How to seal this recessed light?

CamGMarch 29, 2014

We always thought it was cold in the living room of our new house and I noticed a big draft coming through our "eyeball" can lights. Climbed up in the attic and took a picture of the lights (shown below). There is also no insulation in the ceiling over the last 10 feet of the living room which has no room above it, so I'm calling the builder about that, naturally. Anyway, assuming the builder is going to come put insulation up there, is there anything I can do to seal these can lights? I was going to buy a cover for it, but it looks pretty well sealed. Can I add spray foam all around the joints or something, or should I still do a cover to seal it off? I'm sure having insulation there will make a big difference, but I was still noticing a big draft out of each can, making me think I need to seal it as well.

And another lesson learned: seriously, double check every significant aspect of your build. Had this area of the attic not been accessible, or had I not climbed up to inspect the can lights, it would have taken years for me to notice the lack of insulation. What the heck?!

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If it's an IC rated fixture, insulation can be piled around the light; if not, a box will have to be built around it and then insulated. Or swap out the fixture. Better yet, is a fixture that is IC and AT (air-tight) rated.

Is there no building inspection in your jurisdiction?

This post was edited by worthy on Sat, Mar 29, 14 at 13:29

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 1:25PM
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pull the can loose from the structural members and discard the mounting brackets.. Then build a drywall box to seal down over the housing. Make a little notch in the drywall box for the wire to enter the enclosure, and then caulk around the box to make it airtight..

When the caulk sets, insulate as necessary..

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 1:58PM
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It is IC rated. I can purchase an ICAT rated version of the same thing on Amazon for $8, I may just do that and try to swap them out before the insulation crew comes, rather than try to Jerry-rig some box around them.

And yes, we have inspections here, guess the inspector forgot to look at this area (it's only an 8' x 15' ceiling that shares an attic with the garage, so I guess maybe that's why?). What kills me is that someone put one row of insulation, but neglected to do the rest. Lovely.

This post was edited by CamG on Sat, Mar 29, 14 at 14:38

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 2:37PM
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$8 for the whole thing, the can and the AT trim?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 4:57PM
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I would double check to see if it is an Air Tight housing because it looks like one and one would have been required by code below a roof. It's also possible that it was not installed properly.

If you replace it you will probably pay $30 to $40 plus any trim if you can't reuse the old one and a new lamp if the old one is now too large and might keep shutting off the fixture.

Why wouldn't the contractor not replace it if it is not code compliant?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 7:42PM
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It appears it is an air-tight fixture (note the foam seal on top of the can which seals the rivets for the internal components and the exposed seal around the base of the fixture). All that is necessary is to complete the insulation.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 10:36PM
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So-called air tight cans aren't very air tight. I carefully installed mine, but when you go up into the attic, you can see light all the way around it! I'm doing three things. First, I caulked around the edges where the can meets the drywall. Next, I built boxes out of foam board to cover them, and foamed them in place. lastly, I'm using LED conversion lights with their own bezel, which are air tight in themselves. Because the LED's last so long, I am going to caulk them to the ceiling for a final barrier.

If there are any air leaks at all, fiberglass isn't very good at stopping air flow. I'm amazed at how many air leaks there are in an attic. Wiring and plumbing penetrations, ceiling electrical boxes, and of course, recessed cans all leak air like crazy. I've spent a lot of time detailing my attic prior to having cellulose blown in.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 7:18AM
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Renovator8, I don't think our code requires air tight lighting, or at least I can't immediately find it by searching for the relevant terms.

I agree this might be an air tight can that is either improperly installed or isn't very tight at its best. I went to Home Depot and found the same light, the sign for which said air tight, and it appeared to be the same thing with the same gaskets.

To test it, I took the bulb out of one of the lights and put masking tape over the visible seams. That has reduced the air flow versus the other one (today is a windy day). I think what I may do is put some high-temp foil tape on those seams and caulk the can to the drywall, as it looks like there may be a gap there (which could explain the remaining air coming through the can).

These are our only two cans in unconditioned space, so if I can get these reasonably tight, that's be great. Thanks for your thoughts everyone.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 10:38AM
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it looks to be ICAT, I don't see holes in housing.
what I think leaks now is the cut in the sheetrock
for the recessed light.
I don't recommend caulking housing to sheetrock,
as caulk doesn't seal to sheetrock dust. I use
Hardcast brand mastic tape #1402. tape from
sheetrock into housing of recessed light.
press to seal well, keeping tape within area
covered by trim piece.

if you make a box over the recessed lights make
sure you have 4" clearance on all sides & top of
box. caulk box in place, put a brick on top
of box to hold it in place until caulk dries.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 11:18AM
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I don't know where the project is located but apparently the climate has a cold season so there is likely to be an energy code in effect. You need to find out what the energy code is for your area. If an air sealed light was required the designer of the electrical system owes you an explanation.

The most common energy code is the 2009 IECC and the 2012 did not change this requirement.


"Recessed lighting - Recessed light fixtures are air tight, IC rated, and sealed to drywall."

This is not required if the space above the ceiling is conditioned.

The 2003 IECC said:

"502.1.3 Recessed lighting fixtures.

When installed in the building envelope, recessed lighting fixtures shall meet one of the following requirements:

1. Type IC rated, manufactured with no penetrations between the inside of the recessed fixture and ceiling cavity and sealed or gasketed to prevent air leakage into the unconditioned space.

2. Type IC or non-IC rated, installed inside a sealed box constructed from a minimum 0.5-inch-thick (12.7 mm) gypsum wallboard or constructed from a preformed polymeric vapor barrier, or other air-tight assembly manufactured for this purpose, while maintaining required clearances of not less than 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) from combustible material and not less than 3 inches (76 mm) from insulation material.

3. Type IC rated, in accordance with ASTM E 283 admitting no more than 2.0 cubic feet per minute (cfm) (0.944 L/s) of air movement from the conditioned space to the ceiling cavity. The lighting fixture shall be tested at 1.57 pounds per square foot (psf) (75 Pa) pressure difference and shall be labeled."

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 11:56AM
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Renovator8, thanks a million for the explanation, I forgot there was a separate energy code. You're absolutely right, that is required. I will call the electrician and have them come in and put proper lights, they can do that before the insulation. Someone must have thought that was going to be a conditioned space. Thanks very much, saves me a bunch of hassle.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 5:21PM
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(Oh, and it's definitely not air tight, I can see lots of light from above through a number of holes and slots in the can.)

    Bookmark   March 30, 2014 at 5:25PM
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Now I'm being told by the electrician that the cans are air tight, and I had to fight a bit to insist that they come back out. He says light can come up through even a sealed light. I have an extremely hard time believing that. The bulb is in conditioned space, and if it can shine light into the unconditioned space, there's no way that there is an effective seal. I can see light from at least four different spots on the fixture. Unless I'm crazy? I'm no physicist, but I find it hard to believe that light can travel through sheet metal.

The general has suggested that we can have an insulation company add sealant to the lights. Arghh.

We'll see what they say when they come back out, I guess.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 11:56AM
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Air-tight doesn't mean hermetically sealed absolutely impermeable to light. It just means they're tighter than IC lights.

The better choice for energy savings, as Martin Holloday of Green Energy Advisor says, is not using recessed lights all.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 12:46PM
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" I can see light from at least four different spots on the fixture"

at the attic floor where the opening is cut to
interior of house?
at actual openings in the housing?
around electrical wires?

don't expect the insulation company to know
how to properly seal the penetrations.

look at the can light housing for openings.
look inside the can for air tight or IC (ICAT)
sticker. read small print of sticker.
look at packaging of recessed lights.

if the housing is indeed ICAT, then sealing
the cut of the sheetrock is all that is needed.
using hardcast tape (1402 mastic tape) will
seal this gap & trim will cover tape.

two recessed lights are not a bad thing...when
so many people have 10 X that amount.

just fyi, many foam insulation companies wrap a fg
batt around recessed lights & foam seal it.
others make sheetrock box & foam seal that.
the latter rather than the former is the best idea.

you can buy 1/2 sheet of sheetrock, and make two
boxes. that would be the route I'd take.
then use the mastic tape to seal the box & the box
to the attic floor.

best of luck.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 1:55PM
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I can see light in actual openings on the can. There's a few slots on the can. Then, if you look at the picture above, there's a seam between the cylindrical can and the flat plate it sits into, and I can see light all the way around there, too.

More importantly, when I put tape over these slots and seams, it dramatically reduced the breeze coming through the light.

The problem I've got is that this fixture apparently is air tight or not based on whether an "Air Tite" kit is added, and I can't just look at a model number to figure it out. But whether it is air tite or not, it's pretty crappy if I can feel a breeze through it. And I don't believe the electrician and contractor when they say the draft will go away when insulation is added on top of the light.

Edited to add: The insulation guy, who seems like the first guy who knows what he's talking about, is going to build a fire-rated foamboard box around the lights and then tape and seal the box, prior to installing insulation up there. So I think this is resolved, whether those lights were air-tight or not. Thanks everyone, I'll lay this minor issue to rest now!

This post was edited by CamG on Mon, Mar 31, 14 at 15:19

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 2:50PM
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Epiarch Designs

it is an air tight can, and yes, your electrician is correct. The problem is, they arent air tight, not even close. Can lights are horrible to use in any non conditioned space. I cant believe so many people use them... then again, they have no idea (or care) how much energy is lost through them. Not to mention the crappy light they produce. You have discovered what many people believe or assume to be correct.
With that being said, I have 2 cans in my house, and that is only because that was my only option. They are in my bathroom over a shower and tub. Code wont allow a different type of fixture here.
The detail I went with was wrapping in fiberglass batts and then spray foaming a "cocoon" around it. My attic got a full "attic seal" with spray foam, and then r60 blown on top of that. I also have speakers in my ceilings in a few locations. For this instance, I built a plywood box, foamed around it and blew on top of that. Then all that was needed was to cut the hole in the drywall and cleanly install the speak in a built in, insulated speaker box.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Air sealed recessed housings reduce the passage of air from approximately 10 to 30 cfm to less than 2 cfm at a prescribed pressure difference per ASTM E-283 so they are not air-tight or air-sealed but they have fewer and smaller holes.

Recessed IC housings are tested as prescribed by UL1598 using air-permeable fiberglass or cellulose insulation. These insulations allow some convective heat transfer away from the recessed housing. There is no test that uses spray plastic foam insulation so it should be held 3" away from any recessed housing. Using a combination of foam and fiberglass presents an unknown risk.

You should avoid attempting to seal or otherwise alter any recessed light housing unless you are following the manufacturer's instructions for that model fixture. It is true that the fixture is designed to turn off if it gets too hot but that is a last resort safety feature and should not be considered a substitute for proper installation. Proper installation and the thermal switch are intended to avoid the 194 degree temperature limit for for today's non-metallic sheathed cable but cable from the 60's and 70's is only rated for 140 degrees so renovators should be very careful. There is no amount of energy savings that can compensate you for a fire in your home.

I just specified almost 100 of these "crappy" fixtures for a large renovation. Every owner is different but with very few exceptions my clients have made lighting for artwork and task surfaces a priority and have rarely asked for hanging or surface mounted ceiling fixtures. For recessed fixtures I use 1 1/2", to 3 3/4" apertures with PAR20, MR16 or LED lamps but no CFL's (now there's a crappy light). I use Lightolier and Juno but sometimes I need what only Iris or Evolution can provide. The confusion of the OP with Halo is typical of this disorganized manufacturer. They can't decide what their model codes mean. Halo makes a housing called "H1499ICAT" that you would think is for IC and restricted air flow but no, that would be "H1499ICAT AIR-TITE". So what does CAT mean; well you have to read the housing specification sheet to find out. I gave up on Halo long ago.

I also stopped insulating the floor of attic spaces.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 9:27PM
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If I remember correctly, the air tightness of the can has more to do with the finish trim/baffle than it ever had to do with the can housing. I can tell from the picture, that that housing is not air tight just from the 1/2" flexible wire conduit that goes into the wiring box.

an air tight trim/baffle will have a gasket that seals to the drywall, and the light bulb receptacle needs to be loosened from the housing and snapped into the solid aluminum trim. This is the only way that these cans can achieve anywhere close to an air tight rating, without a box built above.

Like mentioned previously, if you tape seal all of the visible openings in the tub, you run the risk of overheating and setting off the temp sensor. IMO, (only) foam boxes wont stand up long term to the temps in an attic, and are also a fire hazard. Thats why I suggested a drywall box several posts ago..

Heres how I built the drywall boxes.

cross cut a sheet of drywall 12 inches wide, so you have a 12 inch by 48 inch piece of drywall. Now, score one side of the drywall paper at 12 inch increments and break the drywall on the score, leaving the other side of the paper intact. Cut out a 12 X 12 inch piece of drywall for the lid and take both pieces into the attic.

Unfold the first piece and form a box around the can, seal it to the lid, and then apply a generous bead of caulk to the top edge and set the lid on top..

let it set up, and insulate accordingly.

FWIW, (and Im anal about stuff like this) I dont consider batt insulation in an attic to be anything more than cosmetic attempt at insulating an attic.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 10:00PM
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There are many retrofit recessed light insulated covers for sale. For many fixtures this will require reducing the lamp wattage or using a more efficient one.

Here is a link that might be useful: light cover

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 6:30AM
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when we added LED retrofits into our recessed lights , the lip of the retrofits fit tightly around the housing and seemed to seal the holes in our non ICAT cans. No more breezes coming though. A nice unexpected benefit. About 5 degrees difference at the bulb level detected by infrared thermometer between the unsealed cans and the LED retrofit sealed cans.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 8:35AM
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