"Are recessed can lights still popular? I see them in magazine pictures of rooms I like, but the ones that I have now are really bright and the bulbs are expensive. Is it true that LED is the new thing in lighting?"
Answer from Ross Sanders
Recessed lighting is very popular for a variety of reasons: cost efficiency, functionality, endless customization options and unobtrusiveness. Additionally, they can be installed virtually anywhere flat with electrical access. However, recessed lighting can look out of place in older homes, so you will need to consider the overall feel of your home.
According to the background information you sent me, your home was likely built in the early 1970’s which means that your “can lights” are probably older floodlight-style lamps. The good news is that your fixtures give off an amazing amount of light and most floodlights feature a built-in reflector, so most of that light finds its way down to the surfaces below. The bad news about your fixtures is that they generate a lot of heat, which is not only wasted energy but most of that heat rises into your attic space and contributes to high attic temperatures. When your attic becomes too warm, it shortens the life span of shingles and deteriorates the items you store there. Additionally, an excessively warm attic can also cause moisture problems in your home. With this in mind, I would recommend that you consider switching out your old lights for an updated version.
Modern cans, also known as downlights, do indeed feature more efficient light sources - mainly compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LEDs) lamps. Both lamps run at lower heat, and lower wattage (energy use) while providing reasonable amounts of light. They won’t overpower the surfaces beneath, which floods can do, but they can be sized to provide excellent ambient, task or mood lighting. They don’t focus their light as well as flood lamps, as they typically have no built-in reflector; however, can fixtures with reflectors are available and will help get the light where it needs to be. Dimming is also an option for downlights and provides excellent lighting control. Note that “A” style bulbs, the “old” round white incandescent bulbs we are all used to, are still available in lower wattages and are dimmable - not all CFLs and LEDs are dimmable. If LED dimming is something you are interested in, I would recommend checking out Leviton which is a company that specializes in dimmers.