How to Install Track Lighting

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How to Install Track Lighting

Track lights, i.e. lights on tracks, are a very useful way to illuminate dark corners and generally give great flexibility when it comes to lighting a room.

Flexible Options with Track Lighting

By installing track lighting, several options are permitted for lamp configuration and illumination of dark corners or recesses, which otherwise miss out from traditional centred ceiling lights. Swivel and twist function allows control over direction so it brightens exactly the designated area. Once the track has been fitted successfully, it is easy to add additional lamps to the set up. Most tracks run in straight lines and can turn corners with connecting pieces that lock securely into the track rail. The beauty of track lighting is the flexibility it affords not only from the number of lamps attached, but also the facility for running a track over a ceiling or down a wall. This offers opportunity to make the most of ceiling eaves where the shape is emphasised and accentuated – terrific for lofts and attic rooms with sloping walls. When installed with a lighting plan in mind, track lighting itself becomes a work of art as well as being the means by which a work of art is illuminated.

DIY With a Friend

For a DIY project, making use of an existing ceiling box is the easiest method for safe and successful installation of track lighting. Planning and preparation are the key to success. For longer runs of track, a second pair of hands will assist in supporting track length until they are secured.

The Plan

This step is possible to do by either matching the plan to a kit or by making a plan and then purchasing an appropriate kit for the plan. Regardless of which approach is made, take time to perform the following tasks. Become familiar with the components in the kit. Take measurements for where the run of track will be positioned. For tracks cut to size, a longer length needs to be marked with cutting points to suit the desired design. Mark the ceiling lightly with pencil lines for the ideal position and adhere decorator's, easily removable low-tack masking tape, to see what the track will look like when it is mounted in place. This allows for alternative plans to be made and experimental designs to be tried out without damaging the decorative surface. Lightly marked unused plans are easily removed with a rubber or a slick wipe. An approved plan’s marks will be covered by the track.

Turn off the Power and Begin

Like any projects working with live electricity, the power source must be isolated. Switch off the circuit panel or flick off the fuse serving the light being worked on. Have tools and fixings to hand, first remove the existing ceiling light. Undo the shade and remove.

Remove the Old Ceiling Light

Some styles of mount have centrally positioned screws, others are located at the side or round the circumference and only need to be loosened to allow the shade to come off. Take out any bulbs and set aside. Unscrew any screws or nuts in the original plate cover to disconnect the unit completely. Make use of an assistant to pass the items to, and keep removed fixings together in a small box or dish. At this stage, the wires from the light just removed will be revealed as a curled up mass behind the plate, which will dangle beneath.

Reveal the Old Wiring

Connection from the track lighting system will match up colour for colour to the wiring scheme of the previous light. Check with a qualified electrician for advice about matching wires if they aren’t the same. In UK systems (before 2004 IEE) red connects with red (live) and black to black (neutral), or more modern homes (present IEC since 2006) blue is neutral and brown is live in the new colour coding scheme. In some countries, like the US, the wire colours are black to black or red to red (hot/live) and white to white (neutral), in 240 volt 60 Hz systems, which is important to know if the track lighting system is imported. In US 120 volt 60 Hz systems, there is one hot wire which may be coloured red or black and a white neutral wire. A bare/grey, or green/yellow wire is the ‘earth’ or ‘ground’ wire and will attach to the terminal on the plate cover or the track itself. Only work with the wires that were attached to the previous light. Do not touch any others that might be revealed. If in doubt, a circuit tester will assess if wires are alive or dead, though with the power switched off they should all test negative. Check the wires for voltage and label them if different colour systems are in operation so they connect correctly. UK red wire will never connect to US white wire. Ease the wires down and release them from any fixings such as wire nuts, or connectors and electrical tape, which covers twisted wires. Set aside for use later.

Attach the New Wiring

Having sorted out which wires connect to which, twist them together, thread through connectors or wire nuts if used, and cover with electrical tape.Tuck the bundle back into the electrical box or through the ceiling and secure the mounting plate with the manufacturer’s screws or fixings.

Secure the Track

In the preparation stage, the location for mounting screws will have been noted, so based on the track template used for the screw positions pre-drill holes to accept the fixing. It is best to secure them along joists where possible. If this is inconvenient, appropriately sized toggle bolts will provide a good anchor suitable for use on plasterboard. When using toggle bolts/spring toggles, the screw needs to be threaded through the track’s mounting hole, and then fed into the toggle bolt on the other side, ready to be pushed into the pre-drilled ceiling hole. Holding the screw underneath, line up the toggle bolt on the other side of the track and shove everything towards the ceiling. Once the bolt’s expanding wings have penetrated the plasterboard, they will fold out to grip as the screw is tightened. If using screws straight into wood, simply line the screw up through the track hole with the joist hole and tighten. Draw the wires through the track end to attach the hot/live wire to the brass coloured screw terminal and attach the neutral wire to the silver screw terminal. The green screw will receive the grounding wire.

Cover Plate Installation

Clip, click, or snap the cover plate onto the anchored track as per manufacturer’s instructions. At the end of the track, slip or slide connectors in the channels along the length of track. If using additional track (pre-cut to custom size if necessary) turning corners, add these and anchor as before, lining up to pre-drilled holes. Thread on any further connectors to receive lamps. Do not overload with excessive lamps, follow manufacturer’s recommendations.

Let There be Light

Add the bulbs and make an initial positioning for direction. Turn power supply back on and switch on the lights. Adjust angles of beams to suit desired illumination. Be careful making adjustments if using bulbs that produce heat.

Conclusion

Plan ahead and decide how many lights are required on the track to be used. Remember they can be moved along the track for the most effective directional beam and adjusted to focus on a particular object or area of a room. Get advice beforehand from a qualified electrician to ensure any differences in wiring are discussed and understood. Older houses may have different colour wiring to those which are new-builds. UK and US wiring colours are different. Pay attention to safety when dealing with electrical installations. Tape a ceiling plan to find the best position for anchor points which require drill holes and mark accordingly.

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