How to Install Track Lighting
Versatile, multi-directional, and simple to install, track lighting works well in kitchens, living rooms, hallways, and dining areas.
Track lighting eliminates the need to open up the ceiling in order to route the wires behind the drywall. Once installed, light units can be turned 360 degrees, and they can even be slid to different sections of the track.
Only basic electrical skills are required to install track lighting. Once you've tapped into an existing power feed from the ceiling light, the rest is just a matter of attaching the tracks to the ceiling. Within a couple of hours, you'll have dependable directional lighting placed exactly where you need it.
What Is Track Lighting?
Track lighting is a surface-mounted lighting system that uses tracks or rails to supply electricity down the entire line. Individual lights called track heads can be installed at any point along the track. Track lighting is classified as directional lighting because it brightens specific areas rather than the room in general.
Before You Begin
Track lighting requires a single-branch 120V lighting circuit controlled by a wall switch. Rooms are required by electrical code to have a light that turns on via a switch near the door.
While a switch-controlled outlet (with lamp) is accepted by code, more often the requirement is satisfied with a permanent ceiling light—a perfect origination point for track lighting.
Where to Install Track Lighting
Track lighting can originate at any 120V ceiling-mounted electrical box. Usually, this box is located at the center of the room. If you'd like the track here, the track will run outward from the box in 4-, 6- or 8-foot sections of track, as you choose.
You may want to light up a different area of the room, such as above a kitchen countertop. In this case, the track will originate at the center ceiling box. One section of track will run to the area you want to illuminate. At the end of the track will be either a T-adapter coupler (to branch out in two different directions), a right-angle coupler (to branch out in one direction), or a blank off-end cap (if no other track piece is being added to the original piece of track).
Track heads drop 4 to 6 inches below the height of the ceiling. So, be careful when installing tracks over aisles and walkways with ceilings lower than 8 feet. It's probably not a good idea to install it at all on ceilings of 7 feet or less.
Turn off power at the circuit breaker before you begin this project. After you open up the electrical box, first verify that there is no power by checking with a no-contact voltage tester.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Cordless drill
- Drill bits and drivers
- 6-foot ladder
- Wire stripper
- Metal file
- Tape measure
- Stud finder
- Non-contact voltage tester
- 4-foot track lighting system kit
- Toggle bolts
Plan Track Lighting Layout
Measure the distance from the box to the end of the track. Use the stud finder to locate the positions of the joists behind the ceiling drywall. If the track's intended pathway happens to run below a stud, you'll be able to use ordinary screws. If not, use toggle bolts.
Cut Track (Optional)
If the track needs to be shortened, most tracks can be cut to the preferred size with a hacksaw. Deburr the cut end of tracks with a metal file. Re-install the dead-end fitting and screw it into place.
Remove Ceiling Light or Faceplate
Remove the existing ceiling light and mounting plate. If the box is covered with a blank faceplate instead of a light, remove it. Run the non-contact voltage tester over the wires to verify that there is no live power in the box.
Separate Canopy From Mounting Plate
The metal mounting plate and canopy (a metal or plastic cover) may come pre-attached for shipping purposes. Separate them by removing the connecting screws.
Attach Track's Electrical Connector to Wires
The twist-on connector with wires should be attached to the box's electrical wires. Connect same-color wires: black to black or red to red; white to white; and bare copper to bare copper (or green). Twist the provided wire connector caps over the wires.
Install Mounting Plate
Install the track light's metal mounting plate to the electrical box with the screws provided with the kit.
Mark Hole Locations
Hold up the track to the ceiling. Mark drill locations for the ceiling holes by drawing a mark through the holes in the track. Remove the track.
Install Track to Ceiling
Drill 5/8-inch holes at the marked locations. Thread the toggle bolts through the matching holes in the track. Add the bolts' wings, threading them on about 1/4-inch. Press the bolts into the holes. Screw the bolts into place with the cordless drill and tighten the track against the ceiling.
Attach Mounting Plate to Track
Attach the track to the mounting plate with the provided screws.
Install Track's Electrical Connector to Track
Twist the electrical connector into the track.
Attach Canopy (Cover)
Snap or screw the canopy over the mounting plate. The canopy will cover up the wires.
Install Track Heads and Light Bulbs
Twist the track heads onto the track and add appropriately sized light bulbs. Turn the circuit back on and test the lights at the wall switch.
When to Call a Professional
A licensed, qualified electrician can install track lighting for you. If there is no existing power source, it's best to hire an electrician to tap into the home's electric service panel and add a new circuit. The new circuit will need to be fished through the ceiling or walls to the intended wall switch. Then, power will run off of the power switch and up to the ceiling.
210.70(A)(1). NEC 2017, National Fire Protection Association.