Should track lights be installed on beam or at the ceiling ?

a big room with couch, bed and a ceiling with wooden beams on it

Ceiling with wooden beams are my favourite. Not only they looks very beautiful but also they add a sense of nature in the room. Their look is further enhanced if proper lighitng is done for the room. This is where track lights becomes the best method to illuminate a room with beams. This post explains while illuminating a room with beams on ceiling where exactly should the track lights be either on beam or at the ceiling.

lets begin,

There are mainly 2 reasons why track lighting should be installed on the beams and not on the ceiling

1. From a design perspective

Jason Livingston, a prominent architectural lighting expert in his book “Designing with light” has explained the various components of lighting design. One of the component of lighting design is to highlight the architectural elements of a particular room.

If track lights are installed on the ceiling, the beams would be left blank.

Hence, track lightng should always be installed on the beam because by installing track lights on the beams we utilize beams for highlighting the unique look of the ceiling.

2. From a performance and efficiency perspective

The purpose of lighting design is also to get lighting in the most efficient way. Therefore, the less distance track lights and floor have in between them the better because compared to other light sources track lights provides less brightness. Thus placing them on the ceiling would decrease the intensity of lights on the floor.

Thus, to overcome the loss in brightness, track lighting with greater wattage would be required which would not be as energy efficient as other light sources.

Futher if track lights are intalled on the ceiling instead of the beam, some of the light from the track lights would get blocked by the beams and would created shadows on the floor below.

Therefore, following the principles of lighting design track lights should be installed on the beam.

Having discussed where to place track lights the next thing to know is how many track lights can be placed on one beam.

How many track lights should be on a beam ?

If the length of beam is same as the length of ceiling

If the beam on ceiling is long i.e same as the length of ceiling, then a single beam can have 6 to 7 purpose of track light heads at each side only if the purpose of lighting is to illuminate the entire room and not just to highlight certain objects or spots within room.

If the purpose of using track lights is just to highlight a particular spot or area and other light sources are also used in the room then , on single beam 3 – 4 track lights would be sufficient.

You might ask,

Should all beams on the ceiling have track lights ?

The answer is no. All beams do not specifically require to have track lights on them. It is only when the lighting is not sufficient from track lights on a single beam, other beams on the ceiling are required to install track lights.

If the beam is divided on the ceiling

If there are intersection at beams on the ceiling. then a single beam can have 3 – 4 track lights head at each side if the purpose of lighting is general overall illumination.

If the purpose is to highlight only a particular thing then both sides of the beam does not require to be installed with track lights only one side facing the object to highlight should have track lights on it.

Adding more track lights on small beam would make it look overwhelmed with track lights thereby decreasing the aesthetic appeal.

Moreover, if there are too many lights on a single beam of short length then the area below the beam would get more brightness which could lead to uneven distribution of light across the room.

Now as far we have discussed whether track lights should be on a beam or ceiling and also how many track lights should be on a ceiling, the next useful thing to know is that what size track lights to install on a beam

what size track lights should be on beam ?

The correct size of track lights head is directly proportional to the size of the room and height of the ceiling. Generally speaking the bigger the size of the room and higher the ceiling, the greater is the size of track lights to be installed on the beam.

For a standard size room with 8 ft ceiling, the size of track lights to be installed on the beam is 3 to 4 inches wide.

Higher ceilings demands more bright light source which means if there are two room of same size but one room have 8 ft ceiling and other have 9 ft ceiling and if both of these rooms were to be illuminated with track lights of same size then,

to illuminate the room with 9 ft ceiling, the track lights would have to consume more power to meet the lighting requirement of room with 9 ft ceiling as compared to room with 8 ft ceiling.

Pro tip: Try to keep the width of track lights small. The smaller is the width of track lights is the greater is their aesthetic appeal.

(Track lights with width between 2 to 3 inches looks better as compared to track lights with width greater than 3.5 inches.)

below are some tables that shows the track lights sizes for a particular room with beams on ceiling.

  • For living room with beams on ceiling.
Height of living room ceilingwidth of track lights
8 ft2 – 3 inches
9 ft3- 3.3 inches
10 ft3.5 – 4 inches
11 ft4 – 4.2 inches
12 ft4.5 inches
  • For kitchen with beams on ceiling.
Height of kitchen ceilingwidth of track lights
8 ft3 inches
9 ft3.3 – 3.5 inches
10 ft3.5 – 4 inches
11 ft4.2 – 4.5 inches
12 ft5 inches
  • For bedroom with beams on ceiling.
Height of bedroom ceilingwidth of track lights
8 ft2 inches
9 ft2.5 inches
10 ft3 inches

having discussed the suitable size for track lights to be installed on a beam there is another important aspect of track lighs that is required to be properly calculated while installing them and that is the beam angle.

what should be the beam angle of track lights when placed on the beam ?

For highlighting a particular spot in a room the most popularly used beam angle of track lights is 24 degrees. This beam angle helps to focus more light at a spot when light comes out of the track head.

However for overall illuminating the room and if there are no other light sources used in the room, the beam angle of track lights should be greater than 25 degrees. So that the light while coming put from the track head gets dispersed as widely as it can.

The greater is the dispersion of light from the track heads the more uniform will be the distribution of light on the floor of the room.

The best beam angle for overall illumination of the room with track light is between 45 to 55 degrees

The best practice while getting track lights is to always get track lights that have adjustable beam angle as well as adjustable color temperature.

How to install track lighting on a beam ?

Track lights should be installed at the bottom parts of the beams, This helps to minimize the distance between track heads and floor.

While installing track lights head that faces directly downards, make sure the tip of track heads is always lower then the bottom of the beam. Doing this would avoid the light from track head to get blocked by the ceiling.

Step 1.

Before installing any electronic item the first step is to always turn the main power switch off.

Step 2.

With the help of a tester test for no current in the wires of the outlet. Then make the connection between wire from the outlet on the ceiling and wires on the light fixture. Join white wire with white and black wire with black.

Step 3.

After making the connections secure the track on the beam with the help of screws. Refer the video below for clear instructions.

Once the track is fixed, place the track heads on the track as shown in the video below.

How to install track lighting on beams on a vaulted ceiling ?

For vaulted ceilings, the track lights should always be placed horizontally across the beams so that all the trach heads can be on the same horizontal line.

The reason for not placing track lights vertically is to avoid non uniform distribution of light. When placed vertically the track lights placed a the bottom parts of beam would cast more light on the floor as compared to the track lights placed on the upper part of vertical beam.

In contrary, when track lights are installed horizontally all track lights heads lie on the one horizontal line which causes all track lights to cast same amount of light on the floor thus creates a uniform distribution of light.

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