Track lighting is a versatile, highly customizable lighting option that can be used in almost any situation or space. It's perfect for ambient or general lighting, task lighting, or even accent lighting for art pieces, shelving, or other objects of interest. These lights add both style and functionality to a space.
What Is Track Lighting?
A lighting fixture composed of a railing and moveable lights, also referred to as track heads, that attach to the railing. The track heads can be placed anywhere on the railing and are adjustable, making these light fixtures very versatile.
Deane Biermeier, a home remodel expert and member of The Spruce Home Review Board, points out that track lighting has changed from its earliest form. "Modern track lighting isn’t the industrial-looking, white coffee-can size lamps on a stick, pasted to the ceiling fixtures of 30 years ago." Today, there are many options to choose from, including the style, the type of lighting, the railing type, and even the way the track heads connect to the rail. All these factors require research and forethought to ensure your chosen track lighting functions as it should and delivers the best type of lighting possible. Find out all the details you need to know before purchasing track lighting for your home.
Meet the Expert
Deane Biermeier has decades of experience with home remodel projects. As a licensed contractor, he oversaw projects that varied in scope and scale. Deane currently is a member of The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board and runs a small home repair business, along with offering consultation services.
Before Buying New Track Lighting
Lighting can make or break a space. Lighting that is too dim can make a space feel dark and negatively impact its functionality. On the other hand, lighting that is too bright can make a space feel stark and uncomfortable. If you are finding that your current lighting situation is making your space feel awkward or unworkable, it might be time to rethink your lighting fixtures.
But before you make any buying decisions, take this advice from Deane: "Before purchasing track lighting, decide what you’re trying to achieve by using it. Lighting options include bulbs that fill a room with light or focus individual lamps in tight beams in various directions."
Track lighting can create the perfect lighting for each unique space thanks to its large array of options and its moveable track heads. By taking advantage of track lighting and its accommodating lighting features, you can create a space that is functional and comfortable. Deane summarizes the upsides of track lighting: "The benefits include energy efficiency, the ability to focus light where you need it, and appealing fixture designs that can complement any decor."
However, keep in mind that a track lighting fixture has lights that extend down lower than the ceiling. For this reason, it may not be the best choice for auxiliary lighting in rooms that already have a low ceiling height. Instead, you may want to consider recessed lighting.
Buying Considerations for Track Lighting
One major aspect of track lighting to consider is the type of railing that best suits your space. Railings are generally anywhere from 2 to 8 feet long. Some are straight, some are curvy, some can be connected to each other, and others can be cut into different lengths. Deciding how long you wish the track lighting to be and what shape best suits your space will help you narrow down your track lighting options.
Connector Type and Compatibility
There are three main connection types when it comes to attaching track heads to railings. These are J, H, and L. Each connection type only works with components of the same connection type; you cannot mix and match. Therefore, it is important to consider the type of track connection you choose, since this will determine what kind of track heads you can pick from.
Just as track connections determine what track heads you use, the track heads determine what lightbulbs you will use. Options include LED, halogen, incandescent, and fluorescent. If you prefer a specific bulb, be sure to check that your track lighting is compatible with both the style and the voltage.
Deane adds, "The majority of modern track lighting uses energy-efficient LED bulbs to fill a room with light using just a handful of lamp heads. This reduces the quantity of single-source lamps to provide the same amount of light saturation."
Single-Circuit vs. Double-Circuit
Single-circuit track lighting operates all track heads with one circuit, meaning they are all controlled at the same time by the same switch. A double-circuit track light has two separate circuits, meaning that some lights are controlled separately from others. This allows you to set two different lighting settings on the same track light unit. For example, some track heads can be set to ambient lighting, while others can be set to accent lighting for a nearby picture, or task lighting while you are reading.
Line Voltage vs. Low Voltage
Not all track lighting is the same when it comes to voltage requirements, making this an important factor to be aware of. Line voltage track lights are wired directly into the house the same way other lighting fixtures are. Most line voltage track lights work just fine with the standard 110 or 120-volt system within a home. On the other hand, low voltage track lights only use 12 to 24 volts. These require transformers or adapters to be connected to your home’s wiring system.
Track lighting systems may have extra features built in or they may be compatible with add-on accessories. Dimmer switches allow you to dim and brighten the light to a specific brightness. Lenses can be added to the track heads to lengthen or broaden the light beam. Colored lenses can also be added to change the color of the lighting. If any of these features are on your wish list, be sure to consider what your track lighting system comes with and what types of features it is compatible with.
Types of Track Lighting
Standard Track Lighting
Standard track lighting is made up of a straight railing and moveable track heads. Oftentimes, standard track lighting railings can be cut or connected to other railings. Standard track lighting is best used for straight or sharply angled spaces. They can be used to line a wall, or the corner of a room, or provide a straight line of lights to illuminate a gallery wall.
Fixed Track Lighting
Fixed track lighting is available with both curved and straight rails. Its main feature is the fixed track heads, which cannot be moved along the rails. Fixed track lighting works well in kitchens or above other counters where changing the location of the track heads is not usually required. Because the railing is smooth and does not have any open grooves for moveable track heads, fixed track lighting is also great for areas where a sleek, clean appearance is important. It's a good option when using track lighting in a modern home.
Swing Arm Track Lighting
Also called flexible track lighting, swing arm track lighting has a rail that can be manually changed into different angles thanks to flexible points along the rail. This is perfect for areas where a straight railing won’t fit. Its versatility and customizable angles make it a perfect choice for areas that would otherwise be hard to fill with a lighting structure.
Suspended Track Lighting
Suspended track lighting is dropped down from the ceiling or suspended away from the wall by a series of connector pieces. This type of track lighting varies from the original track lighting look, adding a hint of modern style to any room. These are great for rooms where a little extra flair is wanted. Suspended track lighting is also advantageous when you want to lower the light beam over an object, as in the case of illuminating a kitchen workspace or island.
Monorail Track Lighting
Monorail track lighting offers the greatest amount of customization, as the whole rail is bendable and the track heads can be placed anywhere along the rail. This allows you to create whatever curves or designs are needed to properly fill a space or accent other uniquely shaped items. These are perfect for complimenting a curvy workspace or making light available at unique angles.
Track lighting costs depend on the complexity of the track lighting system and any extra features included. Generally, track lighting systems cost around $100 to $200. Shopping during holiday times or at the end of the year often results in finding sale prices. These are great times to shop if you are looking to save some money and are not in immediate need of a new lighting fixture.
Installing track lighting yourself into pre-existing wiring will save money on installation costs. However, if you are unsure of how to properly or safely do the job, it is best to hire a professional. If there is no existing light fixture wiring, you should hire an electrician to install the wiring. A simple installation may be around $200 to $300, while running new wiring in the home will cost more.
How to Choose Track Lighting
What Kind of Lighting Do You Require?
When choosing track lighting, it is important to consider what kind of lighting you want the fixture to produce. For example, do you need movable track heads and railings for shop work or highly detailed tasks? A swing arm track lighting with beam filters may be best. Or are you looking to highlight a unique art collection? A standard track light would suffice.
How Much of the Space Needs Illuminating?
Keeping in mind the size of the space that requires illumination will also narrow down your choices. If the area is small, a unique monorail lighting may be just right. On the other hand, if the space is very large and requires many feet of lit area, long, standard track lights would be better suited for the space.
How Versatile Does The Lighting Need to Be?
Consider how often you plan on moving or changing the light beams. If the track light won’t be changed repeatedly after installation, a fixed track light may suit your purpose. However, if you need to continually change the direction or location of the track heads for specific lighting needs, a monorail track light or swing arm track light may be more useful. Suspended track lighting may also be ideal since it can be easier to reach.
Where to Shop
Buying in-store is a great way to see the style, materials, and functionality of task lighting fixtures in person before choosing one. Be sure to look at all the compatible options for each track lighting system, and ask a salesperson any questions about compatibility or voltage requirements. Ask if there are any warranties for the system and what the return policy is.
Buying online offers you the advantage of being able to browse a large array of options. Before purchasing online, be sure to thoroughly read the voltage requirements and understand system compatibility. Measure your space to ensure the light will fit properly. Look at any warranties, guarantees, and return policies, and keep an eye out for shipping details.
Where to Buy Track Lighting
Do all track heads fit the same track?
No, not all track heads are compatible with every rail. There are three types of track lighting connections: J, L, and H. The rail and the track head must be the same type to be compatible.
Are track lights hard to install?
If there is an existing electrical box, the track lights can simply be connected like any other light fixture. However, if there is no electrical box, new wiring must be added. For this, it is best to hire a professional.
How many lights can I put on a track?
This depends on the voltage of your track lighting system. It is best to only use 80 percent of the available watts to avoid overloading the light fixture. You will need to determine what each track head requires and add up the total voltage.