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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) about choosing & installing exterior lighting at buildings
Questions & answers or comments about exterior lighting installation, troubleshooting, repair, & electrical codes
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