If you want to create some interesting lighting effects, why not replace your standard pendant light fittings with streamlined recessed spotlights? These come with fittings to take a range of bulbs, including low energy and halogen. Or you could choose low-voltage halogen spotlights which are a particularly safe and practical option in your kitchen or bathroom.
How to fit ceiling spotlights
As you'll need to cut holes in your ceiling to fit recessed spotlights, always lift the floorboards in the room above to make sure there are no joists or obstructions where you want to fit them. If you have a few fittings to install, it's worth thinking about putting up a work platform - it'll make your job easier, quicker and safer.
Most recessed spotlights come with a template for marking the fixing hole. But if yours don't, use a pair of compasses to draw a circle in pencil on the ceiling. After checking for pipes or cables with a detector, drill a small hole through - just inside the circle.
Go back up and double-check all is clear from above. Then from below insert the blade of a pad saw or plasterboard saw and cut around the marked circle. Make sure you're wearing safety goggles and a mask when you do this. After you've removed the disc of plasterboard from the ceiling, you should find that your lights slot into place on spring clips that grip the plasterboard around them.
How to fit mains voltage recessed spotlights
If you want to replace your pendant ceiling light with recessed spotlights, start by installing the lights and running 1mm² of two-core-and-earth cable back to the position of the ceiling rose. For each extra light, you'll need to split the supply cable at a three-terminal junction box, and connect the matching cores at each terminal. Clip the new cables neatly to the sides of the joists.
Safety first - Spotlight and transformer heat
Because spotlights (and particularly transformers) can get very hot, they're a potential fire risk if there's not enough ventilation. So always pull any insulation material well clear of the fitting, and fit specially designed heat diffusers to your down lighters. If your transformer is hidden in a ceiling void, you must be able to get to it from the floorboards above or a trap door below. It's worth checking the manufacturer's instructions before fitting a transformer, as some aren't designed to operate in an unventilated ceiling void. In a loft, it's a good idea to protect your fittings from accidental damage by building a plywood box around them - but be sure to leave the top open for ventilation. In some situations, the Building Regulations state that all recessed ceiling lights must be enclosed in fire-proof compartments, even when they're installed in a multi-occupancy building.
After isolating the lighting circuit and double-checking the power is off with a voltage tester, disconnect the cable or cables from your existing ceiling rose. If it's a loop-in system, label the cables so you can see which are the circuit cables and the switch drop. There should be a length of brown sleeving on the blue core of the switch drop cable (the black core, if your wiring is in the old colours) that's connected to the live (brown) core of the flex to the light.
Unscrew the rose base plate and push the cables back through the ceiling.
If a single cable supplied the old rose, connect it to the new cable for the spotlights through a three-terminal junction box. If you find two or three cables, connect these to a four-terminal junction box.
At the spotlights, strip the outer sheathing of the supply cable, expose the ends of the cores and connect them to the light. Make sure you've positioned the spring clips correctly and push the light into its hole. Then check the clips have engaged the plasterboard and are holding the light firmly in place.
Complete the job by repairing the hole where the ceiling rose was with filler, if you need to. Sand it smooth when it's dry, and then paint it.
How to install low-voltage (12-volt) recessed spotlights
A fairly recent innovation in domestic lighting, low-voltage halogen lights are smaller than normal lights - with a neat, streamlined appearance. They give a variety of lighting effects, which makes them useful for general lighting or picking out features in the room. They're easy to install and are a safe option - particularly in kitchens, as they carry no risk of electrocution. You can simply clip low-voltage cables along the top or underside of your units. The light is very bright and directed, which is perfect over your kitchen work surface.
Low-voltage lights take their power from a 12-volt transformer. You can link this to a spur taken from a nearby power circuit via a 5-amp fused connection unit. If you switch the connection unit, you can use it to turn the lights on and off. Or you can power the lights and transformer from a lighting circuit. Install a four-terminal junction box in a suitable position and run cables to a new switch and transformer, and from there to the lights.
You'll need to match the transformer output wattage to the combined wattage of the lamps it'll supply. Use 1.5mm² of two-core-and-earth cable for the spur or circuit cable to the transformer. Low-voltage lights usually come with cable to run between the transformer and the lights, and you should use this without modifying it. If a cable kit isn't supplied, you can use 1.5mm² two-core-and-earth cable if the runs are short (up to three metres). You won't need to earth the lights (but always follow the manufacturer's instructions).
One planet home
The latest LED spotlights are versatile, stylish and safe - and give you dramatic energy savings compared with conventional lights. Unlike other kinds of spotlights, they're cool to the touch. And, powered by a plug-in transformer, they use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. They make excellent low-level lights on a kitchen plinth or staircase - and you can even fit them in a bathroom, or outdoors on a porch or deck.