Improving home energy efficiency removing recessed lighting fixtures Not Spaghetti

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Improving home energy efficiency: removing recessed lighting fixtures

Wed, 09/30/2009 — 23:07 — apsmith

Last year (2008) we were starting to look at alternatives to our oil-fired burner for heating our house. The house is an almost rectangular 35×60 ft ranch a little over 30 years old, and came with a 1000-gallon buried oil tank, no longer allowed in town codes, so we knew we had to at least get rid of that some time. We finally got that taken care of a few weeks ago. How we’re going to heat our house this winter we’re still not quite sure. Anyway. one of the interesting options then (and now) was a geothermal heat pump system. and we had several contractors come in and give us quotes. Not cheap at all, mainly because we would have to switch from baseboard radiators to forced air, and putting in the ductwork and vents would take a lot of labor. But there’s a 30% federal credit available so we may still go that route.

One of the things that came out of that estimation process was some analysis of the insulation quality of the house — in short, not good. The attic insulation was thin: R-11 to R-19 according to the estimator. To make things worse, we had a lot of recessed lights — a total of 10 between the family room, kitchen, one bedroom and two bathrooms. I had no idea that recessed lights were such a detriment to home energy efficiency but the more I looked into it, the worse they looked, at least in our case. What’s wrong with recessed lights, you ask? Well, here’s some of the problems with them in general:

  • they require a hole in the ceiling — if not sealed tight (and ours were certainly not) each light is another pathway for air to travel from the main house into the attic (though this isn’t an issue in a two-story house with the recessed lights on the lower floor)
  • Improving home energy efficiency removing recessed lighting fixtures Not Spaghetti
  • the boxes («high hats») stick way up into the attic, so even if covered by insulation, it will likely be thinner total coverage than elsewhere, or else you’ll have a very lumpy insulation layout
  • most recessed light enclosures are not supposed to be covered by insulation anyway (though ours had a thin covering) because they get hot when the lights are on
  • that heat from the lights escapes into the attic, instead of warming the house as lights can do (particularly old incandescents — not efficiently, but it’s something) in the winter
  • you need higher wattage lights for the same final light output in the room below, because some of it is absorbed by the enclosure or leaks into the attic

By mid-summer 2008 we’d decided we weren’t yet ready for the geothermal heat pump work, but we definitely needed to improve our home’s insulation. Target #1: the recessed lights. There were also 4 rooms in the house (living room and three bedrooms) that had no overhead lighting at all, despite light switches (which led to electrical outlets) on the walls, and they could benefit from some attic/ceiling work as well. After some trial and error we discovered our only good option with the recessed lights was to completely remove them and put in a smaller number of regular lighting outlet boxes in the ceiling instead. I worked out a reasonable routine that did the job pretty quickly and with minimal damage to the surrounding ceiling, and the results looked pretty good after I was done. Details and photos follow.

First step was removing the cover part flush with the ceiling — if you have these you have had to do this to change lightbulbs in the past, no big deal. This was mainly to avoid broken glass when the box fell.

The remaining box in the ceiling viewed from below — take the lightbulb out also, again to avoid any chance of broken glass.

We’re going to be doing electrical work — always remember to shut off the appropriate circuit breaker before heading up into the attic. I had a couple of minor shocks from occasional forgetfulness on this one.


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