Downlights have long been a popular choice because they are space-saving and stylish. However, they have historically posed a threat in homes and businesses due to the installation process. Today, fire rated downlights are available, which can mitigate the risks associated with conventional downlights.
This post will explore the evolution of downlights and compare the options available for different applications. We will consider whether downlights can cause fires and why it is always recommended to install fire rated versions.
What does fire-rated mean?
Fire-rated refers to a product that has undergone specific fire resistance testing to determine the duration it can protect against fire. This can refer to a range of criteria relating to fitness for purpose, functionality, or time measurement.
When it comes to downlights, the testing process involves constructing a true-to-life ceiling that is then subjected to fire that rapidly exceeds 600 degrees Celsius. Depending on the time duration of a downlight, a test failure occurs when the roof collapses in the test before the prescribed time period for the lights being tested.
For example, if a thirty-minute light was being tested and the ceiling collapsed in forty minutes, the light will have passed the test. If it collapsed in twenty minutes, it would fail. Therefore, lights with a fire rating for a lengthier time duration have to ensure the ceiling stays intact for longer during testing.
To meet regulations, fire rated recessed lights (downlights) must comply with BS EN1365-2 regulations to be compliant in the UK. This applies whether they are manufactured here in the UK or anywhere else around the world. This standard refers to fire resistance tests for loadbearing elements Part 2: Floors and Roofs.
What does fire-rated mean?
Compared with traditional downlights for bathroom, kitchen or other domestic or commercial use, fire rated downlights are designed with safety features to help slow the spread of fire.
The installation of recessed lights requires a hole to be cut, which reduces the ceiling's fire rating. This is because the hole allows the fire to escape and spread quickly between floors in a property. However, fire rated versions are designed to block the hole and, therefore, play an essential role in fire safety.
Each downlight is equipped with an intumescent pad that expands when a certain temperature is reached, blocking the hole and slowing the spread of fire. These lights come with different fire rated times but generally vary between thirty and ninety minutes, although some offer up to a hundred and twenty minutes.
This allows people to safely evacuate a building, whereas traditional downlights can lead to a ceiling collapsing in a few short minutes. This can obstruct exits and trap occupants inside a burning building, which can be incredibly hazardous and often fatal.
Downlights with higher time delays are ideal for high-rise buildings and flats on the upper floors. This is because they would give workers or residents on higher floors longer to evacuate the building in the event of a fire. Downlights with shorter time delays can be appropriate for standard houses or lower floors of buildings where occupants are closer to the exit and would not need as long to evacuate.
The problem with traditional downlights
Simply put, the problem with traditional downlights that are not fire-rated is that they pose a risk that could lead to severe injury or even death in the event of a fire. Ceilings in a property are designed to slow the spread of fire. The holes that must be cut to install downlights in a ceiling compromise this.
Downlights have been around for over fifty years in one form or another, although modern versions look very different from early versions. They have long been a popular choice because they look stylish and save space. However, heat management has long been an issue with this type of lighting. This is why we can see of positive trajectory of innovation leading up to the fire rated LED versions most commonly used today.
When the heat generated by traditional downlights mixes with flammable, loose insulation in roof cavities, a potential fire hazard occurs. Downlights heat up fast and can easily ignite nearby insulation or debris. When this happens, fire can spread rapidly through the ceiling long before being detected by a smoke alarm.
Fire rated recessed lights combat the issue seen with traditional versions because, by design, they restore the ceiling's integrity once it has been compromised during installation.
How to tell if a downlight is fire rated
If you are buying new downlights for your property, check the product description and specification to ensure the lights are listed as fire rated before you make a purchase. You can search specifically for fire rated versions online, ask in-store or check the label.
Reputable companies will have your safety in mind and, therefore, be clear and specific in their listings, so you know what you are buying. They will make fire resistance testing information for their products accessible to customers, should you wish to understand more.
You may, however, be wondering whether your existing downlights are fire rated and, therefore, whether they should be replaced. Non-fire rated lights are commonly found in properties where they were installed some time ago or where DIY fittings have been done. Often, people who carry out DIY downlight installations themselves will not be aware of fire regulations.
There are several ways to tell if your existing downlights are fire rated. The most obvious way to know if existing downlights are fire rated is by removing the light and checking for a sticker or label. This label should say that the light is fire rated.
If there is no label to say that the light is fire rated, you can check for critical differences in the light's design. Upon removing one of the lights, check to see whether the back is open or closed. If the back is open, the light is not fire-rated, and if it is closed, it is.
Fire rated versions will have a metal housing, and you will see behind the bulb. If you are still unsure, look up images to note the key differences and compare your light with these.
Is there an alternative to fire rated downlights?
To comply with building regulations, measures must be taken to mitigate the fire risk that recessed lights create. Fire regulated downlights incorporate this into their design and so are arguably the best choice.
Sometimes, people will question whether they are necessary since non-fire regulated versions are still available and cheaper. However, if you were to choose these, fire rated hoods would need to be placed over them. This would incur additional costs that would outweigh the savings made on the lights themselves.
It is always recommended to install downlights that are fire rated because they are designed for your protection. Because they are made to slow the spread of fire, the choice could mean the difference between life and death.
Types of fire rated downlights
Three main types of downlights are fire rated. These are halogen, compact fluorescent and LED downlights. The latter has superseded the others, but because you may still find these available for purchase, or you may notice them installed on your property, it is essential to understand the key differences.
Halogen fire rated downlights tend to be older since the EU began phasing out the selling of these bulbs in 2012. They are cheap, which makes them appealing to some. However, they are not the best option in contemporary applications because they are not eco-friendly; they have high energy usage and heat output, making them a potential fire threat. They also have a short life, so they are not cost-efficient in the long run.
Compact fluorescent downlights (CFL) were an improvement on the fire rated halogen downlights in some regards but not others. This is because they have a longer life and are more energy-efficient. However, the downside to this type of downlight is that it has a higher heat output than the halogen version, making it an even greater fire risk.
While compact fluorescent downlights may be more energy-efficient than halogen downlights, they are not eco-friendly. This is because they contain mercury, which can damage the environment and come with specific waste management requirements. They also take up to two minutes to achieve full brightness, which can be annoying when you need the light immediately.
Both of these types of downlight have been superseded by LED downlights. Fire rated versions of LED recessed lights are the latest technology in this regard. They are much more energy-efficient and enduring than the other two options. An LED downlight's average lifespan is 40,000 hours, four times longer than compact fluorescent lights.
LED downlights operate at lower temperatures, so they don't bring the potential fire risks associated with halogen and compact fluorescent downlights. While they are slightly more expensive as an initial investment, they pay for themselves over the first year or two. These bulbs last a long time and save up to 90% on lighting costs.
There are many colour options available with LED recessed lights. You can choose between comfortable, warm and cool white as well as colour changing lights. Exterior designs are plenty, with options to suit every room style and personal taste. Furthermore, you can choose from different sized square or circular options in a range of colours, materials and finishes.
With fire rated LED downlights, you can have full control over the lighting in your room. Whether you're looking for downlights for bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living spaces or commercial use, some options can help you to create the perfect ambience with your lighting. Tiltable downlights, dimmable downlights and a range of other options are available.
Fire-rated downlights for bathroom use
Some types of downlight are more appropriate for specific applications. If you want to install downlights in your bathroom, over a shower or bath, for example, you will not only want to ensure they are fire rated but also safe for this purpose.
IP65 downlights can be safely installed in bathrooms over a shower or bath. This type of downlight is an LED fire rated version that mitigates the potential safety risk of lighting installed in bathrooms, such as electrocution. IP65 downlights provide full light protection. This cannot be guaranteed with downlights that are IP64 or less, although these are adequate for other applications.
Downlights are an excellent option for bathrooms because they allow brightness in shower and bath areas that can be difficult to achieve with conventional lighting. IP65 versions provide additional safety and protect against things like dust which can compromise the light quality. IP65 lights are also available in a range of options, such as IP65 tiltable downlights and IP65 dimmable downlights, so you can still get the best fit and aesthetic for your space.
As we have seen, the type of lighting you choose for your property will impact aesthetics and fire safety. Downlights are an excellent choice because they are space-saving, stylish and capable of creating the perfect ambience in a room. It is, however, essential to ensure you choose fire rated downlights over non-fire-rated, traditional versions.
Fire rated recessed lights will afford a greater deal of protection in the event of a fire by providing you with a guaranteed minimum duration to evacuate the building. They were tested to strict standards to ensure this, and they can mean the difference between life and death in the event of a fire.