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posted: 7/20/2013 12:01 AM

Recess lighting can overheat attic insulation

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By Dwight Barnett

Q. I recently moved to Camarillo, Calif., and bought a condo. We have recess lighting in the kitchen and bathrooms. In the attic, the insulation around the recess lighting has been removed. Why? Can I insulate safely?

A. Recessed light fixtures with incandescent bulbs can generate a lot of heat and cannot be installed near combustible materials.

There should be a label inside the fixtures indicating whether the fixture is rated for insulation. Look for an IC (insulation contact) rating on the label. If the fixture is not rated, then any insulating material has to be a minimum of 3 inches from the fixture.

An IC-rated fixture can be covered with insulation, but you should also look for the UL rating for the proper wattage size of the bulb to be used. If you use a bulb larger than that approved, the fixture's internal thermostat will turn the lamp off if it overheats.

Because the light fixture is in an opening in the ceiling, there is the potential for energy loss and for unwanted air entry through the fixture. For that reason, a non-IC fixture needs a little DIY ingenuity. You can purchase a 10-inch coil of sheet metal used for flashings at most home and hardware stores. Cut the flashing to length to form a cylinder around the light fixture, leaving a 3-inch clearance to the fixture. The cylinder, once formed, can be secured using a piece of bailing wire.

Install the cylinder over the light fixture and place a flat piece of the sheet metal on top of the cylinder and weigh it down with a small stone or any other noncombustible object. There will be openings where the sheet metal does not fit the exact size of the cylinder to dissipate the heat from the fixture. You can then place any type of insulation next to the cylinder. The cylinder and its cap reduce the amount of heat loss from the home and the intrusion of non-conditioned air from the attic.

Prefabricated fireproof covers can be purchased at major home stores such as Home Depot and on the Web.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett at

Scripps Howard News Service

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