Installing Track Lighting

Matt Fox explains how easy it is to install track lighting. Follow these instructions to install track lighting in your own home.

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We've all heard the expression, "Lights, camera, action!"

Well, just as in filmmaking, my cohost, Shari Hiller, and I have found that lighting is very important in home decorating.

Well-functioning rooms generally combine three types of lighting: ambient, task and accent.

Ambient or general lighting is indirect and provides overall illumination of the entire room.

Task lighting, or direct lighting, provides illumination for performing specific tasks like reading, writing or sewing.

Accent lighting is purely decorative and is intended to draw attention to a specific area or item in the room.

Sound confusing? Well, not when you can find one lighting source that is versatile enough to function as ambient, task or accent lighting.

Track lighting is the most multipurpose lighting you'll ever find. Although it's great for highlighting artwork, it can also provide ambient lighting for an entire room.

Need task lighting? Just position the lights on your workbench or desk, and you're good to go. And the best part of track lights? You don't have to be an electrician to install them.

The track itself is the key to the versatility of track lighting. A connector unit connects to a ceiling electrical box and transfers power to the tracks. You can easily place the track on the ceiling or high on a wall, and then direct the heads to light up any area you choose. Track lighting is also available in many fixture styles.

If you'd like to light up your world with track lighting, you'll need to purchase a track-lighting kit. Most kits include all necessary components, including the light fixtures, track, mounting bracket and cover, and live end. To complete the project, you'll also need the following:

ladder or stepstool
toggle bolts
1-1/2" flat-head wood screws
circuit tester
drill and a 5/8" spade bit
long-nose pliers
wire strippers
dimmer switch (optional)

As with all electrical projects, SAFETY IS FIRST.

Be sure to turn off the power to the circuit you'll be working on. After you've turned off power to the existing fixture, remove the fixture and use a circuit tester to make doubly sure there is no current in any of the wires.

Once you are sure that the wires are safe to touch, disconnect the wires and remove the old mounting bracket. Then take the new mounting bracket and use your wire stripper to strip 1/2 inch of insulation from the neutral (white) wire.

Next, match the wires from the new bracket to the house wires, connecting black to black and white to white. Twist the ends of each set of wires together to hold them in place. Attach the wire connecter and screw it on in a clockwise direction. Press the wires back into the opening and position and secure the mounting bracket in place.

Now it's time to set the track. First, place the track over the mounting bracket so that it is in the correct position. Hold the track in position on the ceiling and mark the position of the mounting holes.

Drill holes on the marks and fasten the track in place with toggle bolts. Push the toggles through the ceiling mounting holes until the toggles snap open. If you hit a stud with one of your mounting holes, use a 1-1/2-inch flat-head wood screw to anchor the track.

Next, insert the live-end component. The lighting heads are attached to the track by aligning the contact blades with the track, and rotating its base 90 degrees to lock it in place.

It's hard to believe, but that's all there is to installing track lighting. It's time to turn on the power and adjust the track heads to direct the light.

Did I say these lights were versatile? You can easily change the function of the fixture or the look of a room by redirecting the light or changing the number of heads. Once the track is in place, heads can be added or removed with a simple twist of the wrist.

I think track lighting makes a great addition to most rooms.

(Matt Fox and Shari Hiller alternate writing this column. They also are authors of Real Decorating for Real People and co-hosts of the Home & Garden Television show Room By Room).

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