Hi-hat lighting fixtures and insulation do not mix...

By
Home Inspector with Jamie Schaefer, Professional Home Inspector Inc.

Hi-hat lighting fixtures should never be allowed to come in contact with fiberglass (or any other type) insulation because it is quite simply a fire hazard.  Does the electrician who installs them not care? Does he not know any better? Was it done by a homeowner who is clueless?

Probably a combination of all of these. But it really is hard to believe how often I see this in the attic.  I would have to say about 75% of the time, and that is a conservative estimate.

Now, many people will say that it doesn't result in a fire very often.  Yes, this is quite true.  But wouldn't it suck if your house was the one out of (who knows how many) that actually burned down as a result of this "totally preventable" mistake?  I know I would be pretty upset if it was my house!

And some of you may also say there is such a thing as a zero clearance hi-hat fixture. These can be installed in contact with the insulation.  I say no! Why take the chance? What if somebody puts in a light bulb of the wrong type, or one with a very high wattage which causes overheating.

I suggest that every home inspector who does not look for this, and/or does not include it in his report, is doing his client a real dis-service. He also may be opening himself up to a big lawsuit.

So, let's be careful out there!

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Rainer
24,986
Bill Duncan
Home Status Inspection Company, LLC
Jamie, Great post.  Good advice.  I recommend that all new home inspectors spend time at Home Depot and other lighting fixture stores so they get familiar with what IC fixtures look like.  The sticker is not always visible.  This is definately a fire hazard.  
November 23, 2007 07:37 PM
Rainmaker
615,960
James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

Jamie,

I would agree that instructing your clients on not installing an over wattage bulb in the recessed light fixture is good advice, however recommending removing insulation from around IC lights is, in my opinion, very bad advice. If you have told them, verbally as well as in the report, about the wattage parameters of these lighting fixtures, then that should be enough.

The reason for IC contact is to prevent heat loss around these lighting fixtures. Uninsulated and even insulated recessed lights bleed off heat. Today people are very conscious of heating costs and heating loss. Instructing clients to remove insulation around a fixture that is designed for that purpose does them a dis-service. As you very aptly pointed out it is the wattage of the bulb that is critical. If you have instructed your clients concerning that limitation, you have done your job. We can not protect them from stupidity.

November 24, 2007 07:32 AM
Anonymous #9
Anonymous
Rich

Newer IC rated fixtures have a safety switch that cuts off the light if it begins to overheat. This protects the user from using an incorrect wattage bulb. The CF par 40, 38 and 30 bulbs run much cooler, save electricity and are brighter.

November 30, 2008 08:06 PM
Anonymous #10
Anonymous
Tom

IC rated high hats are allowed to have insulation all around them.  Even packed tightly if you want, however, this diminishes the insulations R value.They are also thermally protected.  This means if the temperature (FOR ANY REASON) gets too hot, it will shut off the fixture to allow it to cool down and to prevent any fire from occuring.  Insulation can be packed as tight as you like around IC fixtures only.  Stop instilling fear and potentail costs of remediating these situations for no valid reason.

November 09, 2009 08:05 PM
Anonymous #11
Anonymous
shelley

As a homeowner sitting in the only room in his house with electricity secondary to a significant fire this past sunday night, i decided to google the cause of the fire. An IC rated hi-hat with a heat sensor surrounded by insulation was, according to the fire marshall and the insurance company fire inspector, the cause of the blaze.

had a terrific response from the volunteer fire dept, the police, the insurance company etc. However, my family and i are left with the loss of property, the gutting of multiple rooms in our home, the inconvenience of living in a motel and weeks of reconstruction. i would have much preferred being notified by my "engineer" 8 years ago when we bought the home of the potential risk.

Jamie, your advice is sound and even though odds maybe slim, being informed about the possibility is reasonable.

May 08, 2012 01:52 PM
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Rainer
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Jamie Schaefer

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