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Community and Q&A

Cathedral ceiling and lights

Dustin P | Posted in Interior Design on

We’re building an ICF home with an unvented attic (rigid insulation over sheathing) and metal roof. The living room and kitchen will have a cathedral ceiling (roof 4:12 pitch). Living room will have a combination of sconces, pendants, LED strip lighting (indirect), and floor lamps.

The kitchen is another issue. The south wall will have two levels of windows with a counter and no overhead cabinets. We will have an island and plan to place pendants over the island. The north wall will have overhead cabinets with under-mount LED lights and LED strips for indirect lighting on top.

That still leaves a lot of light to be desired, particularly task lighting over the south wall counter top.

I just read on GBA that placing recessed cans in a cathedral ceiling is a big faux pas.

Is that still the case? Does it make any difference if we are using rigid foam over the sheathing in combo with fluffy stuff between the rafters?

Any other suggestions for lighting solutions?


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  1. Expert Member
    Malcolm Taylor | | #1


  2. Walter Ahlgrim | | #2

    In my opinion recessed cans are a poor choice.
    1 Even the so so called “air tight” leak like a sieve.
    2 They take up lots of space that should be filled with insulation.
    3 They get expensive you buy the ruff in then you buy the trim then buy the lamp

    Consider surface mount LEDs like this one, installed they look a lot like recessed cans. The ruff in is cheap.


  3. Steve Knapp CZ 3A Georgia | | #3

    It’s not an issue if you are installing rigid insulation on top of the sheathing and creating an unvented attic. (I am assuming you are paying attention to air sealing the building envelope and installing a sufficiently thick layer of rigid foam.)

    [Additional response added later follows below.]

    After rereading Martin's article on cathedral ceilings (, I am less certain that using recessed lighting is advisable. The OP should wait to see what the experts decide on this one.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Ideally, there will be no recessed cans or electrical boxes in your ceiling.

    If it's essential to have a few electrical boxes in your ceiling, they should be airtight boxes, as shallow as possible.

    The new pancake-style LED fixtures are one possibility. However, the first rule of lighting design -- especially task lighting -- is to make sure your fixture is as close as possible to the area you want to illuminate. Putting fixtures on a high ceiling is generally a bad idea.

    Some lighting designers use pendants, even for high cathedral ceilings, to solve this problem. The photos below might give you some ideas.


  5. Stephen Sheehy | | #5

    We have cathedral ceilings in most of the house, using raised heel scissor trusses. We dropped the ceilings along the North side of the house (kitchen, baths, mechanical room). We put a utility chase in the the space between the 8' 4" ceilings and the underside of the insulated cathedral ceilings. It gave us a place for pipes, hrv ducts, wiring, etc. And we could install some recessed cans above counters and island because the cans are inside the air and insulation barriers.

  6. Dustin P | | #6

    Thanks for all the suggestions. Stephen, any chance you could post a photo? I'm having a little difficulty picturing exactly what you're describing.


  7. Stephen Sheehy | | #7

    Dustin-here's a photo of the framing looking toward the kitchen from the living area. The ceiling was drywalled before any partitions were installed. The framed stud wall is about 4 feet high, tapering down to almost nothing as you go toward the outside wall. The electricians and plumbers used the space for almost all wiring and pipes. I also attach a photo from the inside, taken later. The bottom photo looks toward the space above the kitchen.

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