If you’re shopping for track lighting, it’s easy to find yourself confused or even a bit overwhelmed by all of the options. But a properly designed track system has function and versatility that serves many parts of the home very well, like kitchen islands, art lighting, hallway lighting, and others. We’ll break down the process to help you get your system installed in three simple steps.
3 Steps to Designing a Track Lighting Installation
1. Pick a Track Standard
The foundation of any track lighting system is the track itself. The track is the part that attaches to the ceiling or wall and it’s what the light fixtures are affixed to. It’s important to keep in mind that not all track lights (fixtures) fit all track types. There are three standard systems—and a bunch of proprietary ones. The three standards were developed by the early manufacturers of track lighting (Halo, Juno, and Lightolier), and we carry fixtures that are compatible with all three systems.
We refer to each by the first letter of each company’s name; if you already have track lighting installed, here’s a picture to help you figure out what you have:
Other track options to consider include TECH Lighting and Bruck Lighting. Bear in mind once you buy a proprietary system, you are restricted to track light fixtures made by the same company. To avoid problems, we recommend you pick one of the standards—H, J, or L—and stick with it.
2. Determine Layout + Power
After you’ve decided where you want to install track lighting, there is a range of track lengths and connectors to let you create the ideal layout (more on connectors below). Once you have the parts, you’ll find that they connect easily, kind of like an erector set.
Your track lighting will, of course, need power. There are two main methods to do this: a power supply attached to a junction box or a power cord from the track to a standard electrical outlet.
In order to connect the track to the junction box with a connector, you can either use a floating canopy connector (if you need power anywhere along the length of the track, excluding the ends) or a live end connector (if you need power at an end of the track). You may need to use a canopy plate to completely cover the junction box underneath the live end connector.
Using either a floating canopy connector or a live end connector will create the finished, “designer” look seen in professionally-designed interiors. However, if you do not have an existing junction box in your ceiling, you will need the services of an electrician to position one for you. If you want an easier approach, you can also use a plug and cord set (for L-series | for H- and J-series) to connect a live end connector to a plug on a wall. Make sure that you use the right plug set and remember that you will still need a live end connector. The corded solution may not look as clean as a junction box connection, but you will not need an electrician to install it.
After you have decided between, L, H, or J and have designed your track layout, you will need to make sure that you buy track fixtures that fit your track.
Track fixtures come in two main types: low voltage and line voltage. Line voltage is the raw voltage that you will find in standard outlets and junction boxes – 120 volts in the US. low voltage fixtures, which consume less electricity and provide a whiter light than line voltage fixtures, use 12-volt power and therefore require a transformer to convert the raw 120V to the desired 12V.
This transformer is a rectangular block about 4″ long that serves as both the base of the fixture and the connection to the track and comes as an integral part of any low voltage track fixture we sell. Since the conversion from 120V to 12V happens on the fixture itself, the track remains at the line voltage, meaning you could theoretically have both low voltage and line voltage fixtures on the same track, though few people choose to do this. You can have a large number of fixtures on a track; this number is dictated by the total wattage of the fixtures you plan to use and you can find the formula at answer 34 of our frequently asked questions.
3. Choose Your Lamps
Lamps (bulbs) differ in the diameter and brightness of the light that they create. A few common ones you’ll find are:
Spotlights, which create a focused bright light for illuminating specific things or places such as a picture, piece of art or workspace. These use a small (under 25) beam angle. When you shop YLighting, you’ll find a description of the beam angle produced by each bulb.
Floods, which use a large beam angle (25 and up).
Low voltage fixtures, which use halogen or LED MR 16 and MR 11 lamps.
Line voltage fixtures, which use a variety of lamping, depending on the fixture recommendation.
Combining floods and spots enables you to light both specific objects and general areas from the same track.
That’s all you need to put together a professional track lighting set-up. There are numerous ways that you can now modify or accessorize your track lighting, with things like:
Track Suspension Kits – These kits allow you to hang the track from the ceiling. This looks great in exposed high ceiling environments like lofts or creative spaces.
Connectors – You can connect tracks together into straight lines, ninety-degree turns or any angle for that matter. You can create closed loops and boxes without short circuits by using dead connectors.
Special Lenses – You can use special lenses to change the shape of the light (honeycomb louver, spread lens, beam elongating lens) or the color (color lenses, color dichroic lenses).
Feel free to ask us any questions. You can find general track lighting installation instructions on the Internet at sites such as this one; however, we cannot be responsible for the accuracy of their content. If in doubt, we always recommend you consult a qualified electrician.
To learn about how to choose track lighting, check out How to Choose Track Lighting.