By Phillip Schmidt, Networx
The cost of adding recessed light fixtures depends on several factors, namely, the number and type of fixtures you want, the state of the existing wiring and the basic installation factors, including what's above the ceiling where the lights will go. The best way to ensure accurate bids from electricians is to choose the fixtures beforehand and to understand what's required to get the job done. The final variable -- labor cost -- is determined by the local market for electrical work.
Choose Your Lights
Recessed light fixtures come in a wide range of types and styles and include standard incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, LED and other lamp (bulb) types. Decide how many fixtures you need, then shop around for the product that best meets your lighting goals (and budget).
If the ceiling is below an unheated attic, be sure to choose airtight, IC-rated fixtures. These can be covered with insulation and are sealed to prevent heated room air from escaping into the attic. Be aware that your electrician probably can buy your fixtures below retail cost, but he will likely add a markup that negates the discount (it's still preferable to have your electrician buy the fixtures).
Assess the Wiring
Often the biggest factor affecting the cost of recessed light fixtures is how much new wiring is needed. If you're replacing existing lights with recessed fixtures, chances are you can use the same circuit to supply the new fixtures, and the electrical work may be minimal. On the other hand, if no fixtures or suitable circuits are in the area, you'll need to tie into the closest appropriate circuit or install an entirely new circuit and breaker; this isn't a huge deal, but it can easily add $100 to $200 or more to the project cost. Have an electrician come over for a quick assessment of your plans. Many will do this for free on the prospect of getting to bid on the job.
Examine the Installation
In addition to the wiring work, installing recessed light fixtures requires cutting into the ceiling surface, mounting the new fixtures (typically to the ceiling framing) and any patch-up work where old fixtures are removed. Attic access above the ceiling makes it easy to install wiring and standard fixtures. If the ceiling is enclosed (the space above is inaccessible), you'll probably want to use remodel-type fixtures that mount right to the drywall. The wiring may or may not be more complicated with enclosed ceilings.
Obtaining and Comparing Bids
Once you've gathered the information, put it all together into a detailed description of the project; use this to obtain bids from at least three local electricians who do a lot of remodel work. Detailed job specifications ensure each pro is bidding on the same thing. If any bids are significantly higher or lower than the average range, ask for a price breakdown to see where the extra costs are coming in.