Can Do

My parents asked me to replace three recessed lights, aka cans. Typically, a hole in the ceiling is a puncture in the home’s thermal shell, allowing air and heat to escape. With older recessed light fixtures there’s no way to close this hole. The new cans are shielded on top, enabling a homeowner to air-seal and insulate over them without creating a fire hazard.

I started by removing the bulbs and the trim kits – the parts you see from below. I also switched off the electrical circuits, of course. Then it was up to the attic where I would pull out the fixtures using a headlamp for light. To avoid crashing through the drywall ceiling I had to stand on adjacent joists and kneel over the existing fiberglass insulation. I cat’s-pawed out the four electrical staples holding the fixtures in place, then ripped the metal spikes from the joists.

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The old can, surrounded (but not covered) by attic insulation. Access is tricky.

Limited access made it tricky to install the new cans. They came with a metal spike and a nail at each of the four corners. I positioned a can, jammed each spike between the joist and the ceiling drywall, and pounded in each nail, all the while kneeling atop the joists and keeping the headlamp trained on my work. Two of the three existing ceiling holes were tight against a joist, which forced me to take apart the sliding mechanism in order to mount the cans directly above the holes.

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Old can removed; new can awaiting installation.

Electricals were pretty straightforward. The old cans used wire nuts and the new cans used clip-in connections, so I didn’t even need a wire tool. It was simply a matter of re-threading the feed cable and matching like wires – black to black, white to white, ground to ground.

On the other hand, installing the new trim kits was a real bear. They’re poorly designed with an awkward spring-loaded connection to the fixtures and the vaguest instructions I’ve ever read. It took me half an hour to realize I could adjust the depth of the socket inside the fixture by removing one screw completely (no instruction mentioned this) and tightening another to make room for the trim kit. As the most visible part of the installation, the trim needs to look right, and I wish it screwed into the fixture or otherwise attached in a more foolproof way.

Oh well. The lights work. And now the house is better insulated. De nada, Mom and Dad.

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New can installed with a new trim kit.

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