Brighten up my cans, please
November 13, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

How can I brighten up the recessed "can" lights in my kitchen?

We have recessed "can" lights in our kitchen, but the 13W CFLs in them just aren't bright enough. The cans themselves are white or silver inside, so they reflect what light the CFLs manage to put out, but it just isn't that much. What else can (har) can we do?

Replacing the CFLs with incandescent bulbs isn't a long term fix, since the incandescent is doomed. I tried higher-wattage CFLs, but 20W and 23W bulbs have a fatter ballast that won't fit between the curved metal arms that hold up the fixture (whereas the slightly smaller ballast on the 13W bulbs fits right in). I saw an LED insert at Lowe's today, but I am leery of taking a gamble on one of these.

I would prefer not to replace the whole fixture since it still works, and we are considering doing some work on the next year.

Should I embrace the LED? Should I stick with incandescent and kick this can down the road? Am I overlooking a well-known CFL option? Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by wenestvedt to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
I did the LED switch. It was easy and am very pleased. They produce so little heat that I feel safer.
posted by JayRwv at 5:56 PM on November 13, 2011

not quite sure exactly what you're describing about how the 20/23W don't fit, but can you maybe try an extender? look in the hardware store by all the lighting stuff...the extender looks like a light bulb, but instead of the bulb part of the bulb, above the threads it has a tube that you screw a light bulb into...and they're cheap.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:10 PM on November 13, 2011

If you go LED, make sure you buy it at a store that has a display so you can get a feel for the color temperature. And make sure you get one that has the right kind of light throw pattern. LED lights can fool you- they will say they are equivalent to a 100w incandescent, but it can turn out that they are only that bright in a 10 degree circle straight out of the light.

If you like the incandescent look, go with halogen. They are not getting phased out.
posted by gjc at 6:30 PM on November 13, 2011

Have you looked at different CFL brands? I got a box of 13W "recessed" CFLs a while back that were absolute stinkers, and were about half the brightness of the other 13W CFLs I'd already installed.
posted by schmod at 6:48 PM on November 13, 2011

Be careful about putting incandescent globes into downlights - they put out so much heat, they can set fire to nay insulation that's close to them in the ceiling. The same applies to halogen. There are lots of different types of CFLs with different shapes - I would take one of your existing globes to a lighting store and ask them for help. LED lights are probably your best solution but, as already mentioned, check the colour and spread to make sure you get the light coverage you need. Buy one and test it in-situ before you replace them all.
posted by dg at 7:13 PM on November 13, 2011

I bit the bullet and went all LED for all of my lights about a year ago. It was definitely worth it. When the weather is nice and all I need electric for is my computer and light, I have a $5 electric bill.

That said, do your research and I would definitely expect to spend a lot of money now for good LED bulbs that have a chance to be some of the last light bulbs I might buy. Go with it, it is definitely worth it.
posted by Nackt at 7:21 PM on November 13, 2011

You can also get can light adapters, which you can use to install the modern, sexy version of track lighting.
posted by Ostara at 8:43 PM on November 13, 2011

Are you using reflector bulbs? If you've got the same sort of plain-vanilla recessed cans that are in my house, and are putting non-reflector CFL bulbs in them, I'd expect some dimness [same as non-reflector incandescents would do].

I'm sitting in a room with can lights in it, and if anything the CFL R30s are brighter than the one remaining incandescent in the room. That one in the distance is a 65W incandescent; the two others are 23W CFL.

If you've got a different type of can light, then never mind me.
posted by chazlarson at 9:33 PM on November 13, 2011

Correction; the CFLs are 15W GEs.
posted by chazlarson at 9:52 PM on November 13, 2011

There are kits that you can use to change the can lights into pendants. I think they have them at both Home Depot and Lowes.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 1:39 AM on November 14, 2011

I'm going to assume you have 4" cans as they are the only ones where you need smaller bulbs. You can probably get a different sized trim ring, or look for compact mini higher watter CFLs.
posted by wongcorgi at 3:46 PM on November 14, 2011

Thanks, all!

I will be calling an electrical supply house to ask about silver rings. (Yes, they're bog-standard 4" cans, at least a decade old.)

For now we don't want pendants: maybe when we change things, but now we just want a quick fix.

I will indeed try to find some other CFLs with smaller ballasts/bases. I can't believe that every CFL is too fat for these truly ordinary cans, so maybe it's just the store that I was in. chazlarson, I will look at those flood-type CFLs: I avoided them before because, hey, aren't flood lights the problem I am trying to solve? (Obviously not, I guess!)

sexyrobot, I will hunt down an extender as a last resort.

And as for LEDs, that will be an element in the bigger project we are planning (which also involves probably redoing the floor, adding a small island, removal of a wall, and more).
posted by wenestvedt at 7:38 AM on November 15, 2011

hey, aren't flood lights the problem I am trying to solve?

If I'm understanding correctly, reflectors seem to be the solution, if the problem is that not enough light is finding its way out of the can. Reflectors make sure that all the light gets thrown out of the can instead of bouncing around inside. Those cans [again, assuming they're the same as mine] are sort of reflective inside simply because bare metal is the cheapest suitable material, not because they're trying to reflect light in any meaningful way.
posted by chazlarson at 9:01 AM on November 15, 2011

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