Beams of Light

Submitted by Ana White on Tue, 01/17/2012 - 00:25
Difficulty
Intermediate
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DIY fake beams with recessed lighting! Step by step tutorial with photos and diagrams.

This winter, more than most, I've been missing light.

photo from outdoor.com
Up here in Alaska, two months go by in the winter when the sun doesn't ever shine.  It skims across the tops of the mountains for a few hours in the afternoon, only visible when it's clear and cold COLD out, further muffled by cloud cover on those days warm enough to venture outside.
This winter, these two months have been especially hard on me.  I'm longing for more light.  And we've got another month to go before the sun starts to make a noticeable impression on Interior Alaska.
Our lighting situation inside is even worse.  In our great room of our home, where we spend most all of our waking time, from working to playing to entertaining and relaxing, day in day out, this is all we have for lights.  
The lack of lighting coupled with the dark night blackening the windows depressed me even more.  
For years, I've known we need to add more lights in our great room ceiling.  But I just didn't know how, and spending a few thousand dollars on track light just seemed ridiculous.  
But apart from tearing down the tongue and groove wood ceiling to run more wiring for more light boxes, I just hadn't figured out an alternative to surface mount track lighting ... so we just dealt with it.  
But then a few weeks ago, I just knew what we needed to do. I saw the light. Pun not intended.  We would make our own track lighting out of fake wood beams.  Or should I say faux?
We took the existing light fixtures down, one at a time.
Then we screwed some 2x4s together ...
Yep, just stud grade 2x4s screwed together
The 2x4 thingy we built is 7 1/4" wide
Because of course we are putting a 1x8 on top. You knew that already.  We stained the top and 2x4 frame but are not attaching quite yet.  There's still work to do.  These babies aren't just for looks.  
SNEAK PEAK:
They are for lights.  High beams as we call them hehe ...

Then we just took some old work light boxes 

We cut holes out with a jigsaw and inserted electrical boxes with wiring.
And then wired up $14 lights.  Everything is easier when you aren't working on a ladder, reaching up to a vaulted ceiling.  
We did as much work as possible in the garage.  I'm not talking about the electrical part because I'm no expert - thankfully, the Ram is - but basically, we daisy chained all the lights together, running the wiring inside the hollow beam.
Back on the 2x4 frame part, we started screws along all the support boards
And then brought the 2x4 frames inside and screwed through the started screws right into the wood ceiling.  

If you were doing this on a drywall ceiling, you'd want to locate studs, and screw into studs.  The beams cover up the existing light fixture box.

Then we placed the 1x8 board with the lights premounted and wired over top of the 2x4 frame, pulling wires through to complete the electrical.

Any second now honey ...

And nailed the two pieces together.
To connect all the lights on the two sides of the room, we had to leave the first light on each beam off.  The final lights get wired in in place, connecting all the lights together.
And my winter blues are already fading fast!  You can see the difference here in the old lights vs the new lights. So much more light!  
And here's a crazy thought for you - the Beams of Light actually cost LESS than the old fixture did!  Gotta love 2x4s.
In total, the project cost about $350 dollars and we spent a day working on the lights.  Don't you just love DIY?
We gotta do a before and after shot:

Before 

Can you believe those light fixtures were $189 each?  

After

Once the second set of "High Beams" were up, it's like our great room was a completely different room.  And this lighting solution was actually less expensive than buying the original fixtures!
These shots are just because we are so darn excited to share with you our Beams of Light

 

We also love what the beams did for our once blah wood ceiling.
 

We loved what the lights did for our great room so much, it inspired us to finish trim work we've been putting off for years and finally add the fan, which also adds more light.
And we'll keep it real - DIY entertainment center, wrinkled slipcovers, crumbs on the coffee table and the Barbie camper rolling into town.  Sounds like the perfect great room to me!
So, want to build your own beams of light AKA high beams?  Or just decorative faux wood beams?  Check out more information following.

Preparation

Shopping List

2x4s for the frame - minimum size - you could go larger width boards
1x8s for the face - this is the minimum a electrical light box will fit
Screws depending on how you will join boards and attach to ceiling:

Common Materials
Cut List

Cut to fit

Tools
Tape Measure
Speed Square
Pencil
Safety Glasses
Hearing Protection
Drill
Circular Saw
General Instructions

Please read through the entire plan and all comments before beginning this project. It is also advisable to review the Getting Started Section. Take all necessary precautions to build safely and smartly. Work on a clean level surface, free of imperfections or debris. Always use straight boards. Check for square after each step. Always predrill holes before attaching with screws. Use glue with finish nails for a stronger hold. Wipe excess glue off bare wood for stained projects, as dried glue will not take stain. Be safe, have fun, and ask for help if you need it. Good luck!

Instructions

Step 1

We have a cathedral ceiling, but these beams can be attached to any ceiling as long as you are able to screw into studs in the ceiling or properly anchor.

This plan also works just for adding faux beams to your ceiling. But if you plan on adding lights, figure out where your lights are placed and avoid putting a 2x4 support in that space. You'll be tight on room.

We used a pocket hole jig, but you can use screws and glue as well.

Step 2

Then it's just a matter of attaching the frame to your ceiling, and adding the top board. We installed as much lighting as possible on the ground to minimize ladder work.

Consult with an electrician about wiring and lighting code requirements in your area before taking on this project.

Finishing Instructions
Preparation Instructions
Fill all holes with wood filler and let dry. Apply additional coats of wood filler as needed. When wood filler is completely dry, sand the project in the direction of the wood grain with 120 grit sandpaper. Vacuum sanded project to remove sanding residue. Remove all sanding residue on work surfaces as well. Wipe project clean with damp cloth.

It is always recommended to apply a test coat on a hidden area or scrap piece to ensure color evenness and adhesion. Use primer or wood conditioner as needed.

Comments

birdsandsoap

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 02:04

I'm really wishing I had a vaulted ceiling right now. I am in awe of the tongue and groove ceiling and the beams. It is just beautiful; and remarkably clever the way you solved the lighting dilemma.

...How do you deal with the lack of sunlight? Do you get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) at all? I've always wondered how you Alaska folk deal with no sunlight in the winter. I'm taking my vitamins and its still a struggle for me in Idaho.

jaimecostiglio

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 02:38

Ana honestly I've been fanoodling around with how to do faux beams in our family room for a long, long time. Really thinking how to mount a 3 sided box to the ceiling, you solved my problem. You truly are a genius, thank you.

Sarah R. (not verified)

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 04:39

Genius solution!! Ana, the beams make the room! It looks so finished and cozy now. Well done!

Vanessa W (not verified)

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 06:05

Freaking fabulous idea!! We are currently in the blueprint stage of building and are doing the same on our house with regards to the groove pine ceilings. Just wondering what the pitch is to your vaulted ceiling. I just cant deciede for our house but yours looks great!!

claydowling

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 06:43

For some reason I was thinking the lighting would be recessed into the beams.

Are folks in Alaska moving to LED lighting to keep the energy costs down in the winter? I've started switching over the lighting in our house here in Michigan. The ceilings are high and I hate having to get a ladder to change a bulb. We also have very large windows, which turns the house into a greenhouse in the summer, so lighting that doesn't generate a lot of heat was important. Cooling bills were ridiculous last year.

Lowes and Home Depot both have relatively inexpensive LED lighting for sale right now. That makes it practical to make the change as old bulbs burn out (which happens pretty quickly, previous owner left all incandescent bulbs), without laying out a fat wad of cash all at once. So far about half of the kitchen and all of the workshop have received the LED upgrade.

In reply to by claydowling

Ana White

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 10:11

Hi Clay, we ended up not going the full recessed route because we would have had to make the beam much larger to fit the recessed beams and we found these lights and loved them. But yes, could be done with recessed light fixtures - just make sure you have adequate ventilation to prevent fire hazards or at the very least, lights turning off because they get too hot.

We tried the LED route, but at the time, the bulbs just didn't put out the light we need for the winters up here. I hear they've improved quite a bit?

To answer a few other questions - high or cathedral ceilings are not required for this project - I think these lights, maybe the recessed route, could be gorgeous in any room.

The wood stove was for years our main source of heat (still is!) and is backed by slate.

You know, I have this attitude of "I just want a tidy house I love, don't need a designer house" so I'm always feeling like my home is perfect for us, but not blogworthy. Thanks for your kind compliments!

Thank you everyone for your comments and reading. The images are appearing for me, but we've had a considerable traffic bump lately, and we just aren't adding servers fast enough. But I hope many of the sites problems are improving? Thanks for keeping me updated!

Hope to see your beams of light soon!
Ana

In reply to by claydowling

claydowling

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 11:01

The lights have made dramatic improvements in the last couple of years. The light is brighter and warmer in color, and the lights cost a lot less. I think that within ten years, they're going to dominate home lighting.

Amy M. (not verified)

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 07:51

Seriously! ? ! ? You share this now! My hubby has been trying to convince me with the faux beam thing since we purchased our home last year. I think with your tutorial and his gentle hints, you both have me convinced that it can work and look good!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and showing me that it can look good. I'll share this with him.

jenspire

Tue, 01/17/2012 - 09:06

You're so awesome...love how you always keep it real. Beams and lighting look great!