Home Building: 4 Choices You Won’t Get to Make, Unless.. (Part 3)

by tracy on October 12, 2012

Convenience, indoor air quality, product durability, moisture removal, noise level and energy efficiency are just some of the benefits that can be compromised when you’re left out of a portion of your new home product selecting process. In the first two editions of this blog series we discussed the ramifications of not being involved in choosing bath fan features, HVAC options and garbage disposal attributes.

A lower energy bill is the purpose behind getting involved in our final product in this series – can lights. Although not usually part of the selection process, as you’ll soon discover, recessed can lights are definitely not all alike.

4. Recessed Can Lights: Top hats, can lights, plot lights, down-lights, recessed lights. Whatever you call them, recessed cans offer a versatile lighting option for residential construction. But…they can also be a source of energy loss.  That’s why it’s important to specify the right type of can light and select energy-saving bulbs. Without your input, this choice will most likely fall to the mechanical contractor.

How do can lights affect energy savings? The hole in the drywall necessary to accommodate the recessed light can result in significant air leakage, depending upon the type of can. The thermal photo above does a great job of showing the air infiltration between conditioned and unconditioned space.

Can light options: To help you understand your options, here’s a primer on the differences between the three categories of recessed can lights.

* Non-IC (Non-Insulation Contact) Cans: Non-IC cans are the most energy inefficient of the three types. These cans can accept a higher wattage bulb, but they emit so much heat that for fire safety reasons, the metal housing that projects above the ceiling cannot come into contact with insulation. If contact does occur, the built-in thermal switch is designed to cycle off the lamp.

* IC (Insulation Contact) Cans: To reduce heat buildup, IC can lights use lower-rated bulbs. Some manufacturers also lower the socket inside the can, which creates a thermal barrier at the top of the housing. These fixtures can come into contact with insulation, but air infiltration is still a significant problem.

* ICAT (Insulation Contact Airtight) Cans: Fortunately, the lighting industry responded to the need for improvement with the introduction of airtight cans. These products don’t eliminate 100% of the leakage but they certainly do make a difference. There are two features that make these cans airtight:

1. A gasket accessory allows a seal to be formed between the fixture and the ceiling. The black foam tape around the bottom of the can light pictured here is the gasket. The orange manufacturer’s label indicates “Air Tight”.

2. The metal housing protruding into the ceiling is manufactured to be airtight – no penetrations.

How much of an impact will air leakage from can lights have on your pocketbook? In 1992, the Mechanical Engineering Department at Penn State University, in conjunction with Juno Lighting, conducted a study designed to answer this question. The results estimated that one conventional (IC or non-IC) fixture can be responsible for the loss of between $5 and $30 worth of energy per year. Imagine what that cost would equal today times all the can lights in your home!

NOTE: The air exchange between conditioned and unconditioned attic space through can lights is not an issue when the attic is sealed and foam insulated. Because this type of attic, when properly constructed, should remain within 5 to 10 degrees of the living space, it is considered conditioned space.

Further energy savings through bulb choice:

* Fluorescent Bulbs: Since fluorescent bulbs give off much less heat (Over 90 percent of the energy used by incandescent and halogen bulbs goes toward producing heat.) and use one-third the energy of their incandescent counterparts, energy dollars can be saved via less load on the air conditioner and through lower wattage. One drawback to fluorescent cans, however, is that many cannot be used with dimmer switches. You’ll need dimmable fluorescent ICAT recessed cans, if you want this feature. But…before you go to that extra expense, consider the LED product discussed next.

LED Recessed Lights: Although LED recessed light bulbs are more expensive, they can use 85 percent less energy than a conventional incandescent bulb and less than half that of a comparable fluorescent. Cree, a leader in LED Energy Star qualified lighting, offers an Energy Savings Calculator to help you determine the amount of money that can be saved by installing their LED can light bulbs. You might be surprised by the results of this exercise.

Aside from long term cost savings and environment benefits, can light location is another reason to consider specifying LEDs. For example, if you have can lights that are located in areas where the bulb will not be easy to change or even dangerous to change – such as high ceilings or stairways – an LED in those areas will never require changing (unless you plan to live in the house more than 50 years).

One more benefit to Cree’s LED can light bulbs is appearance. The LED, pictured on the left, is more esthetically pleasing that the traditional can light shown on the right.

Visit Cree Lighting for more information and the Energy Savings Calculator.

For a list of Energy Star qualified LED lighting fixtures visit, Energy Star.

I hope this blog series puts you in charge of the quality and features of the bath fans, HVAC equipment, garbage disposals and can lights selected for your new home.

And, as always, The Difference is in the Details!

Facebook Comments

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: