Soffit floodlights (C) D Friedman Exterior Lighting Installation, Inspection, Troubleshooting, Repair
How to install or repair outdoor light fixtures

  • LIGHTING, EXTERIOR GUIDE - home - CONTENTS: Exterior Light Choices, Installation, Troubleshooting. How to choose & install outdoor lighting fixctures recessed into a roof overhang or soffit, mounted on a surface, or elsewhere; how to diagnose and fix a dawn-to-dusk outdoor light that is not working.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about exterior lighting installation, troubleshooting, repair, & electrical codes
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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. Comparison of low-voltage or 12-V recessed light fixtures with 120-V recessed lights, Comparison of bulb types for recessed lighting, Solutions for limited-installation-space problems in low-slope roof soffits, Solutions for aiming lights down when installed in an angled soffit that follows roof rafters, Wiring suggestions for outdoor soffit recessed lighting.

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Exterior Light Choices, Installation, Troubleshooting

Outdoor soffit surface mount fixture (C) D FriedmanArticle Contents

Also see our discussion of lighting requirements over stairs, at Lighting over Stairs and see LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE for details about lighting fixtures, bulbs, and indoor requirements.

How to Install Recessed Lights in Roof Soffit Overhangs Outdoors

Reader Question:

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.

Vinyl roof soffit covering (C) D Friedman

Photo (above) 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.

Choice of recessed light fixtures for an outdoor roof soffit

IC damp location recessed  light fixture label (C) D Friedman

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

Choosing Bulb Types for Outdoor Recessed Soffit Lights

Reinstall the Soffit Covering of Vinyl or Aluminum; Choose & Install Recessed Soffit Light Trim

Vinyl roof soffit covering (C) D Friedman

Surface-Mount Outdoor Light Fixture Installations

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.

Outdoor soffit surface mount fixture (C) D Friedman

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

Light switch lock (C) D Friedman

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.

Outdoor Light Fixture Installations We Hate

Here are a few examples of outdoor "lighting" practices to avoid.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Jury-rigged hanging exposed wiring (above) and use of indoor "zip cord" electrical wiring to add a (non-weather-tight) outdoor light at the house fascia (below).

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Below left, well at least there is some conduit.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

That flood bulb is actually touching the wood fascia board interior surface.

At the outdoor but under-roof light fixture below we lack weather protection and the bulb base is broken.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

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.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Here is the coachlight fixture

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

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.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Below 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.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

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.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Notice in the 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.

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

How to diagnose & fix an outdoor "Dusk to Dawn" light fixture that won't light-up

Reader Question:

2016/04/03 Freezing Cold said:
Hi danjoe! Without warning, our outdoor dusk to dawn light stopped working Tried cleaning the fixture's sensor & changing floodlight bulbs, but that didn't help. Any ideas or suggestions? Or is this 3-year old fixture a goner? Thanks.

This question appeared originally at: ELECTRICAL INSPECTION, DIAGNOSIS, REPAIR


In this order I'd check:

1. the bulb: take a bulb that's known to be working - you saw it lit on a fixture - and try it in the fixture - if it won't light then try it again in the fixture where it was working to confirm the bulb is still good, OR try the exsting light's bulb in an indoor fixture - we want to avoid looking dumb because we had a bad bulb

2. check that all relevant switches are on

3. check for electrical power right at the fixture, using a DMM, VOM, or neon tester - WATCH OUT: if you don't know how to do this use an electrician as you could be killed.

4. If the fixture has power and the bulb is good, someone who can follow the wires can bypass the sensor - if the fixture lights, replace just the sensor.

5. If the fixture still won't light check for a cracked or damaged bulb socket

6. last resort: change the whole fixture along with its sensor


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