How Far Should Recessed Lights Be From A Ceiling Fan?

Ceiling fans are designed to create a downdraft due to the rotation of the angled blades pushing air downwards. If lights are installed too close above the fan-blades, a light strobe effect is created that is very unpleasant and may even cause severe discomfort to some people.

The guideline rule is that the distance from the outer edge of the ceiling fan-blades to the edge of the recessed lights is a minimum of 600mm. Avoiding the strobe effect is achieved when the light-cone does not intersect with the plane of the fan-blades.

ceiling fan and recessed lights

The adverse effects of strobe lights are well known and can even cause disorientation, nausea, rapid eye movement, muscle rigidity, and fits.

The planning of the lighting and cooling for each room needs to consider how to avoid this disturbing phenomenon carefully. Let’s look at ways how to plan an effective lighting and cooling plan.

Can You Have Recessed Lighting With A Ceiling Fan?

Yes, you can. Recessed lighting and ceiling fans are compatible and widely used in modern interior designs.

The architect or lighting designer must avoid the creation of light strobing effects. The strobing is caused when the blades of the ceiling fans create an intermittent lighting and dimming effect, known as strobing.

Placement of the downlights must be done in such a way as to make it impossible for the lights to interact with the ceiling fan blades at all.

There is no building code governing this aspect of lighting installation in conjunction with ceiling fans, but the rule of thumb mostly used is that the outer edge of the ceiling fan is at least 600mm away from the triangular cone of light from the recessed downlight.

Recessed Ceiling Lights Ceiling Fans Planning

1. What Is The Goal Of Having Recessed Lights And Ceiling Fans?

Decide what effect you want to get with the recessed lighting. Are you going for a warm, soft lighting effect, or do you want to highlight certain areas or features in the room?  Is light required to perform work or to create an atmosphere?

These goals will determine the spacing between recessed downlights and the depth to which the lights will be recessed.

The deeper the lights are recessed, the more focused and narrow the angle of the light-cone projected from it. The shallowed the recess depth, the wider the angle of the light cone, and the more diffuse the light will be.

2. Draw The Lighting Plan Out On Paper

Draw a top view of the room and the location of furniture, doors, and windows to scale on a piece of graph paper.

As a rule of thumb, the spacing between downlights should be half of the height of the ceiling. A ten-foot-high ceiling would thus translate to a spacing distance of five feet between downlights.

Determine where in the room the ceiling fan is to be installed and at which height will the fan blades be.

Ceiling fans are most often installed in the geometric center of the ceiling. Building code requires a minimum height of seven feet above the floor level and eighteen inches away from the walls.

If the ceiling height allows for it, make the installation height of the blades at eight or nine feet above the floor. The ceiling fan will also require a cross beam in the ceiling to mount to.

Draw the ceiling position and then place the downlight positions using the one-half of ceiling height spacing as a guideline.

3. Draw The Effective Light Pattern On The Floor Plan

The recessed downlight installation guide will provide an effective light circle at various installation heights. Draw the light circles on the floorplan to identify any shadows or over-lit areas. Also, ensure that the downlights are an appropriate distance from the walls.

The more accurate the drawing is to true scale, the better will be the result. Establish that you are happy with your plan and have measured it at least twice before commencing with installation.

4. The Final Spacing For Ceiling Fan And Down Lights

The distance between the downlights should be half the ceiling height. The placement of the downlights from the walls must be at a distance to obtain the required effect.

The ceiling fans arc must not intersect with the downlight at any point to avoid the strobe effect. The triangle (or cone) of the light must not touch the fab blades at any point.

A well-considered spacing plan for installing downlights and ceiling fans will ensure that the job is done right the first time and avoid costly mistakes to repair or replace ceiling boards.

5. The Final Installation Plan

Once you are satisfied with the location of the ceiling fan and the downlights, update the floorplan drawing. Take note of the existing electrical plan for the room or design a plan for a new room. All ceiling fans require a wall switch to control the AC power supply.

With the position of the ceiling fan finalized and the spacing of the downlights set to accurate positions, you can select the correct downlight kit for your room. Also, ensure that the location of the downlight does not coincide with the position of support beams in the roof.

The wiring of the recessed lighting may require the help of an electrical contractor to deal with the wiring, switch controllers, and circuit breakers. Seek advice or assistance from a certified professional that can do the installation to local code.

6. Installation of Ceiling Fans And Recessed Downlights

With the installation diagram complete and the wiring for the electrical supply all completed to code, installing the ceiling fan and recessed downlights is simple enough to enable a DIY approach.

Measure and mark the installation points in light pencil marks on the ceiling. Get someone to double-check your measurements. Make sure before cutting or drilling holes into the ceiling board that your locations are correct.

After installing all lights and the ceiling fan, test the installation and check that no strobing effect exists. If you do find some strobing, adjust the position of the light deeper into the recess tube, narrowing the cone angle of the light.

If you have planned well, there will be no strobing effect, and the light effect you have envisaged is achieved. The lighting will be in harmony with the ceiling fan and not cause any disturbing effects.

Ceiling fan installation

Can you replace the recessed light with a ceiling fan?

Yes you can, however the replacement of a recessed light with a ceiling fan is not straightforward.

Recessed lights must be spaced properly and in locations where the recess tubes are fitted through the ceiling boards.

A ceiling fan cannot be suspended directly from an unsupported ceiling board but requires the additional support of a cross beam to hang the ceiling fan from. Read our guide on how to install a ceiling fan where no fixture exists.

Converting a recessed light to a ceiling fan would thus require additional support beams to be installed above the ceiling board from which the fan motor can be suspended.

The electrical draw from a ceiling fan would also be much higher than that of a downlight. NEC code requires that ceiling fans be installed on an electrical supply circuit with a wall switch in the installation room.

Recessed lights can be replaced with ceiling fans. Still, it is not a simple installation process as it requires dedicated wiring for the power supply and additional structural support above the ceiling boards.

Converting A Recessed Light To A Ceiling Fan

If you already have recessed lights installed in a room and wish to convert one of these recessed lights to a ceiling fan, you will have to establish some key aspects first.

Does the electrical wiring for the recessed ceiling light allow for the fitment of a ceiling fan? Ceiling fan motors will draw much more electrical current than a downlight. New wiring may have to be installed to power the ceiling fan and run it on a separate circuit to the downlights.

The position of the recessed downlight to other recessed downlights in the room will also have to be such that no strobing interference will result in the downlight spacing being too close to the ceiling fan if there is at least 600mm between the outer edge of the ceiling fan and the arc of the light emitted from the recessed downlight.

Ceiling fans require a strong fixture to the ceiling and will most likely be fitted to a support beam above the ceiling board.

Replacing a downlight with a ceiling fan may require additional support to be installed above the ceiling from which the ceiling fan can be suspended. The hole in the ceiling left by the recessed light will also need to be closed up tastefully.


Avoiding the strobing effect where the light from a recessed downlight is interfered with by the blades of a ceiling fan, downlights should be installed at least 600mm away from the outer edge of the ceiling fan blades.

The best practice is to draw a top view of the room to scale and plan the layout of the ceiling fan and downlights as accurately as possible.

Check with a qualified installer of recessed downlights which codes apply in your area. Use a licensed professional for the electrical installations as the faulty installations may increase the risk of fire.