Shed some light on my kitchen -- PAR20? MR16? LED?
January 23, 2016 2:02 PM   Subscribe

We moved into our little one-story house in Toronto a few months ago and one thing that came up on the home inspection was that our pot lights are not covered by vapour boots. Since then, I spoke to an insulation guy about upgrading the insulation in the attic and he suggested that instead of putting in vapour boots, switching all the pot lights to LED would be more affordable/easier; he suggested replacing the halogens with LEDs as they burnt out. Well, one bulb has burned out. I'm confused about the replacement choices.

Our kitchen/dining room/living room is illuminated by about 15 pot lights. There are more in the basement as well. The 15 on the first floor are all halogens and create a really nice soft light (as expected). One of the kitchen bulbs has burned out. I checked the pot and it has a standard, screw-in base, and is labeled for PAR20 bulbs.

Over at RONA, the bulbs that looked like they would fit were PAR20 LEDs and MR16 halogens.

Question 1: Does it make a difference if I use PAR20 or MR16? Is anything going to blow up if I use one versus the other?

Question 2: I'd really like to use LEDs but am a bit leery of how cold/blue the light will be. Any recommendations for good-looking LEDs that'll illuminate our main floor well? We don't have dimmers, so that's not really a concern.
posted by greatgefilte to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
THE AR in PAR stands for Aluminized Reflector, while MR stands for Mirror Reflector. The former does a better job of scattering the light, whereas the latter tends to project very sharp-edged sparkly light. PAR is better for general illumination. MR is better for making things look fancy.

MR16's generally have bi-pin bases, and won't work in screw-type fixtures.
posted by jon1270 at 2:13 PM on January 23, 2016

Home Depot has the best selection of LED lights right now - many come in color temperatures.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2016

A PAR20 is "Parabolic Reflector 20/8ths of an inch wide". If you go for a warm color temperature, like 2700-3000K (Kelvin), with a Color Rendering Index (CRI) greater than 80 or so, it will be hard to distinguish from a halogen bulb.
posted by nickggully at 3:27 PM on January 23, 2016

Some LED lights don't put out enough heat to work in your kind of light. We replaced all kitchen lights with LED bulbs and they flickered like crazy or would not light all the way. Replaced with newer incandescent bulbs and the flickering went away.

We have reused the LED lights in other fixtures with no issues.
posted by tilde at 3:39 PM on January 23, 2016

Best answer: I am not a home inspector, insulation guy, or even a fellow countryman.

If your potlights are ICAT (insulation-contact air-tight) compliant fixtures, then replace your old PAR20s with new LED PAR20s as they burn out, and go-ahead with your insulation upgrade. You can tell if your fixtures are ICAT rated by getting up there and looking closely at labels in them or on them, perhaps from both below the ceiling and from above the ceilling.

One problem with upgrading them as they burn out is that you have no guarantee of getting the same color/brightness of bulb if you buy them several years apart.

If your potlight fixtures are not rated both IC and AT, then consider upgrading to ICAT fixtures before you upgrade your insulation. It'll help you get better value out of your insulation upgrade. The type of PAR20 bulb doesn't matter in an ICAT PAR20 fixture.

If your fixtures are rated only AT, and you feel lucky, upgrade all of your potlights with LED PAR20 fixtures, and upgrade your insulation as if you have IC rated fixtures. I wouldn't do this: I don't rely on luck where homeowners fire insurance might be involved in the future.

I don't know that I'd do the insulation upgrade at all without having ICAT potlights.

As if my answer hasn't been tedious enough, here are some explanations.

Your inspector told you that your potlights did not have vapor boots on them. This may or many not have anything to do with whether or not it is an air-tight (AT) fixture. The building code requirement of a vapour boot on an AT fixture varies from jurisdiction to jursdiction.

If your pot lights are not air-tight, then they allow ventilation from the room into the insulated area behind them, because they are not equipped with vapor barrier boots. This lack of a vapor barrier has consequences, allowing moist room air into the insulation, where it can drop its water as it's cooled, concentrating either ice or water in your insulation or in your wood members. This is bad.

Another part of this problem comes from the comments of the insulation guy. If you are looking to upgrade your insulation, and your potlights are not rated for insulation-contact (IC), then the insulation contractor will have to leave insulation voids around the potlights, which is a heat-leak, which somewhat reduces the overall value of your insulation upgrade.

The suggestion from your insulation guy that you replace the bulbs with LED or halogen as they burn out only makes sense if the fixtures are air-tight. If they are not air-tight fixtures, then it doesn't matter what you put in there: they still leak air and your attic insulation upgrade is compromised because of that leakage.

Insulation guy's suggestion might also make sense if he was trying to wriggle out of telling you that you have to upgrade all your potllights to insulation-contact rated fixtures before you can upgrade your ceiling insulation. By telling you to use bulbs that generates much less heat, he might feel better about insulating your potlights as if they were rated for insulation contact (IC). A cooler bulb in that fixture would mean that you are less likely to burn down your house because you are using a slightly cooler 39 watt halogen PAR38, instead of a plain old 50 watt PAR20, or a much much cooler 8 watt LED PAR20.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:57 PM on January 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

  Home Depot has the best selection of LED lights right now

And not just that, they frequently run the seasonal OPA/IESO power saver coupon thing where you get even very nice LEDs for $5 a pop
posted by scruss at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2016

Response by poster: Wow, thanks, the Real Dan! That really explains a lot of things that were fuzzy in my brain. I had a look and the housings are all non-IC but there's no indication of whether they're air tight, and I can't find the information on the manufacturer's website. (For reference, they're Contrast CA2000 luminaires.)

Sounds like the best compromise for now would be to upgrade to LED (in terms of electricity usage savings) and put off the insulation upgrade until I can replace all the housings to IC.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:14 AM on January 24, 2016

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