Until yesterday I thought the answer to this question was a resounding “YES” – that one of the benefits of LED over halogen downlights is that it isn’t a fire risk to cover them, and hence with LEDs you can have much better insulation coverage (and a more energy-efficient home). Before I explain why it isn’t quite that straightforward, some background:

The double-disadvantage of halogen

Halogen downlights were all the rage in the 90’s and 00’s. Many houses built or renovated in those decades were filled with them. When I moved into my current home in 2006, all the lights had been changed to halogen and I counted 42 of the little blighters in total… Your home may also have some, or many. So what’s the problem?

  1. First up, they use ridiculous amounts of energy, most of which is lost to heat, rather than light. About 60 watts each, compared to about 9W for an LED equivalent.
  2. That excess heat can not only cause fires, especially if they get covered by anything in the cavity (like insulation) but also add to the heat load of a house that you may be trying to keep cool.
  3. Because of the fire risk, when people installed insulation they had to leave a space around the lights, thereby compromising the ability of the insulation to form a barrier to the heat of the ceiling cavity, or to keep warmth in the living areas in winter. I’ve attached a chart showing just how much of a compromise these little gaps can cause.

So all in all halogen lights are bad news for a multitude of reasons.

The good news is that an electrician can easily replace halogen downlights with LED equivalents. In some regions the government will even give you a rebate to cover most of the cost (eg NSW, Australia: https://energysaver.nsw.gov.au/…/discounted-energy… ).

The benefits of LED downlights

and (perhaps…)

Over the last 5 years I have had all 42 of the downlights in my house retrofitted with LEDs, and it recently occurred to me that all of those lights still had a whopping big gap in the insulation around them, from when they once were halogens…. I realised this because I was doing an online course in energy efficiency which pointed out that the gaps around halogen lights compromises the building’s thermal performance.

Not one to miss an opportunity to improve my home’s energy efficiency, I lept into action, grabbing a ladder and a roll of fibreglass insulation, pulling the LED lights out of the ceiling (where there’s a room above) and inserting piece of insulation above them (see photos). Then into the roof cavity to lay insulation over the lights exposed up there. Job done.

But then, I thought – “Are you sure all LED lights can be covered without causing a fire risk?”. With a bit of internet searching I found the answer, which I’ll share with you now.

How do you know if an LED light can be covered?

It turns out that not all LED lights can be covered with insulation, that each light model is rated – to indicate if it is safe to do so. I checked mine this afternoon and I’m happy to say they’re sufficiently rated. Here’s a basic guide for what to look for, and you can also read this webpage for more guidance: https://www.jdlighting.com.au/…/ic-rating-what-are-ic…

In short, you should only cover a downlight if it has one of these ratings on it:

“I.C.” stands for insulation contact. I’ll attach photos of mine to give you an idea what it looks like.

If you can’t see a rating but there’s a model number, try looking up the product specifications, but if in doubt, don’t cover it. And if the light has “CA” or “non IC” on it, definitely don’t. These lights are not designed to cope with the build-up of heat from covering them, causing a fire risk.

The conclusionyes, in many cases LED lights allow you to improve your home’s thermal barrier with complete insulation, but you must do your due diligence to be sure that the model of light is designed for it.

See photos below for illustrative purposes, including a “how to” sequence.