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Dude here. While Christie posts about fun things like canning and chickens, I’m here to talk about home lighting. Snooze…  But wait! It’s fancy LED lighting. Fu.ture.istic.

Our electric utility, Indianapolis Power and Light, just came out with a new tool that  allows you to compare your energy usage to similar households within a 1/2 mile. Being a data nerd I immediately checked it out and found this lovely chart.

Electrical Usage

I was aghast to see that we had been using more electricity than similar households near us. We think of ourselves as energy conscious. We do the usual things to conserve: turn off lights not in use, use a programmable thermostat, close shades in the summer. You get the idea. And then I noticed the dip in May. What changed?

In April I upgraded six recessed lights in the kitchen to LEDs.

I was motivated to upgrade these lights for multiple reasons.

  • The kitchen felt much warmer than the rest of the house during the summer.
  • Being located in the kitchen and the center of the house meant that these lights were almost always on.
  • Recessed lights are notoriously bad for leaking energy. I doubted that our fixtures were the efficient, airtight style. If you’re shopping for new fixtures, look for the insulation contact (IC) rating. These are airtight and can be covered with insulation for greater energy efficiency.
  • While changing bulbs in a couple of the fixtures I noticed that they were not installed correctly. They were just resting on the ceiling and were not attached to the ceiling joists. Great.

Notorious Energy Wasters

Recessed lighting can waste a tremendous amount of energy if it is old or not installed correctly. The basic premise involves cutting a large hole in the ceiling and putting a hot bulb in it – creating a chimney effect. And nobody installs just one recessed light. There are usually several.

Infrared Image of Leaky Recessed Lights

An infrared image shows these recessed lights to be roughly 13 degrees colder than the surrounding ceiling in the winter. Image via Piping Plover Home Energy Solutions

Upgrading the Recessed Lights

Unfortunately, whoever installed the recessed lights in our kitchen to begin with either didn’t know what they were doing or, to use the parlance of our time, were a lazy-ass. The wiring was a mess and they didn’t install the fixtures correctly. They were not attached to the ceiling joists and were just sitting loose on the drywall. Many were missing pieces and couldn’t be fixed. I decided to replace them all. I hope you don’t have to do this part. It involves working in the attic, and it really sucks. If you already have IC-rated fixtures, you don’t have to replace them. Standard LED lights are made to work with existing fixtures.

Recessed Lighting Fixtures

Bean stands guard over a case of shiny new IC-rated recessed light fixtures. Notice that the cans are completely enclosed and also feature a foam seal where the fixture meets the drywall.

CREE Eco Smart LED Recessed Light

I used Home Depot’s EcoSmart LED lights made by CREE. They work in standard recessed light fixtures and are very easy to install. At present they are roughly $30 each.

Incandescent and LED Recessed Lighting

Incandescent and LED recessed lights side by side. Notice that the LED light forms a seal at the ceiling, preventing air from leaking around it. Also, we need to repaint our ceiling.

Recap and Some Numbers

  • You don’t have to replace the fixtures in the attic to use LEDs. I replaced ours because they were installed incorrectly and I wasn’t sure if they were IC-rated.
  • If you do replace or install recessed lighting, make sure you buy fixtures rated for insulation contact. Look for IC-rated at the store. IC-rated means you can cover them with insulation in the attic.
  • The LED lights use 10.5 watts each, so in our case all six of them use less energy than one of the old incandescent bulbs (65 watts each)!
  • They are dimmable, but make sure you get a dimmer switch that works with LEDs. The instructions will refer you to a website that lists compatible dimmers.
  • The current price for these LED lights is about $30 each. Sounds expensive, but their life expectancy is 32 years based on 3 hours/day.
  • Energy savings come not only from lower energy usage, but also the fact that the LEDs form a seal at the ceiling, preventing air from leaking past it.
  • Visit CREE’s product page for more details and installation instructions. CREE CR6 - Six-Inch LED Downlight
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