (they are easily joined with fittings (U-shapes, L-shapes, V-shapes or crosses can easily be made. You can also opt for special flexible designs or industrial looking cable-style tracks.
- Ceiling types: the directions above assume you’re installing track lighting into standard drywall or plaster. If you’re hanging tracking lighting from a false ceiling (one withe panels), the panels may not be strong enough to hold the track and lights. You may be able to use a cable-track that secures to opposing walls in this case.
- Mounting screws used to hold track lighting up come in a few varieties. If you buy a new system, the fasteners should be included in your box. If you track is small, it’s possible you can use plastic plug-type anchors. They push through a pre-drilled hole and expand as you turn a screw inside. They are plastic though, and are only as strong as their grip on the drywall. It’s better to use toggle bolts for installing track lighting. These hold much more weight. You just need to drill a hole the size of the folded up toggle. When you press it through the hole, it expands resting on the other side of the ceiling’s drywall.
- Voltage: track-lighting systems come in either low or high voltage. Low-voltage types will need some kind of transformer to bring the voltage down. Line-voltage heads will use a standard 120-volt current. These are the most common and are great at general lighting. Most “artsy” type track lighting models such as the cool flexible kind are low-voltage and come with at transformer. These are great for providing focused accent lighting and more layout options. Halogen bulbs in these cases provide a really nice light color (like sunlight), different from the cold compact fluorescent bulbs.
- Current rating: check the current rating at the location where you’re installing track lighting. A typical circuit will be able to carry a 15-amp load. Check your product to see what it’s load is with all the fixtures installed. If it’s too much, you’ll be overloading the circuit and will find yourself in the dark!