Get This Look Part 4: Ceiling Accent Lighting

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LED flexible strips have transformed the lighting world, making it possible to create stunning visual effects which would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve using standard bulbs. Among the many lighting trends to emerge as a result of LED advancements is the ceiling accent light.

Whether you’re working with a cove, soffit, tray, or coffered ceiling, you’ll find there are many high end, expensive fixtures designed specifically for these types of applications, or cheap rope lights that do not last. But one of the great things about ceiling accents is their natural ability to hide LED light strips out of sight while still creating the same great “wash” of light. This means that you can achieve this high-end look without having to break the bank!

If you do plan to use flexible strips to highlight soffits, coves, or coffers in your home or business, our Lighting Designers have a few recommendations to help you perfect this look!

Wiring & Power: Perhaps the first element to consider when planning any LED installation is wiring & power. Because ceiling lighting tends to require particularly long runs of light, there is an increased risk of “voltage drop”- which simply means that when dealing with low voltage lighting in very long lengths, there tends to be a higher voltage at the beginning of the strip closer to the power source. The more resistance which is encountered along the strip, the lower the voltage becomes. The result is a series of LEDs in which the lights at the beginning are much brighter than the lights at the end. Especially in a cove lighting situation (where the end of a light run will come back around to meet the beginning) this is not ideal.

voltage dropIn order to avoid this issue when lighting around coves, coffers, or other ceiling accents, our Lighting Designers recommend using 24V LEDs as opposed to 12V LEDs. The higher starting voltage means that 24V LED strips are able to be wired in longer runs before experiencing voltage drop. Another technique which can be used to extend the length of both 12 or 24V LED runs is to power from the center of a light strip. For example, a 60 W transformer is capable of powering a 200” of Ultra Bright LEDs, but due to resistance, voltage drop would become visible somewhere around 100”, and grow dimmer from there. However if that same 200” strip is powered from the center, voltage will be maintained in both directions for a full 100”, resulting in even brightness.

Typically ceiling accent lights are powered from a remote location and controlled via wall switch. In order to discretely and conveniently provide power to lights in these locations, our Design Team recommends that wiring be dropped to at least two opposite corners of the cove or soffit. And for larger systems (conference rooms, banquet halls, etc.) a wire drop to each corner will ensure the most even cast of light. These wire drops will tie back into a low voltage transformer (12 or 24V corresponding to the type of lights selected), which will be connected to the designated wall switch or dimmer.

Get this look 4Selecting Brightness & Color: When choosing a particular color for your cove or soffit, it is important to take into consideration the color temperature of any existing lights, as well as the overall color scheme of the room. In general, areas with dark woods and rich, earthy tones tend to look best with the more golden glow of warm white (2700 – 3000K). Warm white continues to be the industry standard, and certainly the most popular color sold here at Inspired LED. Transitional style rooms with lots of white may benefit from the more crisp, clean shade of our pure white LEDs (4200K), which lack the yellow or blue undertones of other LEDs. For the most modern, industrial, or clinical applications, cool white LEDs (6000K) offer the subtle hint of blue often seen with fluorescent bulbs.

After you’ve chosen your color temperature, you will need to decide upon a brightness level (determined by the spacing, or density of the LEDs). The brightness level you select for your cove lighting will not only be dependent upon the overall light output which you hope to achieve, but also, the distance between the base of the accent piece (where the LEDs will be placed) and the wall or ceiling upon which the light will be reflected.

The thing to avoid here is the “hot spots” which can be caused by disproportionate spacing between LEDs and the reflection surface. Generally speaking, the closer your lights will be to the wall or ceiling, the denser the LED spacing will need to be in order to provide an even wash of light. However, it is important that the LEDs are not too bright, or they may cause a distracting glare. For the average cove or soffit (spaced 3” from the ceiling), our Lighting Designers most commonly recommend the use of 24V 240Ω Mega Bright LEDs, or 12V Ultra Bright LEDs. If you are needing something brighter than what we reccomend, we are now offering 12V Mega Bright LEDs, and 24V 100Ω Mega Bright LEDs.

Positioning & Installation: Most coves, soffits, or tray ceilings feature an edge which is shaped somewhat like an “L” or “J”. The recommended positioning of your lights will depend upon the particular style of your ceiling, as well as the overall effect which you are looking to achieve.

For most “L” shaped soffits or tray ceilings, our design team recommends positioning LED flex strips as close to the wall as possible in order to prevent them from being seen from certain angles. The goal is to allow the light to reflect off the ceiling, so diodes should be pointed directly up. Similarly, for “I” beam coffers, lights should be mounted as close to the center beam to prevent them from being seen. Again, since the goal is to illuminate the ceiling, LEDs should be positioned so that they face straight up.

Since crown molding coves tend to take on more of a “J” shape, the outer lip can be used to conceal strip lighting, allowing the LEDs to be mounted closer to the front. The light should be reflected off of the ceiling to create a subtle glow, so LEDs should be facing upward. In rare cases it may be beneficial to use a 45° aluminum channel to adjust the angle of the light, however in our experience the change in appearance is slight, and often not worth the additional cost.

Unlike tray or cove ceilings, when working dropped ceilings, the goal is usually to create a wash of light along a nearby wall. Under these circumstances, our Lighting Designers recommend mounting LED strips near the corner aiming out directly toward the wall. Of course, since every home, and every individual is different, we always suggest that prior to permanently installing LED flex strips, customers temporarily mount LEDs in their desired location using Scotch or painter’s tape in order to first evaluate and approve the effect before peeling off adhesive backing. Check out the diagram below for more details!


LED Ceiling Accent Lighting

Visit our website for more inspirational lighting ideas. For more information on lighting coves or soffits, feel free to contact us directly via email at, or by phone at 480-941-4286. Or, for assistance with your specific lighting project, contact our Design Team for a free LED layout and quote!