One of the best ways to create a certain mood in any room is to use lighting design, and when a designer wants an unobtrusive lighting option, they choose recessed lighting. This can add a great deal of aesthetic appeal and drama to any space, but from an energy efficiency perspective, it’s a poor choice. Recessed lights are also known as “pot lights,” and the body of the light fixture is tucked up out of sight in the ceiling space. The housing for the pot light gives the ceiling a sleek and modern look, but each light requires a hole, and this alters the envelope of the room. Every hole made for a pot light in the ceiling is an opening for drafts, and this is a problem when it comes to the energy efficiency of your HVAC system.
An Energy Audit
The best way to evaluate the energy efficiency in your home is to have an energy audit. If you ask any energy auditor about the effects of recessed or pot lights in your home, they will tell you that they are notorious for wasting energy in many homes. An energy auditor will use the latest in thermal mapping technology to pinpoint exactly where any air leaks are located in your home. When this technology is used in a room with recessed lights, you can quickly see the thermal changes around the pot light holes. This is a problem all year round because hot air can enter during the summer, and frigid air can infiltrate the room when the weather turns colder.
Evaluating the Scale of the Problem
If you have one or more rooms that have recessed lighting installed, there is no simple fix for this problem. But, if you want the best energy efficiency for your home and you’re prepared to spend a little time, effort, and money, there are options available to you. If you follow the advice in the rest of this article, you may be able to reduce or even eliminate this loss of energy entirely.
The first thing that you need to do is determining the type of recessed light fixtures that you have installed in your home and how they are fixed to the ceiling holes. If you’re not confident about working with electrical systems, you may want to get an electrician to help to inspect your lighting systems.
There are two main types of recessed lights in common use; they are; insulation contact (IC) and non-insulation contact (non-IC). An IC light fixture has a lower wattage, it produces less heat, and this means that it’s easier to add insulation around IC lights. A non-IC light is much hotter, too hot to allow it to get into contact with any insulation material, and these types of lights typically are the worst in terms of air leaking problems.
It’s also impòrtant to understand how the recessed lights are fixed into the ceiling holes. It’s better if the holes are sealed around the lighting fixtures with a tight caulk seal that’s directly attached to the ceiling surface. But, if the lighting fixture is simply wedged or bolted into the hole with no sealant, the air from outside is definitely leaking through.
Deciding How to Proceed
Now that you have a better idea about the type of light fixture and how it’s fitted in the ceiling it’s time to consider how to proceed. Any type of air leak in your home will have a detrimental effect on your energy efficiency. If you’ve invested in an HVAC system to keep your indoor spaces comfortable all year round, it makes sense to think about energy efficiency. It costs money to treat your indoor air; this money is wasted if the treated air is affected by the external temperature. So, what are your options if you want to make the best energy efficiency gains?
The first and simplest option is to improve the seals around the recessed lighting fixtures to cut down on drafts. This is an easy job for anyone with a little DIY experience and the confidence to work on a step ladder. Purchasing caulk is cheap, and applying it is a time consuming but simple task that you could complete in a day. Sealing or re-sealing around the light fixtures will cut down on drafts and improve energy efficiency to a certain extent, but the gains may be minimal.
The second option is more expensive, and you may need to contact an electrician for help if you’re not confident about working on lighting systems safely. This will involve upgrading all of your recessed lighting fixtures from non-IC fixtures to cooler IC fixtures that are easier to insulate. When you install IC pot lights, you can cover the top of the lighting fixtures with insulation that’s heat resistant. Then the recessed light edge can be fully sealed with caulk making sure to get a good seal with the ceiling surface. This will offer better insulation and prevent most of the energy efficiency losses.
The final option is far more radical, but if you’re really serious about improving energy efficiency, it’s the best solution to your problems. If you remodel your home, you can remove the recessed lights and restore the integrity of the ceiling by closing the holes. Then you can change the lighting fixture with track lights, hanging light fixtures, floor lamps, and wall sconces to light your rooms. When a recessed light fixture hole is fully sealed the drafts that let external air into your rooms are no longer a problem. This may cost more initially, but the improvements in energy efficiency will be obvious in the medium to long term.
As you can see, air leaks can have a dramatic effect on the energy efficiency in your home. This leads to a loss of heating and cooling performance and higher energy bills. If you want to know more about boosting your energy efficiency without compromising on indoor comfort, contact your local certified HVAC specialist for more information today.