Property Clinic: the problem with downlights

All your property queries answered

Draughts from downlights: insulation should not cover a spotlight as they can overheat and blow. Photograph: Thinkstock

Draughts from downlights: insulation should not cover a spotlight as they can overheat and blow. Photograph: Thinkstock


Q I had my house renovated last year, which involved insulating the entire house, some internal and external, a new boiler and a new kitchen, shower room and study.

The kitchen, shower room and study comprised the flat roof extension on the side of the house. It was stripped down to an empty shell and was rewired replumbed and insulated. The ceiling was insulated with 80mm Kingspan between the joists and 60mm plaster board with insulation secured to the joists and shimmed.

The architect asked if we wanted downlighters and it was agreed that they would be installed. There are a total of 21 downlights between the three rooms. I noticed as the weather got colder and windier after last summer that the kitchen, while quite warm and comfortable, did not seem to be holding the heat as much as I expected. I began to feel draughts and was surprised to find that there were draughts coming out of each of the downlights. To install the lights a hole was drilled through into the cavity above the joists to gain access to the electric cables. Nothing was installed to prevent draughts.

I contacted the builder and he suggested that I use a “cup”, in the area above the ceiling, to cover the access hole. This would work in an attic but not with a flat roof! He has no other suggestions.

What would be the best thing to do?

New downlights, if they exist, that don’t allow draughts.

Block the holes and get pendant lights. Or something else.

Block the existing holes with fibre insulation in some way.

Learn to live with draughts on my head.

I would be very interested in your views on my problem.

A It sounds as though you have had extensive renovation work done to your property and it is unfortunate you are experiencing problems so soon after making this considerable investment in your home. You may have already found that people commonly have problems with these type of lights.

Recessed lights are not a good detail in a cold deck flat roof construction like yours. The cold air necessary to ventilate the roof structure, can infiltrate the external fabric, through the holes created for the downlights. Contrastingly, the opposite effect can also occur where a downlight can act like a chimney and draw out warm, rising air from a room, up into the cold roof void.

Insulation should not cover a spotlight as they can overheat and blow. However, the risk of fire is very low as the insulation is fire and heat resistant. So downlights need a certain minimum ventilation for heat generated by the lighting to dissipate. The manufacturer’s instructions will give a guide as to the minimum distance the insulation should be kept from the light fitting. However, this can result in what is termed “cold bridging” and reduce the thermal efficiency of the roof structure.

A cup, as suggested by your builder, is too small and would lead to overheating. There are manufacturers of downlight covers who produce a fire proof “hat” or “loft cap” for placing over spotlights and place a barrier between the light and insulation. Again these work well in an open attic but are very difficult to fit in a flat roof retrospectively.

A roof void must be vented so the draught will be there unless the holes are thoroughly sealed around the light fitting, which is not standard practice when installing these downlights.

In considering your first step, the following options may be considered. You could take additional measures to seal around the light fitting, although this may be considerably difficult. If you have adequate ceiling height, you could create a new lower suspended ceiling clear of the insulated roof and insert the light fittings therein. This will also improve the thermal insulation of the roof by creating a low emissivity air void and improving the U-value of the roof as a whole. A third option is to mount spotlights on a tracks surface fitted to the ceiling. Alternatively, you could try and source a light fitting that can be covered by insulation.

Unfortunately there is no cheap quick fix to your issue in this instance.

Pat McGovern is a chartered building surveyor and sits on the building surveying professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,

Q My husband and I have been saving for a mortgage deposit since 2011, and we hope to be ready to go for a mortgage in the autumn.

We have a few specific questions about how best to manage our remaining time on our very demanding and self-imposed savings plan. We’d also like some up-to-date advice particular to our circumstances re: being first- time buyers coming in at the bottom of the market for a family home in Dublin.

We’d like independent advice before we ever walk into a bank looking for a mortgage, and so are willing to pay for it, but funds are tight, so that’s one concern.

Also, I had thought that such a thing existed as an “independent mortgage adviser” but on searching have found only mortgage brokers or independent (general) financial advisers. Our concern would be that a broker might give us advice with a future (commissioned) sale in mind or mightn’t have the nitty-gritty personal financial expertise; alternately, a financial adviser mightn’t have the current real estate knowledge we need – but perhaps we’ve got the wrong end of the stick!

Which of the two (mortgage broker or general adviser) would you recommend?

A If you are buying in Dublin, there is a possibility that the property you want is increasing in price more quickly than you are saving so you might consider moving your schedule forward a bit.

You have a few different options when looking to take out a mortgage. You can deal directly with your bank or building society or go through a broker. Brokers have the advantage of doing this job every day and know where the best deals are and how to access them. Some brokers are tied agents of certain lenders and cannot shop around with other credit providers for you. The first time you deal with a financial adviser they must give you their “terms of business”, which explains their authorised status and a description of the services they offer. It will also explain whether they are tied to one financial services firm for any products they advise on.

Some brokers will charge you fees; others do not but collect their fees from the lender. This may cause you concern about their independence. The most important thing is that you are told who is getting paid by whom. Sometimes you can be penny wise but pound foolish – fees paid to a good adviser may well save you lots of money over the course of your mortgage.

The National Consumer Agency has a useful website; it provides good mortgage cost comparisons and gives information on choosing an adviser. The Central Bank of Ireland’s registers provides a list of registered financial service providers online.

You should talk to some banks and building societies first to see how far you can get on your own. Then when you talk to a broker/adviser you will be more informed.

Whether you engage a mortgage broker or a financial adviser, choose someone who understands the specifics of your case and who explains clearly the pros and cons of various mortgage products. Beware of the cost of additional products – life/general insurance etc. Finally, best of luck with your purchase.

Simon Stokes is a chartered surveyor and chair of the residential agency professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

Send your queries to or to Property Clinic, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2. This column is a readers’ service. Advice given is general and individual advice should always be sought

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