What Are Drop Ceiling Lights?

A suspended or "drop" ceiling consists of lightweight panels suspended from ceiling beams by metal cables. Electrical wiring, ductwork and plumbing pipes are tucked behind drop ceiling panels for easy access. Because of their lower height, suspended ceilings have fewer choices than other types of ceilings when it comes to lighting fixtures.

How to Choose Lighting for a Drop Ceiling

The first thing to consider when choosing drop ceiling lights is the space you're trying to illuminate. Is it a business office, a warehouse, a classroom or a residence? Once you know where you want to put your drop ceiling lights, the next consideration is what fixtures appeal to you. This is a matter of form as well as function because each type of fixture diffuses the light in its own way.

Industrial Applications

Two kinds of drop ceilings provide lighting for commercial settings: troffer lights and recessed lighting. Both are popular choices for industrial spaces because they output powerful, even lighting to the necessary area without causing eye strain or fatigue. The proper diffusion of light ensures rooms are fully lit without the glare. Keep in mind that while fluorescent lights are relatively inexpensive initially, drop ceiling LED lights will save you money in the long run in the form of more efficient energy usage, last longer (meaning less maintenance) and better lighting performance.

Residential Applications

Drop ceiling lights are particularly suitable for new home construction. They bring a modern architectural vibe and provide several great options that offer warmth and ambiance to home spaces. Cove and recessed lighting can be combined with high-end wall sconces for layered lighting that sets the mood. Soffit lighting or a drop hiding a ceiling beam is perfect for a pendant fixture, which adds to the overall look of your ceiling. In fact, drop ceiling lights have a place in every room of your house, from kitchen to living room, bedroom to bathroom.

Fluorescent Lights vs. LED Ceiling Lights

One thing you'll need to decide before you proceed is whether you're going with fluorescent or drop ceiling LED ceiling lights. The most popular choice for drop ceilings, lightweight fluorescent light fixtures are mounted onto the same metal supports and hold up ceiling panels. There are a wide variety of sizes to accommodate drop ceilings without modification. While they're most often used in commercial applications, there are some rooms in the home that may benefit from the installation of fluorescent lights. If you're doing new construction or a significant renovation, you may want to consider installing fixtures that can accommodate LED ceiling lights instead of fluorescent bulbs. While they may cost a little more at the outset, drop ceiling LED lighting can provide significant savings over its lifetime because it lasts longer, is more energy-efficient and gives you enhanced lighting performance.

Defining the Types of Drop Ceiling Light Fixtures

Based on the needs of the room and the look you're trying to convey, there are several types of drop ceiling light fixtures available for your space.


These indoor commercial drop ceiling lighting fixtures are typically installed in offices, classrooms, retail stores, hospitals and other open-space workplaces to provide bright, even light. Troffer lights are typically recessed in a ceiling grid but they are sometimes surface mounted. You can install troffers with the number of lamps needed to light your space, whether it be an office hallway or a large warehouse.

Recessed Drop Ceiling LED Lights

Also known as can lighting or downlights, drop ceiling recessed lighting fixtures are flush with the ceiling, making them an ideal choice for rooms with limited ceiling height. Recessed light fixtures have a reflective metal container that houses the lightbulb inside. Although incandescent recessed lighting gets too hot to be mounted safely in drop ceilings, LED ceiling lights are cool enough to serve in recessed lights. This type of lighting is an attractive alternative to fluorescent light panels. However, installation is more time-consuming and you'll need to install more lights to get the same amount of brightness.

LED Flat Panel Drop Ceiling LED Lighting

Created to replace fluorescent tubes in ceiling grids, LED flat panel lights have a slim profile. This streamlined appearance is made possible by compact LEDs. The effect is a neater, less invasive appearance, making panel lights ideal, especially in small spaces. Another advantage of panel lights over conventional light bulbs is they give off an even, glare-free illumination. Panel drop ceiling lighting may be built-in or surface-mounted.

Edge-Lit Grids

A row of LED lights is attached to the panel's frame (or edge) in edge-lit LED grids. These LED ceiling lights shine horizontally into a light-guide plate, directing the light downward through the diffuser into the space below. Edge-lit grids are also known as side-lit panels.

Canopy Drop Ceiling Lights

These luminaries are stationed beneath an outdoor canopy, often in parking garages, overhangs, gas stations and walkways. Canopy LED ceiling lights provide a feeling of safety and welcome, overlooking the area below at an angle that offers maximum brightness. Square or round and available in retrofit kits, canopy lights are designed to withstand the elements. Many are rated for dust and water protection. Canopy lights can be a cool white or bright light in situations when security and safety are paramount.

Surface-Mounted Fixtures for Drop Ceiling Lighting

Just about any regular surface-mounted light fixture can be placed behind a drop ceiling. Because they are installed on the ceiling surface, no parts are recessed into the ceiling. Examples of surface-mounted fixtures include track lighting, pendant lamps and basic glass fixtures. Surface-mounted fixtures for drop ceiling lights have their own support system using metal bars, cables or chains that are attached to a ceiling joist. (Just don't try to attach the fixture to a ceiling panel because it could result in the ceiling detaching from its supports.)

Available Sizes for Drop Ceiling Lights

Both LED and fluorescent drop ceiling lights come in three standard sizes: 1 x 4, 2 x 2 and 2 x 4. The size you choose will depend on the size of your space and how wide the beam of light needs to be for full illumination.

Drop Ceiling Lights Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Different Mountings for Drop Ceiling Lights?

The mounting for your drop ceiling lights will vary depending on the type of light you choose:

  • Direct mount: This is an adjustable metal piece that attaches to the surface of your ceiling using screws.
  • Junction box: Metal or hard plastic, a "j-box" holds all the wires attached to your light fixture.
  • Hook & Eye Bold: Ideal for hanging your drop ceiling LED lights using a hook or wire.
  • Chain: High-bay hanging lights typically suspend from chains that hook on the ceiling. This type of fixture is most often used in kitchens and restaurants.

What Is Recessed Light Housing?

Another name for the light fixture, a recessed light housing sits above a drop ceiling and holds the light bulb and trim. There are different housing types based on the job you're doing:

  • New construction: You can install this type of recessed drop ceiling lighting before the ceiling goes up in new construction.
  • Remodel Housing: This type of fixture is designed for installation LED ceiling lights in an existing drop ceiling.
  • Insulated Contact-Rated Housing: IC housing is used in projects where there is direct contact with insulation. Non-IC housing requires a minimum 3 inches of clearance from the insulation above it.
  • Airtight Housing: This restricts the flow of air between an attic or other unconditioned space above and a conditioned space below.
  • Shallow Ceiling Housing: Used in ceilings with 2" x 6" joists.
  • Slope Ceiling Housing: This type of housing allows space for the LED ceiling lights to angle in a sloped ceiling.

What Is the Difference Between Watts and Lumens?

The amount of energy consumed by a light is measured in watts. When you measure the brightness of your drop ceiling lights, you are talking about lumens. The higher the lumens, the greater the output of light. Choose the lumens based on the brightness required and the area you're illuminating. For example, a panel ceiling light needs fewer lumens than a canopy or high-bay ceiling light.

What Is A Kelvin?

In ceiling lights, kelvin measures the color temperature. Colors on the lower side of the spectrum are more warm and vibrant. On the higher side of the spectrum, the colors are brighter and more like daylight illumination. To choose drop ceiling lighting for your home, go with warm colors, which produce a welcoming vibe. Cooler white colors are best for commercial settings.

Best Brand of LED Lights For a Drop Ceiling

Manufactured at the Warehouse-Lighting.com plant in New Berlin, Wisconsin, the WareLight brand drop ceiling lights and all the WareLight products at Warehouse-Lighting.com have an advantage over other brands. There's no need to wait for a shipment from overseas – WareLight drop ceiling lights are readily available for your space, be it new construction, renovation or replacement. The team of experienced lighting experts has worked to develop and continuously improve the WareLight brand – the proof is in their performance.

For the Most Illuminating Drop Ceiling Lights, Shop Warehouse-Lighting.com

Warehouse-Lighting.com has the best LED ceiling lights for your space. For over 15 years, we've offered high-quality products that have kept pace with industry demands. Competitively priced and made in America, drop ceiling lights from Warehouse-Lighting.com also come with the kind of customer service you won't experience elsewhere. Contact us today and tell us how we can brighten your next project!

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