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The Truth About Recessed Lights & Fire-Ratings

Knowledge about the regulations regarding recessed lights in fire-rated ceilings can help you avoid costly mistakes as a homeowner.

There is to be a great deal of confusion about what exactly fire-ratings means, where it is enforced and the solutions available to meet the buildnig code. The widespread adpotion of fire-rating codes throughout the United States has made this subject more relevant to contractors, builders, architects, and homeowners. 

But instead of decreasing confusion over the issue, continuous changes in State legislations and increased demand for fire-rating code compliant products have far outpaced the availability of education on the topic.

Fire Rated Light Cover

Fire-Rated Light Cover

This Fire Rated Light Cover is manufactured to the highest standards and can be used with a wide range of recessed lights, from a variety of manufacturers.

What does Fire-Rating actually mean?

A fire-rating typically states the duration for which a passive fire protection system can withstand a standard fire resistance test. A fire rating is usually given to an assembly consisting of various building materials that can resist the exprosure of a standardized fire exposure for a set amount of time, or may contain a variety of ther criteria, involving other evidence of functionality other evidence of functionality or fitness for purpose. 

It was developed to evaluate the performance  of building elements during an intense fire exposure and can be apploed to a wall, floor, or roof system.

Municipalities across the United States require fire-rated ceilings, floors, walls for certain commercial or residential buildings. Most of the mandatory fire-ratings occur in multi-story residential structres such as apartment buildings, hosiptals or hotels. 

The rating effects ceilings separating the levels directly above and below a residence or office space. The 2015 version of the International Building Codes address this issue explicitly in section

In order to meet this fire code, the ceiling must serve as an unbroken fire barrier for a certain period of time (the usual standard performance rating for 5/8-inch drywall material is 60 minutes); however this time requirement can be graeter than one hour, depending on the municipality and application. For example, fire-rated assemblies in assisted living facilities, hospitals and hotels usually require a 2-hour fire barrier or even higher. This is very imoirtant to remember when selecting appropriate fire-rated solutions. 

Installing recessed fixtures in a room or hallway of these high-occupancy buildings and maintianing the proper fire-rating of the system can be a challenge, as cutting an opening in the ceiling to install the light fixture compromises the fire rating of the drywall ceiling. If the fire-rating of the ceiling membrane is not being restored, these openings in the ceiling would allow flames and smoke to spread in the unfortunate even to a fire.

To maintain the fire code requirement for the building, the barrier must somehow be restored after holes have been cut for the fixtures. Expensive mistakes are often made when an airtight or “IC” fixture is assumed to be fire-rated.


Solving the Problem

There are serveral different solutions for fire-rated applications iwth a diverse range of prices, approvals and complexity. 

A common solution is prefabricated Fire-Rated Light Fixtures, which have a variety of fire testing but are also the most costly chioce.

To avoid these expensive lights, many installers construct boxes from drywall or sheetrock to surround the lighting fixture, but this is very labor-intensive and may incraese the cost of installation beyond budget limits.

Metal enclousures are also becoming an increating popular chioce to the fire-rating dilemma. However, these are not UL-classified and not suitable for every application.

A UL-classified and very popular solution are Fire-Rated Covers. These covers are suitable for various recessed light fixture sizes and luminaries and widely accepted by inspectors and code officials throughout the entire United States.

One and two hour Fire-Rated Light Covers are available from a variety of manufacturers at several different price points, and proven to act as a suitable fire barrier when called upon by fire and smoke.

To conclude, choosing the right recessed housing to accomplish the correct fire-rating is not as easy as many contractors or builders may believe. An “IC” label on a recessed light fixture does not imply that the light is also fire-rated. 

Lighting professionals and consultants with experience in fire-rated environments are the best source for suitable solutions and can help building professionals to avoid costly mistakes.

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