Track Lighting Buyers’ Guide: Product Options
Track lighting is a well-known, well-loved trend. Whether it’s remodeling your kitchen or illuminating a museum sculpture, track lights really make a statement. With so many options to choose from, here’s everything you need to know about choosing the right track and fixtures for you.
Types of Tracks
There are three types of track: H, J, and L. The terms come from the manufacturers that set the standards for each type: Halo, Juno, and Lightolier. The different types do have some similarities. For instance, all three standard track types can be single or dual circuit and all have similar accessories to allow customized layouts. All three also look basically the same from the outside but, as Aladdin has taught us, like so many things, it is not what is outside, but what is inside that counts. The types of track and their accessories are not interchangeable, so make sure you choose wisely. The H-type track is the only track system with a dedicated grounding bus bar. Don’t worry though, the J-type and L-type tracks are still grounded. They accomplish this through a grounding channel in the track, meaning it’s built into the track’s body.
One thing you’ll need to decide is whether you need a single or dual circuit track. Single circuit means all the track fixtures turn on and off together, while dual circuit gives you more control by allowing you to turn on a set number of fixtures at a time. Say you have a painting that you want a light to shine on, but you don’t need all eight of your track heads on. With a dual circuit track, you can turn on just the fixture aimed at your replica of the Mona Lisa, the seven other fixtures, or all eight at once. Dual circuit configurations have one more wire, typically called a bus bar.
Types of Track Heads
Track light fixtures, commonly known as track heads, come in many different shapes, styles, and sizes. Most use MR16 bulbs, but there are exceptions that use bulbs like AR111s, BR40s, or PAR20s. Traditionally, these bulbs are halogen or incandescent, however LEDs are becoming more and more popular as their efficiency and CRI rises. Most track heads are designed for single or dual circuit tracks with the positive contact able to flip up or down depending on which circuit you want it use it with. Choosing which track head to use depends mostly on aesthetic preference. Most styles come in either line or low voltage, in several finishes, and with dimming capability. There are a few unique fixture types though.
The most popular track head is the cylinder. Though you’re probably most familiar with the step cylinder style (it’s easy to find and goes with just about any decor), there are a few variations of this type of track head. The cylinder family features the flat back, round back, mesh back, and bullet shaped designs. The telescope track fixture, while not part of the cylinder family, looks like a middle ground between the flat back and step cylinder heads.
The gimbal ring fixture is another fairly common track head. Unlike most other fixtures, the gimbal ring has a 180-degree range of motion. The bulb, typically an MR16, fits into the ring and a bracket holds the ring in place. It’s lightweight and has a low profile design that blends in well with many decors. For those that don’t live a “low profile” kind of life, there’s always the high tech gimbal. These are built the same as the standard gimbal ring fixtures, but have the added bonus of a modified trim that looks like something out of a sci-fi novel.
The other track head styles aren’t as popular, but if you live to be different, the popular styles weren’t for you anyway. The aptly named cube fixture is, naturally, shaped like a cube. There are also the octagonal and multi-stepped fixtures. Both are eight-sided fixtures, but the multi-stepped heads have an open design to allow superior heat dissipation.
Barn door heads have a very distinctive look, usually associated with the theater, it’s for people with dramatic personalities and styles. Wireback track heads feature a round wire mesh cone. Clasp-fingered track heads, also aptly named, feature several “fingers” that extend in an open, conical shape to surround and support the bulb. These fixtures do not allow a glass shield, so keep that in mind when looking for the right bulbs.