What is Track Lighting?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Track lighting is an alternative to traditional wired lamps and fixed recessed lighting designs. Most systems use a length of exposed electrical wiring hidden inside a plastic or aluminum track, which can be wired directly into pre-existing circuits or plugged into wall sockets for power. After the track has been mounted to the wall or ceiling, a separate lamp and socket assembly can be snapped into place anywhere along the track itself. Metal plates in the socket make contact with the charged wiring in the track, which in turn activates the lightbulb.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

This type of lighting is very useful in situations where traditional lighting is problematic. It can be very effective for isolating a work of art or other prominent design element. Several pinspot lamps can be installed in a single track and pointed in any number of directions. Traditional spotlights may take up valuable space on a mantle or table, and the backlighting effect from below is often unpleasant. Track lighting allows floodlights and spotlights to be hung unobtrusively from the ceiling or upper walls.

Some home renovators also find lighting solutions for older homes to be tricky, and instead of trying to install new wiring in an old ceiling, decorators can use surface-mounted track lighting instead. Manufacturers offer a number of decorative lamps and extensions designed to work with track bases. The main trick when working with this type of system is to know which of three basic track models have been installed. This information should be listed somewhere in the instruction manual included with the lamps and track. Some systems use a two-wire connector, while others use a three-wire grounded system or a wider two-wire connection. Lamps and extenders designed for one type of track will not fit any other design.

Another important consideration is the wiring method used. Some systems use the standard line voltage of 120 volts to power high-wattage bulbs, while others have a low-voltage system that uses a transformer to reduce the current from 120 volts to around 12 volts. The two systems should never be confused — a low-voltage bulb placed in a line voltage system could cause a serious electrical fire. Most decorative lighting designs, such as pinspots, use low-voltage systems, but functional ones may use 120 volt house current and 75 watt lightbulbs. The transformer for a low-voltage track lighting system may or may not be apparent, so it's always safest for homeowners to replace blown lightbulbs with those with identical wattage and purpose.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone ever tried to install track lighting on their own? Did you find it difficult or run into any snags doing your project?

I am considering track lighting to add a little extra something to our living room and would love to undertake the project myself. I am already able to hook up the wiring for a regular light, so hopefully installing track lighting isn't much different.

Also, when thinking about costs, do you find track lighting more expensive than putting in pot lights? Or is the cost about the same?

Right now it seems like track lighting would be less work than pot lights, but I am willing to reconsider if one is cheaper.


Track lighting is a great thing to install if you want to show off some art work in your home. It can really give your place a true gallery feel.

For our home we had a professional come in to install all of our track lighting, but I imagine it could be a fairly easy do-it-yourself project if you knew a bit about wiring.

Getting track lighting can really brighten up your home, but make sure you figure out which bulbs are best for what you are showcasing. In our case we found fluorescent bulbs weren't flattering for our art pieces so we ended up switching to regular old light bulbs.

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