Project Management

What Makes a Good Downlight?

Downlights are very popular and commonly used in residential projects and renovations. Often called spotlights, they are a recessed light in the ceiling, and will be adjustable or fixed.

Due to their popularity, they are readily available through a wide number of manufacturers and suppliers. Inevitably, some will be better quality and deliver better results than others. There is a huge difference between the low and high ends of the market. Due to the competitive nature of project tendering, often price is the only factor, and the client will not realise a bad choice has been made until it is too late. Below are the key attributes which form the basis for a good fitting. Considering these will help you to choose the right downlight for your project.

Colour consistency – the manufacturing process of an LED is not accurate, so a variety of different whites is produced. These are then split down into groups called bins. A good quality downlight will use LEDs from 1-2 bins to ensure colour matching, while poor quality fittings will use a variety of different bins to reduce the price. This results in slightly different colours across the ceiling. A good way to identify well matched LEDs is to look at the McAdam’s ellipse rating. A 2-step McAdam’s Ellipse is good, while a 4-step is going to have some variation.

Colour rendering – we have all experienced trying on clothes in a shop, thinking it is one colour, and when we get outside it is completely different. Colour rendering is a measure of hour accurately colours are seen under a light. A good quality downlight will have a colour rendering index of 90+. Standard downlights will have an 80+ rating, but these will have poor red and warm tones. Poor colouring rendering means the subject of the light will look washed out and drab. For more information on this topic, read our informative guide to colour rendering.

Dimming – when choosing a good quality downlight, it will be compatible with most dimmers and will provide detailed information on what they require. They will also dim to low levels, with a good target being 0.1%. A 1-5% level is reasonable though. A poor-quality downlight will only go as low as 30%, which is not low enough to be used practically. Furthermore, good quality downlights will not have flicker and will stay on even when dimmed to these very low levels. Compare this to a lower quality downlight, and it will have a point where they flicker or strobe – although this can also be the result of a poor-quality dimmer. For more information on this topic, read our article: different ways of dimming LED Lights.

Glare control – glare happens when the actual light source is visible. It can be extremely irritating and distracting. A good quality downlight will have some form of glare control, such as a baffle. This means the actual LED light source will not be visible when seen in the room, and this helps create a softer light. Low quality downlights will have far too much glare, which can ruin the atmosphere of a room and can cause health issues such as headaches. Our guide to glare provides further information on this.

Light output – light output can vary greatly from one downlight to another. For residential use, a downlight would have a 500lm+ light output, but some poorer quality options which are stated as being for standard use actually only have 300lm output.

Beam angles – having a variety of beam angles for a project is extremely useful. Ideally, you would want narrow, medium, wide and flood available, as this provides options on how they can be used within a space. A lot of standard, lower-quality downlights only offer one beam angle of 45-60°, which will not be suitable for many spaces. Read our article on beam angles for more detailed information on this.

Adjustability – one optional feature that won’t be included on standard downlights is the ability to tilt and rotate the fitting, allowing for the light to be directed once it is installed. This can be a useful feature.

Aesthetics – a good quality downlight will minimise its visibility within the space, either by having a plastered in frame or small trims. A lower quality downlight could potentially look obtrusive and unsightly.

Fire rating – having the option of a fire rated fitting will be beneficial as it will simplify the installation process. This will only be available on better quality downlights. Our guide to fire rating fittings provides further advice on this.

IP rating – when choosing lighting for bathrooms, showers and external use, a specific IP rating is required. Having the option of an IP rated version of a downlight can be very helpful to maintain consistency throughout a project, so it is important to check the IP rating of a fitting before you buy it. Our guide to IP ratings offered a detailed look at this.

Modularity and repair – a good quality downlight will be able to be broken down into separate components including the LED module, the body, the driver, and the other elements. This means that if these individual components fail, they can potentially be repaired or replaced. Lower quality downlights have everything contained in one unit, with no separate pieces. When one part fails the whole fitting will need to be replaced. This can be particularly problematic if exactly the same item is not available to match the others used in the space.

Recycling – as mentioned above, a good downlight will be modular, and therefore easy to take apart to allow individual components to be recycled. A manufacturer might also provide a service to refurbish or repair fittings, or even a buyback scheme. As lower quality fittings are all in one body and can’t be disassembled for recycling, it will end up in landfill.

Ease of installation – a well-designed fitting will make it easier for the contractor to install the downlight, as well as removing it if it needs to be repaired in the future. Poorer quality fittings will be complicated to install, or not include adequate guidance, which will result in large delays on site and potentially broken fittings which will then need replacing.

There is clearly a lot to consider when looking for a good quality downlight. If you would like some help or advice, then please get in touch on 020 7112 4901 or email us at

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