Recessed Lighting vs Flush Mount

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting: The Differences Explained

In Design Ideas by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

One of the most critical aspects of an interior design project is the lighting. However, with so many lighting options available, choosing one to suit your home can be challenging. If you’re considering choosing either recessed and flush-mount light, knowing the differences between the two can help you make a better decision. 

Recessed lighting has pots usually inside the ceiling and carries the lamp holder into which the bulbs are screwed. They provide good ambient lighting and narrow beams. On the other hand, flush mount lighting is broader and disperse more light beams in a room. They have canopies in place of pots.

In this article, you will understand what recessed lighting and flush mount lightings are, their types and designs, and their parts. You will learn about the similarities and differences between these two types of lighting.

Recessed Lighting: A Basic Overview

Recessed lighting, also called downlight, can light, or pot light, is a type of lighting that illuminates a room through light fixtures whose rim flushes with the ceiling. They are particularly suitable for rooms with a low ceiling and those that need good ambient lighting, including basements, art galleries, walkways, and corridors.

They are also great at conserving energy as they employ LED fluorescent bulbs to provide light. If you’re looking to have lighting that does not take attention away from the other details in the room, recessed lighting is your best option. 

Structurally, recessed lighting fixtures have bar hangers that fasten them to ceiling joists to hold them in place. Some also come with their junction boxes and contain circuit wires connectors.

Parts of a Canned Lighting Fixture

  • Metal Housing. The inverted part into which the bulbs disappear. The metal housing is usually made of thin metal and houses more than just the bulb. Other components include the reflector, thermal sensor, and socket – into which the bulb is screwed. The metal housing determines the recessed light fixture’s size as they come in diameters of 3 inches to 9 inches (7.6 cm to 22.9 cm).
  • Reflector. The shiny surface that lines the inside of the inverted canister. It is usually white or silvery, and its function is to help direct the light from the bulb into the room. You can control the direction of the beam with the help of a gimbal cone.
  • Socket. The Edison socket, characterized by screwing-in. This socket will only accept screw incandescent or LED bulbs that have compatible threads. These days, however, it is common to use LED bulbs over incandescent bulbs because they generate less heat.
  • Thermal Sensor. Housed in the metal housing, is responsible for reducing overheating. It is a safety device that shuts off the light when it senses the lighting fixture’s temperature is approaching a dangerous point. Old types of recessed lighting fixtures do not have this feature.
  • Trim. The part of the light fixture covering the metal housing and hides the ceiling drywall. It is usually decorative and is the last part added during installation. 

Types of Recessed Lighting Fixtures

There are also as many different types of recessed lighting fixtures as there are parts to it. We’ll discuss some of the common types of recessed lightings based on their trim below.

  • Open Recessed Lighting. Open trims recessed lightings help to provide brighter illumination. This better lighting is possible because they are left open, without any rim to cover the glare. They are suitable for lighting more extensive areas.
  • Pinhole Recessed Lighting. The Pinhole allows light to pass through a small translucent circle in the middle of the fixture. It creates a concentrated beam of light to focus on whatever area you wish. The surrounding parts of the rim disallow light beam passage.
  • Baffle Recessed Lighting. These recessed lighting types have tightly packed serrations or ribs in the metal housing. The ribbed interior helps to reduce glare from the bulb. A dark-colored housing interior also further reduces glare. 
  • Slotted Recessed Lighting. These recessed lighting types are well concealed and have flat rims that flush with the ceiling. They also provide narrow light beams as in the pinhole. However, they have adjustable housing that allows you to focus the beam through a tilt of about 35 degrees.
  • Adjustable Recessed Lighting. Adjustable trim recessed lighting derived its name from its ability to rotate, affording you the advantage of directing light where you want. It also has thin trim and flushes well with the ceiling.
  • Decorative. The decorative type of recessed lighting gives a touch of art and style to your lighting. The décor is usually on the rim.
  • Reflector. The reflector possesses a mirror in its housing. This feature helps to enhance its illumination, making it provide bright lighting through a mirror reflection.
  • Shower. It is best suited for the bathroom and every other humid area. The covering is constructed out of tempered glass that protects the bulb from moisture. 
  • Wall-Washer. This type of recessed lighting combines the features of adjustable trim and baffle trim. However, it has a half-shield that focuses light off itself and onto parts of your home that you want to illuminate. 

Pros of Recessed Lighting

  • Ideal for Low Ceilings. Recessed lightings are an excellent choice for houses and parts of a building that have their ceiling hanging low. They afford the occupant more space to maneuver. Details of the house like the attic, basement, and closets are excellent places to use recessed lightings. 
  • Nondescript style. The plain style of this type of lighting makes it versatile. It is applicable in both formal and informal settings. If you wish to add a little bit of style and design, some options provide you just that.
  • Aimed Illumination. Recessed lightings are best known for their directional illumination. This feature is why they are popularly used to invite attention towards specific details. They are also the preferred lighting options in art galleries and around monuments and arts in general.
  • Easy maintenance. The rim or cover that protects the bulbs from dust and moisture. Except for the open and well-washer recess lightings, all the other recessed lighting types are protected and require very little maintenance. You can use them for several years without any need for maintenance.

Cons of Recessed Lighting

  • Poor energy efficiency. Although LED bulbs and fluorescents are now commonly used in recessed lightings, they used to be very high on energy consumption, especially with incandescent bulbs. The heat they produce is a testament to the amount of energy they consume, hence, the need for thermal sensors.
  • Overheating risk. The possibility that your lighting may go off when you need them on can be frustrating. What are you supposed to do during the time it is cooling off, light a candle? One of the downsides of using recessed lighting is that it could overheat and prompt the thermal sensors to kick into action.
  • Limited Illumination. Recessed lightings have lesser coverage compared to exposed lighting types. For this reason, the amount of illumination you will get from recessed lighting cannot be the same from exposed lighting, even with a bulb of the same rating.  

Flush Mount Lighting: A Basic Overview

Flush Mount lighting has little or no space between the fixture and the ceiling, making it suitable for parts of the house with a low ceiling. It is a good option for achieving better overall lighting in small rooms or supply lights to areas of a space where uplights miss. They are also excellent as task lights in larger rooms.

Flush Mount lightings work well in almost all house parts, especially when the ceiling clearance is average or low. They are so suited for such rooms as the bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, even living rooms because of their excellent downlight provision, and they do not require the constant cleaning that other aesthetic fixtures need. 

Although it provides excellent illumination, it is more about the lighting it offers than the beauty it adds to any room. It is more functional than aesthetic; so, if you’re seeking out a lighting fixture that will draw attention to itself in a room, flush mount light fixtures aren’t the right call. 

Types of Flush Mount Light Fixtures

Flush mounts come in different shapes and designs. Although they are similar, each has its specific function and are suited for various purposes. When choosing a flush mount for the rooms in your home, it’s crucial to consider the style, material, mount location, shade style, and usage.

Full Flush Mount

A full flush mount light fixture is characterized by the space it leaves between itself and the ceiling – none. They are tightened against the ceiling and give no room for dust to settle or insects to collect. They are functional and suitable for small rooms with low ceilings as they do not take up space.

Semi-Flush Mount

The Semi-flush mount lighting fixture is similar to the full-flush mount lighting fixture in its provision of light to a small room. However, they require a room with a somewhat higher ceiling, say about nine feet, to be appreciated.

It leaves a little space between itself and the ceiling due to a short rod that connects the fixture to the ceiling. This property illuminates the room more and offers a little more aesthetics than the full flush mount. It’s easy to confuse semi-flush mount lighting with pendant lighting. However, the latter hangs further down the ceiling than the former.

Directional and Spotlight

Directional lightings have their name due to their characteristic lighting of specific areas. They are similar in structure to the semi-flush mount as they are also suitable for small rooms with a considerably higher ceiling than is needed for the full flush mount. However, they mainly serve the purpose of directing focus in a particular way. 

This feature makes them suitable for illuminating work areas that need focus lightings, such as in the kitchen and hallways.

Parts of a Flush Mount Lighting Fixture

The parts of a flush mount lighting fixture may differ based on the type of flush mount fixture you’re considering. However, some features are commonly found in almost all kinds of flush-mount lighting fixtures. Here are some of them:

  • Junction Box. The junction box is the center where all the wires meet. It is sometimes made of plastic or metal and might even be absent in some lighting fixtures.
  • Pan/Canopy. The canopy is the wide part of the lighting fixture connected to the ceiling, mostly with screws. It is the second-largest part of the fixture in a full flush mount lighting fixture but not so large in the other types. It bears all of the other parts of the fixture, and it can be a little decorative, especially in modern designs.
  • Foil Insulation. The foil insulation is the part of the lighting fixture that protects the canopy from heat produced by the bulb or lamp. It also aids in reflecting light rays away from the canopy and onto the diffuser, downwards.It is sometimes called the reflector and can either be elliptical (to spread light) or parabolic (to focus light rays).
  • Central Nipple/All Thread. This is a part of the fixture that connects the canopy to the glass or diffuser. It is usually rod-like but is absent in most modern flush mount fixtures.
  • Bulb/Lamp. This is the source of illumination. In times past, the bulb was usually incandescent. They produce light but more heat and do not conserve energy. However, improvement in lighting and the need for more energy conservation led to the use of fluorescents. Its further improvement led to LED bulbs that best conserve energy by producing light with very little heat.
  • Lamp Holder. The lamp holder secures the bulb in place. It is the part of the fixture, any fixture, into which you can screw the bulb. It receives power from the junction box, if available, or the power source to supply electricity to the bulb.
  • Diffuser. The diffuser covers the bulb, insulation, lamp holder, and central nipple. Its primary purpose is to distribute and distribute light rays downwards into the room. It helps to spread the light so it can gain more reach. The diffuser also traps heat, and if the wrong material is used in its design, it might pose a problem.
  • Final. The final is the part of the fixture that holds the diffuser to the central nipple. It screws into the central nipple and sometimes carries a decorative cap in place. In modern flush mount lighting fixtures, the final may be absent since the diffuser is connected directly to the canopy. It adds an impressive decorative touch to the room.

Styles of Flush Mount Light Fixtures

After choosing your type of flush mount lighting, the next step is to select a style or design to suit your needs. There are different flush mount lighting styles in the market, and each will work better for specific situations.


Traditional flush mount light fixtures are the old design fixtures. They add a unique and old-fashioned vibe to the design when used in a room. They are usually made of iron, brass, or bronze and can be an excellent addition to even a modern house when used minimally and strategically.  


The transitional style of flush mount lighting fixtures speaks of a confluence of retro and modern design. It boasts of using both traditional and contemporary design elements such as iron and brass or stainless steel and nickel, respectively.

There are quite a number of these transitional designs, mostly available in bowl designs and made with plastic or glass, in the market today.


Modern designs at their best. Contemporary flush mount lighting styles use simple materials to accomplish elegant designs that fit in well with the décor and style of this age and time. They require the least cost implication in the purchase and are easy to handle.


This flush mount lighting fixture style encourages striking colors and materials to liven the room’s atmosphere with nit lights. One must use other designs that complement them; else, there might be a color and design clash. They can be either contemporary, transitional, or traditional, although they are mostly traditional and transitional.

Pros of Flush Mount Lighting

  • Suitable for small rooms. Flush mount lighting is best suited for small and low to medium ceiling height because it is attached to the ceiling and uses up little space as expected of ceiling lights.Generally, the smaller the room and the shorter the ceiling, the better the efficiency of flush mount lighting.
  • Available in different styles. Flush mount lighting fixtures are available in varying styles. Depending on your house’s design, you can choose from the traditional, transitional, or modern, contemporary styles. There are also really stylish designs that require aesthetic expertise to select and combine with other lighting fixtures in the room.
  • Energy-efficient. Contemporary flush mount lightings use LED bulbs that are energy-efficient and give off minimal heat. Most of the designs available in the market that previously used incandescent bulbs now use LED bulbs. Its color depends on the color of the diffuser.
  • Easy to maintain. The flush mount’s maintenance is easy because it is attached directly to the ceiling, and the diffuser is attached to the canopy, allowing no room for dust or insects to collect in it. It is easier to clean compared to other lighting styles.
  • Brighter lights. Recall that flush mount lights are suited for small rooms with low to medium height ceilings. Some flush mount lighting designs use more than one bulb in one lighting unit, allowing it to better illuminate the space. The diffuser, depending on the material used – glass or plastic – allows for better diffusion of the light rays in the room.

Cons of Flush Mount Lighting

  • Incompatibility with larger rooms. Flush mount lightings are a poor choice of lighting in rooms that are large with high ceilings. They act as good secondary lighting sources to provide ambient lighting but never suitable as the primary light source. They also cannot perform their task lighting function when used in a large room. If flush mounts are used for ambient lighting in a large room, quite a number will be required.
  • Difficulty in changing bulbs. If the fixture bulbs need a change, it might pose a challenge as it requires you to loosen the fixture to change the bulbs. Most flush mount lighting fixture designs require that you remove the diffuser to change the bulb or lamp. This design can present a challenge if you’re not very handy.

Similarities Between Recessed Lighting and Flush Mount Lighting

Despite the apparent differences in the structure and parts of recessed lighting fixtures and flush mount lighting fixtures, they bear some similarities that are impossible to miss.

Suitability for Low Ceiling Rooms

Recessed lighting and flush mount lighting are suitable for small and low ceiling height rooms. They are suited to these room conditions because they are either fastened to the ceiling – as in flush mount fixtures or retreat into the ceiling – as in recessed lighting fixtures. 

Directional Lighting

Recessed lighting can provide directional lighting in art galleries or in homes to call attention to certain features. This peculiarity is in the wall-washer type of recessed lighting. The directional and spotlight type of flush mount lighting also serves the same purpose.

Can Be Used in Wet Rooms

The bulbs in recessed lighting and flush mount lighting are usually protected by the trim and diffuser, respectively. This design makes them suitable for use in wet rooms such as bathrooms and laundry rooms. The moisture in the wet rooms does not get to the bulb and does not lead to constant replacement of the bulbs.

Use Minimum Space

The space required to install recessed lights and flush mount lights is minimum. This feature is one reason they are best suited for small rooms with low to medium height ceilings. The lighting fixtures are close to the ceiling and do not encroach into working spaces.

Both are Ceiling Lights

Probably the most obvious similarity between recessed and flush mount lights. They are both lightings that are considered ceiling lights because they have very little or no clearance from the ceiling. This design means they both require minimum cleaning as they do not harbor dirt and insects.

Differences Between Recessed Lighting and Flush Mount Lighting

We have seen the similarities that exist between recessed lighting and flush mount lighting. Now, let’s see the differences between them.

Position to the Ceiling

Recessed lighting, as the name implies, provides light from inside the ceiling. The trim of the fixture is level with the ceiling. In essence, recessed lighting looks like it is a part of the ceiling.

Flush mount lighting, on the other hand, looks like it is an extension of the ceiling. It is usually attached to the ceiling by its canopy or short rod, depending on the type of flush mount lighting.

Minimalist Approach

Flush mount lighting is available in different styles, and even though it is known for its practicality and not aesthetics, it has some designs and types that do not conform to the minimalist idea.

The styled type of flush mount lighting is the opposite of minimalist as it is available in different colors and designs. The traditional style of flush mounts also does not come cheap.

On the other hand, recessed lighting is known to be the perfect option for minimalist ceiling lighting. The contemporary designs also conform to the minimalist idea and cost considerably less than some flush mount lighting fixtures.

Light Diffusion

The diffuser in flush mount lighting fixtures is excellent at spreading light, giving great ambient light in an enclosure. The diffusers are usually either made of glass or plastic. Since the canopy is typically broad and can carry more than one bulb simultaneously, the light it produces is more widely spread.

In recessed lighting, light diffusion is not as pronounced as in flush mount lighting. The light in recessed lighting fixtures is usually focused, and sometimes, the beams are narrow in recessed lighting fixture types like the pinhole. Although recessed lightings are useful in providing ambient light, flush mount lightings are better at that.


Recessed lightings are better at up-lighting. They can be recessed into the ceiling and floor to provide lights on special occasions such as concerts.

Flush mount lighting is not suited for such. It can only provide up-lighting when semi-flush mount lightings are used, and the canopy is made of transparent material so that it diffuses light to the ceiling.


Ceiling lightings are one of the options you have to light up your space. They can function as ambient light providers and task light providers, depending on the types you choose. Recessed lights, also called canned lights, and flush mount lights are types of ceiling lights, and they have different designs as well.

If you need energy-efficient, wet-room-compatible, and easy to manage ceiling lights, your best option is the recessed light. However, if the qualities you are looking for are a combination of modern and historic, energy-efficient, easy to manage, and good light diffuser, go for flush mount lighting.


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