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This article describes exterior lighting for residential & light commercial properties.
We begin with a discussion of how to install recessed lights in an exterior soffit or roof overhang. We provide lighting installation suggestions about the type of light fixture to use, light fixture support, clearances, fire safety, moisture resistance, switch location, and electrical code citations for exterior lighting on buildings.
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How to Install Recessed Lights in Roof Soffit Overhangs Outdoors
I've used your website many times to find trusted advice on building and remodeling practices. I have a question that I can't seem to find an answer on at inspectapedia.
I wonder if you might be able to answer. I want to know if it is acceptable to put recessed can lighting in exterior vinyl soffits.
I know it is fine in aluminum soffits, but I am concerned about the effects of the heat on the Vinyl soffits. In particular, can regular IC or non-IC 4" or 5" can lights be installed in the eves in Vinyl soffits? Thanks for your time and keep up the excellent work. - A. F.
Photo (above left) of recessed lighting installed in a roof soffit overhang, courtesy of Paul Galow.
Reply: how to install recessed lights in a vinyl soffit or roof overhang
Here are the installation considerations that you should keep in mind when buying & installing outdoor light fixtures for a roof overhang or soffit. These points include addressing your worry about the effects of heat on vinyl roof soffits as well as other installation advice we found while researching the question.
While there are of course many surface-mount light fixtures that also work fine outdoors including at the roof eaves, you (and many people) want to install recessed fixtures, also referred to as "pot lights" or in some installations, downlights.
Installing the Recessed Lights Under the Soffit
Support for recessed lights in an outdoor roof overhang
Wiring the recessed soffit lights
Reinstall the Soffit Covering of Vinyl or Aluminum; Choose & Install Recessed Soffit Light Trim
At below left our photo illustrates a surface-mounted outdoor light fixture installed beneath a building overhang. This fixture, one of a pair along a walkway beneath the overhang, lights the passage to the building's front door.
By choosing a fixture that includes a motion sensor and day-night controls, the ownes can leave this fixture switched "on" 24-hours a day. Settings on the light control for many outdoor lights permit the occupant to choose among
At the indoor light switch for such fixtures, we like to install a reminder that the switch should normally be left in the "on" position. To prevent the switch from being flipped to the "off" position accidentally, we install the clear plastic switch block shown in our second photo, above right. It is still possible to turn the switch off, leaving the plastic switch-block in place but prying it away from the switch with your thumbnail, or better, by loosening its mounting screw.
Here are a few examples of outdoor "lighting" practices to avoid. Jury-rigged hanging exposed wiring (below left) and use of indoor "zip cord" electrical wiring to add a (non-weather-tight) outdoor light at the house fascia (below right).
Below left, well at least there is some conduit. That flood bulb is actually touching the wood fascia board interior surface. At below right we lack weather protection and the bulb base is broken.
We inspected a home that caught fire after the owner installed an over-watted incandescent bulb in a plastic coach light fixture like the one at left. Click the news story to read about a similar fire that began in the outside light.
Below left we see an indoor light fixture screwed to a vinyl sided wall, and added to that unsafe installation is the use of an extension cord adapter on the fixture. Outside electrical receptacles for extension cords require grounded and GFCI receptacles.
At below right we illustrate a closer look at a wall-mounted floodlight that includes cracked unsafe electrical wires, an opening into the box missing a weather cover, and exposed electrical wires almost touching the metal light fixture. At least he taped them.
Similar to the plastic light fixture fire we cited above, even in a well built metal light fixture such as the coachlight at left, if the bulb and wiring become loose and damaged it is possible to short-circuit the wobbly bulb simply by touching it. Notice in the left photo below that the bulb is askew. We could push it to center - it was hanging by a wire. This exterior light fixture needs repair or replacement.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
(Nov 20, 2012) Kyle said:
Can you move existing exterior soffit pot lights? They were installed in the wrong place.
Sure the lights can be moved. It will probably entail replacing some of the soffit covering material and running some new wire to avoid the violation of leaving any buried junction boxes in the old locations. It's not likely to be a technically-difficult job.
x(Dec 1, 2012) dale plisco said:
if a series of outside can lights are corroded from water damage from above, after problem is fix, does the wiring also need to be replaced in addition to getting new waterproof or damp & dry cans?
Dale, it makes sense to me to have an electrician inspect wiring and all connections for corrosion or water damage, repairing as appropriate.
(Feb 3, 2014) Monte said:
Do you need to have a fire proof or limited combustible ring between the box and the vinyl soffit?
Monte, if you are using a lighting fixture rated for outdoor use and if we are talking about the light fixture itself - the clearance requirements vary and are read on the fixture label.
If you are asking about an electrical junction box, as those are normally affixed to wood framing (itself combustible) I'm not sure that there would be a different requirement for proximity to vinyl.
Question: use extension cord for outdoor floodlight?
(Mar 9, 2014) Rob Blakeslee said:
I want to install a floodlight on the exterior of my home to illuminate the American flag I display.
My homeowners association is forbidding me from drilling though the wall to properly install the fixture. They want me to just run an extension cord down the wall and under the garage door to an outlet inside the garage. I want to do this to code.
I have unsheathed 14 gauge conductor and will run it through conduit to a dedicated circuit in the electrical panel. Can you help me locate the electrical code which applies to this installation? I believe the homeowners association is telling me to improperly install this fixture. Thanks for your assistance.
Extension cord wiring is not going to meet electrical code if permanently installed. In a temporary user, connected to a GFCI receptacle that would be ok. But do not run extension cord wiring inside conduit. It is not rated for that application, may overrHeat, or be unsafe for other reasons. And won't comply with code so I'm doubtful that you'll find a code citation.
Question: difference between temporary extension cords & permanent electrical wiring?
What's the difference between permanent installation of the extension cord, verses just using one? Is it the cord, having it stapled or otherwise mounted? I find your comments super informative, so I thank you for your advice. Sophia Liam | emfpower.com/commercial
"permanent" installation of an extension cord includes affixing the cord to a building surface or routing it through walls or ceilings or in similar outdoor insntallations. In those applications conventional electrical wiring (armored cable or non-metallic cable) of proper conductor size should have been used.
The concern in part is that the insulation properties, heat resistant properties, and weather or other exposure resistant properties of extension cord wire are not suitable for permanent installation and in such use risk breaking down, leakage, damage, electrical shock, or fire. A related example of bad use of extension cord wiring other than running it through a wall is the routing of extension cords under carpets.
Extension cord wiring is not designed nor rated to withstand foot traffic, added heat loads that come from being enclosed or hidden in a wall cavity or under a carpet, etc.
Question: how to fix a motion sensor light that won't turn off
10/27/2014 Dennis E. Reed said:
I installed model# P5661-71 motion light on my porch,it's night outside and the light stays on all the time.
When I find a motion sensor light that won't turnoff
1. I turn off the circuit for 5-10 minutes, then turn it back on to be sure the controls have been re-set
2. Check the settings on the sensor to be sure the sensor was not left in "test" or "ON" mode
3. Check that the sensor is not pointed at something that keeps the light on - constant motion, people, etc. or that its sensitivity is not too high (which you've checked already)
4. Check that the light and sensor were properly wired according to its installation instructions
If all of these steps check out as being correct, I try replacing the sensor.
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