Part V: Cover and Seal Recessed Lighting to Save Energy

Series: Installing Blown-in InsulationPermalink

Save money by adding blown-in insulation to your attic.

One common source of air leakage in a home is through recessed light fixtures, otherwise known as can lights. They may look nice and illuminate well, but they’re a great conduit for conditioned air to leave the building envelope.

One way to improve home heating and cooling efficiency is to eliminate the passage of air through the recessed lights. The general idea is to cover and seal the lights, which I decided to do with a specialized insulation barrier called CanCoverIt that I sealed into place with spray foam insulation.

Types of Housing Permalink

Before covering your lighting fixtures be sure to learn the differences between IC, non-IC, and ICAT ratings:

  • IC (Insulation Contact) is rated for direct contact with insulation
  • Non-IC need a minimum clearance of 3” from surrounding insulation
  • ICAT (Insulation Contact Air-Tight) can be covered in insulation and are also air-tight.

It’s possible that your light fixtures will have a label with the rating inside them. You could also find the model number and search for it on the internet. If you still can’t figure it out, odds are that you can just look at the can to determine what you have.

Air-tight fixtures are usually boxy and upon close inspection have no holes through which air can pass. IC-rated lights often look like cans (hence the nickname) and will have holes inside of them to draw heat away from the light bulb. Non-IC rated fixtures are probably quite old and will look it.

If you’re still unsure about what you have, but know that your light fixtures are older, you should err on the side of caution and cover them with a barrier that allows for enough room between the light and the insulation.

Is Heat Still a Problem with LEDs? Permalink

With the recent switch from incandescent and halogen bulbs, which run hot, to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and light-emitting diodes (LED) that run much cooler, it can be argued that the risk of fire has been significantly reduced with the improved light bulbs. That said, you’d hate to cause your house to burn down, so I’d still play it safe and install a speciality insulation barrier.

Introducing CanCoverIt Permalink

Of all the recessed light covers I decided to buy the CanCoverIt brand because they seemed a bit higher quality than the alternatives. I’ve seen people recommend using cheap styrofoam coolers, so perhaps the less expensive alternatives are just as good.

The CanCoverIt covers come in two styles. The Universal Series is for IC and non-IC rated fixtures and the Low Profile Series are exclusively designed for IC-rated fixtures. The big difference between them is the dimensions with the Low Profile Series being 10” shorter. I bought some of both styles, although in hindsight I wish that I had only used the Low Profile ones because I didn’t need those extra ten inches.

Installation of the Covers Permalink

It is straightforward to install the CanCoverit insulation barriers. First open the cover up and then place it over the recessed light fixture. You will want to a utility knife handy to cut away parts of the cover to allow passage for electrical wiring to the fixture. Ideally the bottom of the cover will sit flat on top of the drywall ceiling. Use the spray foam insulation to seal the cover into place.

Fold the Covers Inward to Reduce Height Permalink

After I installed all the covers I realized that the Universal Series ones were too tall for my needs. My can lights were less than six inches tall and all of them were IC-rated, so there was no good reason for me to have 16” of empty space in those covers.

To rectify this (if you can call it that) I decided to fold the covers inward so that I could use that volume of space for blown-in insulation. The seams of the cover aren’t designed for this, so I covered them in a bead of spray foam insulation to mitigate any rips.

Air Seal from the Inside Too? Permalink

I went ahead and air sealed my light fixtures from the inside too just to be extra sure of an impenetrable barrier between my conditioned space and the outside. At worst it’s wasted effort and some slight cost in materials, but at best it’s extra comfort at less cost long term.

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