Back on Track

modern track lighting

Back on Track


By Lori Powell
Photographs courtesy of Tech Lighting

In a monthly column, Lori Powell, of Fogg Lighting in Portland, offers her expert tips on illuminating your home.

Q: When does track lighting make sense — and can it be attractive?

Track lighting has come a long way since the giant can-like fixtures affixed to ceiling-mounted tracks that were popular in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Now we have fixtures with smaller, sleeker heads and more delicate, decorative styling. Today’s track lighting offers a versatile way to add task, ambient, or accent lighting to your home.

Line-voltage systems attach directly to the power source on a ceiling, wall, or beam.

Tracks are ideal for spaces that are hard to wire, or where you need more light, but have only one electrical connection. Use them in lieu of recessed lighting when beams, ductwork, or concrete ceilings make rewiring or demo impossible. In a post-and-beam home, you can mount a track on a beam and position some heads downward and others upward to accentuate the architecture and add soft, ambient light to the room.

Another major benefit tracks offer is flexibility. A single light source can illuminate a kitchen sink, island, and stove, for example, or multiple pieces of art in a living room. When you renovate or redecorate, you can change the lighting scheme by simply adjusting the position and angle of the track heads. Avoid making tracks the only lighting in a room, however, as they can cause glare and discomfort.

Low-voltage track lighting systems can be mounted near the track, or remotely. 

There are two types of track systems. Line-voltage systems typically use 120-volt fixtures, which are the most common household current. They attach directly to the power source on a ceiling, wall, or beam. Low-voltage systems, which tend to be smaller, typically use 12-volt fixtures and require a transformer to work effectively. Transformers can be mounted near the track, or remotely — say, on top of a beam where they’re hidden from sight.

Cable systems have a delicate, floating look. 

Tracks come in several different designs: Standard systems attach directly to walls and ceilings, whereas “monorails” consist of rails suspended from the ceiling or walls with rods. Cable systems — which have a delicate, floating look — are tracks that hangs from the ceiling by a cable and typically run the length of the ceiling.

A lighting designer can help you understand the dynamics of the space you want to light, how much and what type of light you need, the realities of installation, and which track system will best meet your needs.

Lori Powell holds a Certified Lighting Consultant designation from the American Lighting Association, an industry trade group, and she manages Fogg Lighting in Portland. Founded in 1994 by Sanford and Debbie Fogg, Fogg Lighting offers residential and commercial lighting products, lampshades, and consulting services.