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Recessed vs. Surface-Mounted Lights

cbut8995 | Posted in General Questions on

Hi All,

Re: Canless LED lights vs can housing LED lightbulbs. Does anyone know the differences or pros and cons. I found that they are around the same price but I am building a rental building and have option for both. It seems that when we change the canless LED lights after 50k hours that is suppose  its life expectancy, it would be a lot harder than simply switching out the LED lightbulbs.

However the canless look seems a lot better then a hole in the ceiling where you would screw on a LED lightbulb.

What are the GBA group thoughts?

Thank you.


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  1. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #1

    On interior areas with no attic above, I prefer cans for future serviceability. Air barrier issues are less of an issue in these interior areas. If there is an attic above, then the air sealing issue is a bigger deal which is a bigger negative for cans. I’ve never been impressed with the supposed air tightness of the AT rated cans.

    The big downside with all of the non-can surface lights is are you SURE you can get a replacement when you need it some day in the future? With the cans, you always have that standard size opening and lamp base and there will likely always be LED modules that will work in the can. Surface fixtures aren’t standardized the way the cans are, which is their biggest potential negative in my opinion.

    It would be nice if someone would build a truly good recessed can that was actually air tight, had a good mount, and wasn’t made of a step or two up from aluminum foil. Unfortunately nearly everyone seems to try to make recessed cans as cheaply as possibly. Most of them are barely even round...


  2. Expert Member


    The 4" LED lights fit in the same sized hole as a fixture box so you haven't committed to anything over the long-term, and swapping them out isn't much harder than changing a lightbulb. For me they are the way to go. These have adjustable colour rendition:

  3. godfreymugica | | #3

    Do you know where canless bulbs are often available?

  4. charlie_sullivan | | #4

    A bit of an aside, but excessive reliance on downlights can make a space seem a bit gloomy as the ceiling is not illuminated.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #5


      That's a really good point. I've been disappointed by the lighting in most of the new builds I go into. They mainly rely on pot-lights, that as you say don't illuminate the ceiling, or make anything below look very good. Portrait photographers and (nicer) restaurants typically light from the side, not above.

  5. abderrazakchat | | #6

    Canless LED lights often have a wider or narrower bulb base. I think you'll have trouble finding the right diameter when replacing these. So it's best to find standard case bulbs that you screw into your shelf lighting, you know. Look for bulbs similar to I've bought these bulbs many times for different places and functions. They're suitable for car headlights, barn lighting, garages, greenhouses, etc. Some people buy more powerful bulbs to make them like spotlights in the backyard. Try putting one of these LEDs in before buying a canless flashlight. Maybe it'll save your future purchases.

  6. mdhomeowner | | #7

    I buy a few spares when I buy canless, just in case they aren't around in the future.

    You can get bulbs that go into cans that will cover the whole hole. I have used the Philips Wiz Downlights in a can. They look pretty good when off.

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