When they work right, recessed lights tuck neatly out of the way and remain flush with the ceiling. They are especially good in low-ceiling areas such as basements. But the mechanics of getting recessed lights to stay up, flush, and out of the way, can be tricky.
If you own recessed lights, no doubt you have at least a couple that are in crooked positions, likely due to spring clips that refuse to stay in place. If you are truly unlucky, that one light has multiple spring clips that have failed, leaving the entire light hanging by wires. Thankfully, you can fix a recessed lighting fixture that is sliding from the ceiling by removing the light, then adjusting or stapling the clip back into place.
Recessed Lighting Trim
Different types of trim can be used for various recessed lighting fixtures and brands. Your lights may have torsion spring clips or friction spring clips, depending on the type of trim they're installed with. Before purchasing new spring clips to repair your lights, it's important to figure out which type of trim you have. You can determine the type of clips needed based on your lighting's trim type and specific brand.
Some recessed light fixtures can rotate in different directions, be adjusted to different angles, or even retract further into the ceiling. The following types of trim are adjustable:
- Eyeball trim: This trim allows the light to protrude from the trim itself and angle or rotate in different directions.
- Gimbal trim: Similar to eyeball trim, gimbal trim allows the light to rotate, but houses the light inside the trim rather than protruding below it.
- Retractable trim: The lights inside retractable trim can be moved up and down on a fixed angle to fit ceilings that aren't level.
- Slotted trim: Perfect for highlighting an accent in a room, slotted trim has a similar appearance to pinhole trim. However, slotted trim is adjustable and features a smaller opening for bright, directed light.
- Open trim: This trim is installed for light bulbs that are not encased.
- Reflector trim: With a mirror-like coating on the inside of the trim, reflectors offer widespread lighting for larger areas.
- Pinhole trim: Best for accent lighting, this trim directs light toward a certain object or area in the room with a fixed angle.
- Shower trim: Also called lensed trim, this light is encased completely inside the light with a flat surface on the bottom for a waterproof fixture.
- Wall wash trim: Similar in appearance to eyeball trim, wall wash trim does not rotate and features a shield that points light in one direction while making it less harsh.
Before You Begin
It helps to first understand how a downlight spring clip works. If you could see inside of a closed ceiling plenum, you would see engaged clips that look much like the legs of a spider. Ceiling light clips are installed by being pressed into place, then moved upward and downward to form a leg. Four of these springy legs combine to hold the light in place against the ceiling drywall.
When properly engaged, the clip will lock in place and you can feel it as it clicks. When the clip does not engage, the clip will be loose. It might even look like it is flat against the inside of the light, but when you touch it, the clip rattles, which means it is not doing its job.
2 Simple Repairs That May Fix the Spring Clips
Before taking the more decisive repair detailed below, you can try fixing recessed lighting that is hanging low with the following spring clip repairs:
Bend the Spring Clip
With the light disengaged and accessible, bend the spring clips outward. This may help the clips better engage when the light is pushed back into place.
Strike the Spring Clip
Another method recommended by some do-it-yourselfers and even a few electricians is to sharply rap the spring clip once—and just once—into place with a small, heavy object such as a pair of side-cutting lineman's pliers. If one rap does not do it, subsequent raps rarely will help.
Permanently Jam the Spring Clip in Place
Often the methods of re-bending the clip and striking it simply will not work. Wedging an item such as a staple in place becomes one of the better options for getting the spring clip to stay in place.
To permanently jam a spring clip in place, you need just one tool: a heavy-duty staple gun. You cannot use an office stapler or even a lightweight shop stapler.
Equipment / Tools
- Heavy-duty staple gun
- Voltage tester
- Flat-head screwdriver
Turn Off the Power
Access the Light
Place the ladder under the light. Remove the bulb, then remove the entire light from the ceiling by pulling downward to release the spring clips. With a voltage tester, make sure that no power is flowing through the electric cables.
Check to make sure that all electrical wires are properly fastened to joists and safely clear of the lower portion of the light. Replace the light with the bulb still removed and push the spring clips into place.
Staple Between the Clip and the Housing
If you manage to aim just right, you can fire a staple so that one leg of the staple jams between the clip and the housing. The other staple leg bends over to form an arm that holds the clip in place.
Puncture Recessed Light Housing
If you don't manage to fire on target, an alternate method is to actually puncture the recessed light housing with one leg of the staple. The other leg will form the arm that holds the clip in place.
The reason this works is that the housing is made of thinner, cheaper material than the sturdier clip.
As noted, recessed lights are best left alone. The more you work at them, the weaker they get. Your light likely has a lifespan of one or two more re-staplings before you simply need to replace the entire light housing.
What are the parts of a recessed light called?
What is the difference between a can light and a recessed light?
Can lights are a type of recessed lighting that use metal housing to hold standard light bulbs. Some other types of recessed lighting are designed for LED lights, which are more energy efficient and do not need to be replaced as often.
How do recessed light clips work?
Recessed light clips attach the fixture to the ceiling by being pushed inward inside the can, then expanding out to hold the clip inside the drywall.