Living Smart: Is track lighting the right choice for your home?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

When used correctly, track lighting highlights a roomís best features.

Track lighting helps homeowners spotlight pieces of art or pieces of furniture. With an electrical current flowing through the track, this popular product allows homeowners to change or reposition individual fixtures after installation. But track lighting, which first received a patent more than 50 years ago, is just one option for interior lighting.

Whether youíre taking on a complete home remodel or just trying to brighten up a room, consider these pros and cons before choosing track lighting.

Pro: Itís easy to install

Track lighting is no more difficult to install than regular lighting, says Brandon Hill, director of purchasing and specifications for Kopke Remodeling & Design in Sterling Heights, Mich. It simply requires more attention to placement, he adds.

Homeowners may prefer track lighting if they donít want to cut into the ceiling to run wire and add electrical boxes, says Shelley McNaughton, owner of Shelley McNaughton Design Associates in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "One of the reasons you want to use it is because you want lighting in a certain part of a room but you canít get into the ceiling," she says.

Con: The fixtures may cost more

Compared to other fixtures, which connect directly to an electrical box, track lighting isnít the cheapest option, McNaughton says. The type of fixtures and length of track also impact the cost, she adds.

Many tracks with directional fixtures cost between $50 and $100 for an almost 4-foot track. However, longer tracks with more fixtures could cost more than $500. Any special fixtures will cost more. Also, the project will require a few hours of labor, and licensed electricians usually charge $50 to $100 per hour, according to CostHelper.com.

Pro: It highlights specific features well

"Track lighting would be (useful) when you want to light something specifically," McNaughton says. Directional fixtures can spotlight artwork on a gallery wall or a piece of furniture, while hanging pendants shine downward onto a kitchen island, table or some other surface, she says.

Con: It provides poor general lighting

Hill says homeowners should consider the type of light source needed, the type of bulbs they want, what the room is used for and the ambiance they want. Homeowners should choose lighting based on these needs and use track lighting only when appropriate.

If track lighting is the right choice, homeowners should use it to highlight specific features of a room, not the entire room, Hill says.

While track lighting works well in kitchens and living rooms, which often have auxiliary light sources, McNaughton doesnít recommend it for bathrooms and smaller spaces.

Pro: It comes in many different styles

With a plethora of different track and fixture styles, homeowners can easily find something to fit their dťcor. This rings especially true in contemporary settings, Hill says.

"Design-wise, track has a more modern or eclectic feel," he says.

Con: It sometimes looks clunky

In some settings, the track and additional hardware may make a ceiling too busy, McNaughton says. She often recommends recessed lighting with directional heads as an alternative. But in many cases, she adds, track lighting proves a good option.

"Depending on how theyíre used in the room, track lighting usually works," McNaughton says. "... Itís just one of those things that you know when youíre going to use and you know when youíre not."