LED bulb & money

Let’s Talk Lighting: Why You Should Be Using LEDs in Your Can Lights

How do you light your home?

“With electricity” is what you’re most likely thinking. Fair enough. Now, go further.

Do you used canned recessed lighting on either the interior or exterior of your home? “Canned” lighting are those inset lights that are good for directing spotlight, putting on dimmer switches, and creating an amiable atmosphere.

You most likely do. Can lights are not new. They’ve been around for quite some time, and they’re great for rooms like your kitchen, living room, or over hot tubs outside. The style and function of the light hasn’t changed. What has changed is the type of bulb you should be using in them.

The old school method

The norm amongst can lighting of the past was incandescent bulbs — and largely still is in homes that have used them for a while. But here’s your friendly tip from GreenFIT this month: it’s time to make the change, and switch your can lights over to LEDs.

By now, you’ve probably heard the arguments for choosing LED bulbs over traditional incandescent ones, but why, specifically when it comes to canned lights in winter, is that so important?

Interior lights using incandescent bulbs create a significant amount of heat. The heat lost escapes into your attic, effectively attempting to heat your attic. Your relatively warm attic spaces allows snow to melt on your roof, running off and refreezing at the edge to create ice dams. It’s a slippery slope (pun intended) at that point, as ice dams often eventually cause drywall, roof, and insulation damage. Suddenly you’re stuck with a much more expensive issue than simply swapping out some light bulbs.

Outdoor can lights see an equal amount of heat loss. It’s outside, though — so what does it matter? Well, can lights used in the soffit, overhang, or other exterior surfaces of your home are becoming more and more common, and as you’ve probably guessed, they lead to those nasty ice dams as well. Storing heat pockets within the soffit or overhang, for example, has the same effect as your warm attic on temporarily melting snow to initiate runoff that eventually freezes into dams.

Make the switch to LED in your can lights

There are a laundry list of reasons why LEDs are the way to go over incandescent lights, but we’ll start with the short list:

  1. They give off less heat. LEDs use a significantly less amount of energy. Keeping in mind that watts are actually the amount of energy the bulb uses, an LED bulb with similar brightness to a 60-watt incandescent emits only 8-12 watts. Less energy use doesn’t just mean a lighter load on your wallet and the environment; it also means less heat generated and lost, and therefore fewer side effects like those pesky ice dams.
  2. LEDs last longer. An LED bulb lasts an average of 50,000 hours compared to an incandescent bulb’s relatively sad 1,200 hour lifespan.
  3. No mercury. Maybe you’re not opposed to ditching the incandescent, but you’re wondering why CFL bulbs aren’t the forerunner in the race. Know this: CFL bulbs contain highly toxic mercury. In addition, LED lights are significantly more compatible with dimmers than their CFL counterparts.
  4. Improved color and variety. While many cherish the warm yellow of incandescents, that’s about the only color you can get from them. LEDs, on the other hand, have an impressive spectrum of lighting colors, and a great variety of options in terms of size. For the home, you’re most likely looking for “warm white” or “soft white,” but know that the option’s there to go a little crazy.

Mind made up? There’s just one last thing to consider: how to go about replacing your bulbs.

Replacing bulbs and fixtures

There’s the possibility for three different scenarios when it comes time to replace the bulbs in your recessed lighting:

  1. Replace the bulb in a conventional incandescent housing and trim: just swap the bulb. Easiest option, but not always perfect — lights may not be dimmable, and housing that’s not built precisely for the bulb could shorten its life.
  2. Replace the bulb and trim in a conventional incandescent housing with a retrofit: an LED retrofit module can attach directly to your current housing. Still easy to install, and often your cheapest option, but it comes with two caveats: again, you may encounter dimming issues, and sizing the retrofit can sometimes be tricky.
  3. Replace the entire incandescent housing and trim with an LED system: the only way to guarantee fit (and therefore attractiveness) as well as functionality. In this case, the fixture + LED combo typically comes pre-sealed so that heat and humidity cannot leak through. Of course, this option requires the most work and will cost the most upfront.

An important note here: while LEDs stay significantly cooler than incandescents, these bulbs do still generate heat. A heat sink in the base of the bulb collects that heat and dissipates it — but can only work if the LED bulb isn’t enclosed in a casing. When replacing your bulbs, make sure LEDs have room to breathe, but confirm that the can is sealed to reduce air leaks through the fixture.

Remember when replacing a light bulb was the simplest of your household tasks? It’s a beautiful thing to have options, but options mean research and decisions. When in doubt, turn to the pros.

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