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Community and Q&A

How to retrofit electrical potlights?

Bob Nickason | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Our house has a more than an average number of pot-lights located in the second level ceiling.
The main floor has over 30, however, the main floor is not a concern at the moment. The pot lights which penetrate the upper floor ceiling into the attic space are rated as IC (insulated ceiling) but are not rated for AT (air-tight). The installation Poly boots was not mandated by our local authority.
The contractor installed the pot lights to hide his ceiling defects, as the light from a pot light will be directed downward and not across the ceiling. Surface mounted lighting will wash the ceiling and expose the ripples, bumps and numerous other defects.

I have approximately 24 pot lights penetrating the ceiling space into the attic and I would like to retrofit the pot lights with a surface mounted ceiling fixture which could be sealed with caulking and stop the migration of hot air into the attic space.

Are retrofits available and where would I purchase them?

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  1. Mike LaCrosse | | #1


    Assuming your primary interest is energy improvement, rather than aesthetics, I would encourage you to first investigate air sealing your existing can lights from the attic. This can be done by simply constructing boxes made from drywall or plywood that cover each can light. All seams would then be sealed with a caulking. Typically you maintain a 3" clearance to prevent a fixture from overheating, but since you have IC rated cans it may be less of a concern. Also depending on the type of existing insulation, this retrofit may be easy or more difficult. Cellulose, for example, may make finding each fixture and working around it more difficult as it has a tendency to cave in on itself as you remove it.

    Either way, I'm inclined to think that this energy retrofit option would be far cheaper than the cost of new electrical fixtures and paying to have an electrician install these for you. Although, if you're a DIY'er the labor rate can be discounted.

    *Edited to correct a sentence that was not clear.

  2. Bob Nickason | | #2

    Thanks for your response Mike;

    I am a qualified Electrician. However, I have a negative disposition to fiberglas and have difficulty thinking about being surrounded by the nasty material. When we purchased the house it was partially completed with the potlights already installed. I have no desire to go into my attic space, let alone get close to the material.
    The question was, is there a retro-fit available?

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    If you are a qualified electrician, you know the steps you need to take. Remove the existing recessed can fixtures. Install an electrical box at each location where you want a surface-mounted fixture. Air seal the electrical box with caulk or quick squirts of canned spray foam (at the back of the box where the wires enter the box, and at the perimeter of the box, to seal the gap between the box and the drywall) -- or install airtight electrical boxes (even better).

    Then install the surface-mounted fixture of your choice.

    For more information on recessed can lights, see Recessed can lights.

  4. David Meiland | | #5

    Easiest thing to do is install LED retrofit can trims. Google Cooper All Pro LED for an example. Talk to your electrical wholesaler, there are several types available as low as about $25 each.

  5. Bob Nickason | | #6

    The pot lights installed our home have the Washington State bill of approval for IC / AT. However, I am hard pressed to see how these pot lights made it past the front door. They are made in China, of poor construction and c/w a foam ring which lays around the underside of the trim ring. If you were to place a straight edge across the trim with the foam ring between the edge and the inside bottom of the trim, the straight edge would not be in contact with the foam. How will this be of any value in preventing air flow to the attic space. The pot light rough-ins were purchased at Home Depot by the contractor. $60.00 per box of 6.
    I have checked the Home Depot site suggested by Steven Knapp and the after market trim may be the answer. However, I do not believe the home owner should be on the hook to purchase after market devices to bring his lighting installation up to a point where it should have been in the first place.

    I had also thought of removing the pot light rough-ins with an air tight 4" oct box, as suggested by Martin Holladay. Pot lights normally sit between joist members and installing a 4" box in a 6" opening involves a drywall repair. Another job I do not want to do.
    I am looking for a retrofit device which screws into the light socket of the pot light and extends down to a pancake box which could be in stalled on the underside of a foam ceiling trim. An example is attached. This installation went over an existing 4" oct. rough -in box.

    Thank you for your suggestions.


  6. David Meiland | | #7

    Bob, I'm confused. You said you're a qualified electrician, so I'd think you'd know what's available in electrical devices, and also how bad so-called IC/AT cans are. Maybe what you need is an insulation or weatherization contractor who can go in the attic and enclose the cans. Mike has described one way of doing that, and it works well.

  7. Bob Nickason | | #8

    David, Just because I am an electrician does not mean that I have extensive knowledge on all aspects of the electrical trade. I have not been involved residential electrical wiring for over 30 years. My trade knowledge revolves around commercial and industrial installations.
    I have no desire to go into my attic at any time soon. If I had been involved in the pot light rough-in, I would have installed poly boots or better yet, not installed pot lights in the first place.
    I find your response to my question to be patronizing at best. You have not answered my question.

  8. David Meiland | | #9

    Fair enough. I don't think there's anything out there that converts an existing can to a ceiling fixture rough-in. I've never seen one at least, but I can't discount the possibility that a sharp salesperson at a wholesaler could source something for you.

    I think your choices are 1) seal the cans from above, 2) replace the cans and deal with fixing the drywall, 3) use can trims with solid lenses, 4) use LED retrofits. I recognize that none of these are ideal (I have done all 4 of these at various times to try to solve can light headaches) but I don't think there are any other or better options.

  9. Bob Nickason | | #10


    Thanks for your reply.


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