Recessed Lighting vs Flush Mount Lighting: What’s The Difference?

Finding the right light balance in your home can be a tricky task to get right. There are endless lighting options available on the market, and choosing the right one may seem impossible. But if you narrow it down to the differences between each type and compare, you should have no issues knowing what suits your space.

In one corner of modern lighting options is recessed lighting; in the other, we have flush mount lighting. Both are excellent options, but for alternative reasons. The differences between recessed lighting and flush mount lighting will surprise you and ultimately help you decide which one should light up your life.

The Difference Between Recessed Lighting And Flush Mount Lighting

Comparing recessed and flush mount lighting can help influence your home’s design. Both these options can look incredibly beautiful and polished; other times, one would look better than the other, depending on the space and your needs.

Recessed lighting has gained significant popularity since its boom in the 2000s. Recessed lighting fixtures, also known as can or pot lights, are flushed in line with the ceiling, giving it a stealthy profile.

The light sits a few inches inwards, and the bulb screws into it, which means that all parts get neatly tucked in line with the roof. You can also install recessed lights on walls or floors.

old living room with different lighting options
Combination of recessed and flush mount lights

Flush mount lighting has a fixture placed directly onto the ceiling, leaving no gaps in between. It has a canopy, with up to three sockets, that gets enclosed with a light cover made of glass or plastic.

You can identify a typical flush mount light as a half globe cover with a pointed final in the bottom center, but many other styles have become available that are far trendier than the old-school flush mount.

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Components

Both these lighting options are unique in their design and have different component structures. They don’t have many structural similarities other than emitting light – even the bulbs they use are different shapes! Recessed lights are also smaller than flush mount lights.

Recessed lighting is housed up to nine inches into the ceiling, depending on the size of the light, and no structural components are below the roof besides the visible trim.

Recessed lighting structure

  • Housing: This part sits within the roof, is usually made of metal, and consists of the socket, reflector for light refraction, and thermal sensor for overheating purposes.
  • Socket: Uses screw-in bulbs with compatible threads.
  • Reflector: The shiny surface on the inside reflects light to make it brighter and direct it.
  • Thermal sensor: Reduces overheating and turns the light off if it gets too hot.
  • Trim: Decorative covering over the housing, keeping the hole in the ceiling neat and hidden.

Flush mount lighting has a more complex setup than recessed lighting and many more components. The entire light fixture is fitted to the ceiling and is entirely external – besides the wiring! Although it is on the surface of the roof, the length of it is usually short and works for low ceilings.

multiple recessed lights
Most components of recessed lights are hidden in the ceiling

Flush mount lighting structure

  • Junction box: The place where all the wires meet.
  • Pan/Canopy: A flat disk attached to the ceiling housing all parts of the fixture and is where the diffuser/light cover attaches. Old-style flush mount lights attach with an all thread and final.
  • All thread and final: An all thread is a rod in the center of the canopy that gets enclosed by the light cover, which gets kept in place with a screwed-on final and is usually decorative.
  • Foil insulation: Attached as a layer on top of the canopy and beneath the sockets. The foil insulation protects the junction box from overheating and acts as a reflective surface.
  • Sockets: Sockets are attached to the canopy and often have two or three.
  • Diffuser/light cover: This is usually made of glass or other material and is the cover over the light fixture that diffuses light to spread further.
multiple flush mount lights
Flush mount lighting is available in different sizes

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Styles

Style is an essential element of any light fixture, and recessed and flush mount lights have various possibilities. You’ll want to look at each, as they can either complement the design of your space or become an eyesore!

Recessed lighting designs aren’t too crazy, as they sit within your roof and mean to be inconspicuous, but the trim style could make a big difference in terms of adequate lighting. You can play around with trim colors too.

Different recessed lighting trim styles

  • Baffle trims: This is the most common, where the light retreats inside the fixture, and there is white ribbing to minimize glare.
  • Reflector trims: The surface inside is smooth and reflective for better light emission.
  • Open trims: The trim is a bit thicker, and the interior of the fixture is smooth.
  • Eyeball trims: You can rotate and tilt the direction of light.
  • Pinhole trims: The light source is smaller and has thicker edging for a spotlight effect.
  • Lensed trims: Has a plastic or glass cover over the bulb for dust and moisture protection.
  • Wall wash trims: has a curved design to suit walls better.

Flush light styles are more diverse, and you can find many different designs that can suit any room. The light covers come in many shapes and sizes, so you’ll have plenty of creative freedom.

many recessed lights in living room
Recessed lights create a very consistent lighting across the room

Different flush mount lighting styles

  • Bowl flush mount: The typical flush mount cover has a bowl shape that looks like a cut-off from a sphere.
  • Dome flush mount: the cover wraps around the bulb and has an opening at the bottom.
  • Drum flush light: The cover has flat sides but is still completely enclosed.
  • Semi-flush mount: The fixture is still directly attached to the ceiling, but the base has a short rod-like extension that lowers the light covering.
round flush mount light with glass style
Flush mount light with bowl shape

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Installation

Installation is a big factor in this face-off because recessed lights aren’t your average one-and-done installation. To install recessed lighting, you’ll need to make holes to place the fixture inside, so you’ll need to be 100% sure of placement.

You’ll require less intensive labor when installing flush mount lights because all the electrical housing is external from the ceiling, so if you’re looking for an easier, cheaper installation, flush mount lighting is your friend.

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Ability

Recessed lights offer less illumination than flush mount lights due to their design and size. Recessed lights focus on a smaller area, especially pinhole trims, so you’ll need multiple to match the illumination of a flush mount light.

You’ll often find recessed lights in art galleries because of their ability to highlight features, so recessed lights are a definite yes if you have some bespoke decorative items.

Flush mount lights are brighter and more illuminating because they cover a wider surface area thanks to multiple bulbs. Even if a flush mount has one bulb, the light covering is made to diffuse light efficiently.

Large rooms with high ceilings are where both these options lack ability on their own, so you’ll need to combine both or opt for a better option like hanging lights. Recessed lights are almost always paired with other lighting styles in large high-ceiling rooms.

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Placement

Flush mount and recessed lighting could be on par as an option because they both work perfectly for low ceilings, as they don’t take up the head-bumping zone that a chandelier or pendant light would.

Since recessed lights don’t offer the same illumination as flush mount ones, you’ll need a few more, complicating placement. You’ll want to ensure you follow precise calculations when finding spots for your recessed lighting.

recessed lighting in row placement
Recessed lights are often used in kitchens

Depending on the size of your room, you’ll only need one or two flush-mounted lights, as they usually have more than one bulb. So which rooms should each type of lighting get placed in? The answer is: anywhere!

Both these options can illuminate bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, hallways, and living areas. You can even combine the two for larger spaces. Flush mount lighting would work better in some places, like your living room, because it can become a design feature instead of just an illumination device.

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Cost

When it comes to budgeting your lighting project, sometimes your wallet has all the say. Installation-wise, you’ll spend more on recessed lighting because it is further labor-intensive and requires more lights than a flush mount. However, recessed light maintenance is extremely low, and you’ll hardly ever need to replace a bulb if you opt for LED options.

Flush mount lighting is a budget-friendly choice if you have a smaller room because you’ll only need one, but it could be more expensive if you’re looking for an extravagant fixture, even more so if you need multiple.

Recessed Lighting vs. Flush Mount Lighting Trends

Recessed lights seem like they’re here to stay based on their popularity and sleek, discreet style. Recessed lighting matches almost any design, especially minimalism, so they’re worthwhile if you want something that stays trendy through the test of time.

Flush mount lighting allows the creativity within you to flow into a beautifully illuminated space, thanks to the countless options out there. The bonus is that they don’t make holes in your roof, so if you want to change the fixture eventually, you won’t encounter many problems.