19 January 2010

Are CFLs appropriate for recessed "can" lights?

One day after purchasing a 3-pack of compact fluorescent flood bulbs, I encountered the following statements about CFLs "smoking" when they overheat:

Air needs to circulate around the bulbs. Generally, CFLs can be used in enclosed fixtures when they are not recessed, according to GE Lighting. Such fixtures (for example, a can light in the ceiling that has a cover over the bulb) create temperatures that are too high, leading to early failure.

Another cause for failure could be improperly screwing the bulb into the socket. Don't hold the bulb by the glass, as you would with an incandescent light. That can cause the vacuum seal or tubing to break, exposing components to oxygen and making them more liable to become defective or overheat. Instead, hold a CFL bulb by its plastic base.
Now I'm confused.  Our can lights don't have covers over them, but they are obviously recessed.  The CFLs I bought were labeled for indoor use, which I assumed meant for ceiling can locations.  And how could one possibly insert a flood light into a recessed can holding on to the base?  I've been happy with the compact fluorescent in my office, which has lasted forever, and wanted to extend them to elsewhere in the house, but now I'm wondering...


  1. I purchased both CFL's and standard bulbs to put in our kitchen recessed lights when we remodeled. The CFL's lasted about the same length of time. Of course, I screwed them in by the glass bulb, and they were recessed.

    Turned out to be a good thing- my wife is VERY sensitive to light, and the CFL's gave her headaches and bothered her eyes. We are sticking with incandescents until LED or another technology becomes practical.

  2. I have CFLs in recessed lights with covers and have had no problems.

  3. No idea about the recessed fixtures, but apparently CFLs don't last nearly as long if they're turned on and off a lot, as in a kitchen or bathroom. The longer they stay on at a time, the longer they last.

  4. The problem I ran into with my recessed covered can CFL is that it doesn't get hot enough on cold, damp days to keep humidity from cooking or showers from condensing on the cans, and then dripping down or wetting the ceiling. I've got a one-story home, and in the attic above, the insulation is cleared back from the fixtures to allow the heat to escape, so they are cold on cold days.

  5. @Dave - depending on the climate where you live, you may not want to let the heat from the cans enter the attic. Heat in the attic can contribute to snowmelt and the formation of ice dams at the eaves, which can damage shingling and cause water to enter the framework of the house. (If you're in a tropical setting, ignore this comment).

  6. Any cans used around insulation should be UL-listed for that, and can be covered completely. If they are only listed for uninsulated areas, then you don't want to be using them around insulation -- and you are losing a LOT of heat in the winter. You would save enough the first month to make it worth replacing the old lights with new, insulated ones.


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