Easy Fix For Ceiling Hole Too Big For Recessed Light

  • 01 of 08

    Here's How To Fix a Ceiling Hole That's Too Big For a Recessed Light Can

    Hole Is Too Big For Ceiling Light
    Hole is too big for ceiling light.

    It's no problem when you're installing a recessed light and the ceiling hole is too small. Use your jabsaw to file away excess drywall until the hole is large enough. 

    But it's a monumental problem if the ceiling hole is too large for the recessed light.  Since old-work recessed ("can") lights depend on the drywall to hold them up, if the hole is too big, the light has nothing to hold onto.  It's just floating there in mid-air.

    How This Happens

    There is no good solution; the...MORE best solution is "Don't cut the hole too big in the first place."  But stuff happens, right?  I neglected to check my Klein adjustable hole saw's measurement before cutting a 6.25" hole and ended up with an awful mess for my 6" Halo light.  The blades were in the wrong place, plus they weren't firmly secured.  Now, what?

    5 Solutions

    Lots of drywall problems can be fixed "post-production" with creative mudding and tape.  But a ceiling hole doctored this way has edges that will immediately snap off upon use.  A few ways homeowners and builders have dealt with overly large ceiling holes:

    • Move:  Shift the entire location of the light, using the cut-out circle to patch the first hole.  The issue with this:  Maybe you can't--or don't want to--move the light.
    • Ready-Made Patch:  Buy a product made for the job, like the StepSaver Goof-Light Patch.  The issue here:  These are just adhesive paper--a strong paper, but paper nonetheless.  Plus, this product is not easily obtainable.
    • Switch To New-Construction Light:  Forget the whole idea of using an old-work light.  Instead, cut out the entire square of drywall surrounding the light and mount a new-construction light.  This hangs independently of the ceiling drywall.  You can reuse the old drywall if you managed to get it out in one piece or make a new piece.
    • Metal:  Create new trim circles out of sheet metal that fit around the light and hold them snug up against the ceiling. Problem here: Sheet metal is hard for the average homeowner to easily cut without mangling it. But this is on the right track.
    • Cut a Perfect Ring:  Make the perfect-sized "trim" piece out of the right plastic material.  Read on...
    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Use Cake Separator Plate As New Outer Trim For Recessed Light

    Use Cake Separator Plate
    Use cake separator plate.

    The material has to fulfill some contradictory needs.  It needs to be:

    • Strong enough to hold the light snug up against the ceiling drywall.
    • Soft enough to cut without mangling it.
    • Thin enough that those little beasts--those recessed light clips--will snap down.  If the fix material is too thick, the clips will not engage.
    • Attractive and aesthetically in line with the rest of the light and its trim work.  More to the point, the outer edge needs to be perfect.

    I scoured the racks at Home Depot for...MORE anything that would work--even other can light trim that I could hack--before finding a good material at an unlikely place.

    It's a Wilton cake separator.  Because of its 8" diameter, it's the perfect size for both 6" and 5" recessed lights (though Wilton also offers plates from 6" to 16").  Its smooth, rounded face and edges look like actual trim. 

    Best of all, it's made of a hard polystyrene that will not bend or crack when stressed.  Yet it is soft enough to cut.

    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Cut Off Bottom Legs of Separator Plate

    Cut Off Bottom Legs of Separator Plate
    Cut off bottom legs of separator plate.

    Begin by cutting off the 4 legs on the bottom of the plate.  Use any tool that can cut plastic at a 0 to 5-degree angle (i.e., nearly flat) such as a multi-tool.

    In this image, you're looking at a Bosch Multi-Tool fitted with a Wood blade.

    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Use Template To Draw Inner Circle For Cut

    Use Template To Draw Inner Circle For Cut
    Use template to draw inner circle for cut.

    All recessed lights should come with a paper template for drawing a circle on the ceiling prior to cutting.  

    Instead of this, you'll center the template on the separator plate and hold it down with a couple of painter's tape strips.

    With a sharpened carpenter's pencil, scribe a circle on the separator plate.  Remove the template.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Tape Material Down To Scrap Drywall or Wood

    Tape Material Down To Cardboard or Drywall
    Tape material down to cardboard or drywall.

    Tape the separator plate down to a cutting surface with painter's tape.  Use a scrap piece of drywall or soft wood, like pine.  Don't use cardboard or paper, as this will catch on fire in the next step.

    Tape thoroughly on four sides.  Press down the masking tape so that no bubbles or folds remain.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Cut Along Line With RotoZip

    Cut Along Line With RotoZip
    Cut along line with RotoZip.

    Set your RotoZip tool to its lowest setting.  Put on your safety glasses and hearing protection.

    If you want, you can practice cutting some of the polystyrene in the center of the circle to get a feel for it before making your real cut.

    Cut right on the line.  

    If you leave too much of the line showing, the circle will be too small to fit around the recessed light.  This material is difficult to sand down to size.

    If you cut beyond the line, the circle will be too loose and will not properly hold...MORE the light.

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Slowly Fit New Trim Over Light

    Slowly Fit New Trim Over Light
    Slowly fit new trim over light.

    If you have any melted plastic nibs, flake them off with your fingernail.  

    Work your new "trim" ring up and over the light.  Your inner cut will not be a perfect circle, but that is to your benefit.  This allows you to rotate the ring to get past some of those protruding sections on the light.

    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    With New Trim Can Light Fits Too-Large Hole

    With New Trim Can Light Fits Too-Large Hole
    With new trim can light fits too-large hole.

    Now test out your light by putting it in place.  It should fit tight against the ceiling drywall with no gaps showing.  If there are gaps, you can:  decide to live with them (if small enough); cut a larger ring from new material; or give the gap a little swipe of caulk after the entire light and trim have been installed.