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
119,802
Joseph Lang
Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspection - Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Home Inspector, Southern California
Jamie, great post.  I see it all the time and also call it out.
Nov 20, 2007 03:40 PM #1
Rainer
3,414
Rod Finch
Pioneer Property Inspectors LLC - La Crosse, WI
Jami, I too see this and call it out.
Nov 20, 2007 07:19 PM #2
Rainer
20,225
Rick Harrington
Patch Independent Home Inspections, LLC - Columbus, OH
Specialist--Infrared Residential

It's apparent that these installations either by the light installer or the insulation installer didn't read or know the specs for these lighting components.   The directions clearly state the proper clearance.

Thanks for the great pictures and pointing this out !!!! 

 

Nov 20, 2007 07:24 PM #3
Rainmaker
638,485
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jamie,

I see this all the time too, but if it's IC rated then it's fine. I appreciate your opinion that you believe no recessed light fixture should contact insulation, but the fact is it is made for that purpose. As a matter of fact some of those cans in your photos look like they're IC rated.

Nov 22, 2007 06:26 AM #4
Rainer
10,096
Jamie Schaefer
Jamie Schaefer, Professional Home Inspector Inc. - Rockville Centre, NY

James Quarello is absolutely right in his comment above.  If the fixture is IC rated (which i referred to as zero clearance in my original post), then it is designed for direct contact with insulation.  This still does not address the fact that somebody may put in the wrong type of bulb, or a bulb with a higher wattage than recommended, thus causing the fixture to become too hot.  I suggest that Home Inspectors put a comment something like the following into all reports when they see insulation in contact with lighting fixtures:

"Hi-hat lighting fixtures (and other through-the-ceiling lighting fixtures) are not rated for direct contact with insulation.  The exception to this is when the fixture has an IC rating. Check all fixtures for this rating if they contact insulation. In ALL cases, even with the IC rating, we suggest that insulation be removed from the area directly surrounding the fixtures."

By including a statement like this you will protect yourself from scrutiny when somebody finds an IC rating after you have recommended that the insulation be removed from the area of the fixture. In addition, and in my opinion...

more importantly you have given your customer GOOD ADVICE!

Nov 22, 2007 10:24 AM #5
Rainer
119,802
Joseph Lang
Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspection - Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Home Inspector, Southern California
Jamie, I like your comment.  It's very important but puts things in perspective.  We all know that many people put the wrong wattage lights, breaker sizes, etc. in their houses.
Nov 23, 2007 09:45 AM #6
Rainer
24,986
Bill Duncan
Home Status Inspection Company, LLC - Haymarket, VA
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.  
Nov 23, 2007 07:37 PM #7
Rainmaker
638,485
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

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.

Nov 24, 2007 07:32 AM #8
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.

Nov 30, 2008 08:06 PM #9
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.

Nov 09, 2009 08:05 PM #10
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 #11
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