The most common problem we see with recessed lighting is a fixture being in contact with insulation in the attic space. There are two types of recessed fixture housings, those rated for insulation contact called ICAT (Insulated Can Air Tight) rated or those that aren't. ICAT rated fixtures can usually be identified in the attic space as an enclosed metal box. These fixtures can be covered with insulation, they have been designed it this way to allow the extra space needed to dissipate heat.
Non ICAT rated fixtures are usually round on the back and you can usually see light from the living space below through the heat vents on the back of the fixture. When these fixtures are covered with insulation the heat from these fixtures is unable to dissipate. This will cause the fixture to overheat and potentially short out causing a fire. Non ICAT rated fixtures also allow conditioned air and moisture to escape the living space into the attic. This is why we usually find them covered up by a homeowner who was just trying to do their best to save energy and button up their home.
There are two remedies for correction of insulation contact of Non ICAT rated fixtures:
1. Build a box around the fixture to prevent insulation from getting within the manufacturers recommended clearance requirements (usually 3 inches). This method will prevent the fixture from overheating but will not stop the loss of conditioned air as you will not be able to insulate and install a vapor barrier in the area directly around the fixture
2. Replace non IC rated fixtures with IC rated fixtures. This method will allow you to apply vapor barriers and properly insulate around the fixture.
Note: Most newer recessed fixtures are equipped with a temperature sensing limit switch that will shut off the fixture if it becomes overheated. This is not a long term solution to poor installation practice.
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