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Halogen Bulbs Can Put Focus on the Right Track

April 04, 1998|From Associated Press

Track lighting can change the feel of a room as effectively as a fresh coat of paint and new furnishings.

Installing track lighting requires only basic do-it-yourself skills. It involves disconnecting the room's ceiling light fixture and connecting the wires in the ceiling box to the track lighting terminals. Then, the tracks are mounted onto the ceiling. The lights snap into the tracks' grooves with no additional wiring.

Once, track lights resembled large coffee cans with floodlights or spotlights inside. Now, many systems use smaller fixtures and compact, low-voltage halogen bulbs.

Halogen lights will revitalize accent lighting more efficiently than conventional bulbs. Halogens are more like sunlight in terms of brightness and color. Halogens cost more than incandescents and can last as much as three times longer. Their reflectors and better focusing enable you to use lower-voltage bulbs to save energy.

Before installing track lighting or any new electrical fixture, consult an electrician if any of these conditions exist:

* Older wiring. Fabric insulation often makes it difficult to distinguish hot wires from neutral ones, and the insulation might be frayed.

* Improperly grounded wiring. Make sure it has a bare copper ground wire or a metal casing that acts as a ground for a metal electrical box.

* Aluminum wiring. This wiring, distinguished by its gray color, is a fire hazard, and only a licensed electrician should make the connection.

The only tools you'll need for installation are a ladder to reach the ceiling; a neon-light 120-volt tester to make sure the power to the ceiling box is off; a chalk line to snap a guideline for the tracks; a pencil to mark toggle-bolt locations; a power drill to make holes for the bolts; and a screwdriver to mount the track and make the connections.

But plan first.

To plan a track lighting system, follow these steps:

* Find the nearest ceiling light fixture controlled by a wall switch to use as the power source.

* Consider the ceiling height. Track lights hang down as much as 6 inches. A ceiling less than 8 feet high can present a problem.

* Decide whether you want to control the lights with an on-off switch or a dimmer. Certain low-voltage transformers require a special dimmer, available at lighting retailers.

* To figure how many lights to use, consider the room's use and what objects, such as plants or artwork, you want to highlight.

* When planning your layout, keep in mind that track is sold in 2-foot increments, usually up to 12 feet. Longer runs can be fashioned with connectors. Connectors in various patterns let you run track in as many as four directions, including diagonally, from the electrical box.

* Fixtures that use standard 120-volt household power are ideal for general lighting because they create a wider, less-focused beam of light. In the same track, you can use low-voltage (12-volt) halogen fixtures with their own transformers.

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