Posted by: greenpinkies | March 14, 2011

Energy Efficient Lighting or “Trash the cans?”

What’s wrong with this picture?  If you guessed “the recessed lights” then you are correct.

So what’s the deal with the recessed or “can” lights?

The can light fixtures which Lauren just set and wired in are Juno IC22 ‘Air-Loc’ cans.  However, we have been told by William that the cans for the lights must be rated as “ICAT” to allow our house to be Energy Star approved.

Quick Definitions for future reference:

IC  = “insulated Ceiling”  Can light Housing.  This simply means insulation can be put around them where they protrude into the attic.

ICAT  = “Insulated Ceiling Air-Tight” Can Light Housing. Same as above with the added feature that no air leaks from the house upward into the attic.

Incandescent Light Bulb:  The current light bulbs we all use.  Measured in watts. i.e. 40 Watt, 60 Watt, etc. In use since about 1908. The life span of this bulb is rated at 1,000 hours. If you use the light bulb for five hours a day, seven days a week you can expect to replace the bulb in about 200 days.

Something we bet you didn’t know:

The Energy Independence and Security Act in December 2007 mandates the phasing out of the traditional light bulb.
After December 31, 2011, the federal ban on the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will take effect.  Two years after that, the 60-watt and 40-watt versions will disappear from stores, too.  😦

CFL:  Compact Flourescent Light.  CFLs use about a third of the electricity it takes to power an incandescent. This looks like an oddly twisted light bulb. The life expectancy of a 13-watt CFL is 8,000 hours. This works out to about 1,600 days at the five hours per day usage rate, or more than four years. Light color is measured in Kelvins. The higher the Kelvin, the bluer/ white the light. Think cold, institutional, dorm room look. Look for anything under 3000 Kelvin which seems to be soft/warm white.  A CFL is rated between 13 and 15 watts.  CFLs contain mercury and thus must be handled only by trained individuals at specified recycling facilities. By 2014 recycling will be required. For convenience in recycling these bulbs, special prepaid boxes can be bought that will be picked up by FedEx when they are full.

LED: Light-Emitting Diode.  An 8-watt LED bulb is similar to a 40-watt incandescent bulb. Although you can expect a more than 25,000-hour life expectancy out of an 8-watt LED bulb, you’re going to pay a premium for the more energy-efficient bulb. Sylvania sells an 8-watt LED light bulb with a 25,000-hour life expectancy online for $40 — for just one bulb. If you use the light for five hours per day, seven days per week, you can expect 5,000 days of use out of the bulb — that’s more than 13 years. LEDs don’t contain mercury.

All three bulbs can be used in standard, par 30 sockets for lights. However, Incandescent and CFLs generate heat, only LED remains cool. Therefore, only LEDs can be safely used in a sealed, airtight ICAT can light fixture as well.

We Green Pinkies intend to use LEDs for the can lights in the living room and CFLs in the remainder of the house. (Approx  100+ sockets).

Now, if you are like us and have a really strong radar for hypocrisy, you are seeing that, while Energy Star is being really picky about the can lights being air tight, (air-loc is not good enough) every other light fixture in the house is nothing less than an open hole with more or less some form of metal light fixture covering it up.

So, we got on the Energy Star website.

Turns out that Energy star is only actually interested in Energy consumption.  The can light housings don’t consume energy, so they aren’t really rated.  However, government agencies have this tendency to leave no stone unturned and no sphere untouched.  Therefore Energy Star has reached out to encompass other fixtures and what can be quantified about them and subsequently regulated….and, from can light housings, they want no air leakage. The website goes on to suggest to simply seal the can lights but have a professional do it.

Why a professional?  Because twist-in incandescent and CFL bulbs are heat producing. Too much heat in the sealed housing could be a fire hazard.

Again, Incandescent and CFLs generate heat, only LED remains cool. Therefore, only LEDs can be safely used in a sealed, airtight ICAT can light fixture.

So, how do you get around the fact that an average person will, in a pinch, in the dark, twist in any light bulb available into the sealed can without appreciating the fire danger?

Simple, you redesign the twist-in part of the light fixture to only accommodate a plug-in type of “module LED”.   The ICAT can light housings we found online are a new development, called “Generation 2”.  They are an air tight housing and module plugged in together.  No twist-in bulb will work.

Again, if you’re like us, you have a healthy suspicion of ‘super new’ technology. After all, an ICAT Engine (can housing?)  and Module (LED bulb?) unit is well over $100 each.  When you need to change the bulb module in 13 years, will you still be able to get one that fits or will the technology have morphed leaving you with no option but to replace the entire light fixture?  Think: “the predecessor of Blue Ray”.  Also consider that the normal twist in bulb base (formerly known as E27, currently known as par 30) has been in use since 1908. After all we don’t want to get ‘screwed’. LEDs do come with a standard par 30 twist base and deliver all the energy savings without the air tight can.

Then again, the modern world does have an infatuation with trashing televisions and cars and starting over with the latest technology.  We suppose there could also be legislation, in the future, that will require us all to change out our twist sockets in all our houses too.

So, back to our original problem.  For the sake of achieving the Energy Star rating, does Lauren replace all her Juno Air-Loc can housings with the Juno Generation 2 engines and modules?  Or does she simply keep the cans and twist in an LED with a standard bulb base?  She will still get the great 13 year energy savings but alas, sacrifices the (hard won)  Energy Star label.

So yes, we’re backed into a corner by too much reasoning and parsing of words. Energy Star Equipment tends toward being expensive. We have managed to find sales and deals for all of the other Energy Star equipment in the house. But, the sad fact is that, whilst the Energy Star program is a good idea, it is beset by so many twists and turns (and plug-in modules) that even an expert who fully figures it out, might not be able to conform without the bank account of a king.



  1. The cost really is the biggest factor for me, regarding energy savings. I have only so many dollars a month, so I look for balance between what I want and what I can afford. Although I’m very interested in being green, there’s only so much I can do, unless I win the lottery.

    While the new rating certifications (Energy Star or LEED, for example) are desirable, balance is necessary.

    I certainly would not think less of you if you weren’t able to achieve the rating you want. Everything green that you do makes this world a little bit better.

  2. Hi,
    I work in Home Performance (making houses more energy efficient) and just came across your great blog! In my experience, CFL’s are just fine in ICAT lights, and in fact they come with the new base too- really they are trying to force out incandescent bulbs, not CFLs. Since LEDs are sooo pricey and the technology still has a ways to go (they burn out individual diodes quickly), I usually recc. using CFLs for room lighting and LED’s for task lighting (under cabinets, etc.). I also don’t like using CFL’s in lamps that can fall or be knocked over, due to the small amounts of mercury that are released. That’s just the way I think is best for now..
    PS- re:ICATs, they are NOT airtight- although they claim to be! My assessor tests them all the time & they leak- 2-3 cfms usually. So we foam them in the attic & cover them up w/insulation.

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