I’ve always liked recessed light fixtures, but heard they’re leaky and inefficient. Are there any new types of fixtures that are more energy efficient? Are they difficult to install?—Mike M.
Recessed lights have been popular for decades, and remain the fixture of choice for overhead lighting. New energy-efficient designs can use 80 percent less electricity than inefficient versions while providing the same amount of light.
Recessed light fixtures are mounted within a ceiling. From an energy conservation standpoint, this is not an issue when installed in the first floor of a two-story house. However, if fixtures are installed in the second-story ceiling or the first-floor ceiling of a one-story house, a hole is created between the living area and the attic.
Without an efficient design and proper installation, a recessed lighting fixture allows air to leak out of the house. Leakage is a particular problem during the winter when the warmer air inside a home naturally rises to the ceiling.
There are new recessed light fixtures that meet ENERGY STAR standards. These fixtures use fluorescent lights instead of inefficient incandescent bulbs, reducing electricity consumption by 75 percent. The inside surface of the new fixtures is also more reflective than older inefficient versions.
Installing airtight fixtures
For fixtures in ceilings where indoor air leakage seems likely, select a new airtight design with a sealed canister. The canister, when installed properly, forms an airtight seal between the ceiling and the fixture.
These types of fixtures are most often used in ceilings beneath an unheated attic, but they are also effective for unheated basement ceilings, minimizing drafts between floors.
If a fixture will be installed in a ceiling under an insulated floor, select an insulation contact (IC) rated design. These fixtures are designed to touch insulation without overheating the fixture. When installing new non-IC fixtures, the insulation must be kept away from the canister. This insulation void allows heat loss from the room below even if the installation is airtight.
It’s not difficult to install recessed light fixtures. Cut the mounting holes the exact size recommended by the manufacturer. This makes it easier to create a good seal between the fixture and the ceiling. Before cutting holes, make sure your fixture layout clears all floor joists.
Don’t insulate old fixtures
If you already have recessed lighting fixtures, do not go up into the attic and wrap them with insulation to try to save energy. Wrapping older fixtures with insulation can hold in too much heat, particularly when standard incandescent bulbs are used. These fixtures are not designed to be airtight and the excess heat buildup can become an electrical or fire hazard.