When swapping out the bulbs in your enclosed fixtures, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all bulbs are made equally. It’s easy to assume that, if it fits the socket and lights up, the bulb is suitable for the fixture. However, this is not the case when talking about fixtures that are enclosed; only certain types of LED bulbs are compatible with and able to withstand usage in an enclosed fixture.
You can use LED light bulbs in enclosed fixtures, providing that the bulbs in question are enclosed-rated. Otherwise, you cannot use regular LED bulbs in an enclosed fixture unless they are specifically rated as such. Enclosed fixtures tend to generate excessive heat compared to those that are open; you must therefore use enclosed-rated bulbs, i.e. bulbs built to withstand the high temperatures typical of these fixtures. Regular LED bulbs are not suitable for enclosed fixtures as they’re far more vulnerable to the damaging effects of heat.
What Are Enclosed Fixtures?
In lighting, an enclosed fixture is any type of fixture in which the light bulb is encased by glass trimming. A defining feature of enclosed fixtures is that they lack the space necessary for heat dissipation and ventilation around the bulb.
Some common examples of enclosed fixtures include:
- Recessed lights that sit flush against the ceiling, e.g. globe or dome-shaped lights.
- Semi-flush lighting suspended close to the ceiling, e.g. lights found in kitchens or bathrooms.
- Outdoor weather-rated porch lights that have a weather-proof housing around the bulb.
- Retro-style lights with mason jar housing.
- Track lights and table lamps.
Despite the name, for a fixture to be considered enclosed, it isn’t a requirement that the fixture is completely covered. For instance, track lights and table lamps are technically open fixtures in theory; however, they fall under the enclosed fixtures category as they’re unable to dissipate heat that accumulates around their bulbs effectively.
Can LED Light Bulbs Be Used in Enclosed Fixtures?
Yes, you can use LED light bulbs in enclosed fixtures, on the condition that the bulbs are specifically ‘enclosed-rated’. Although it’s possible to use regular LED bulbs in an enclosed fixture, this isn’t a recommended practice.
To understand the issue with using LED bulbs in an enclosed fixture, we must first look at how different bulbs work. Older bulb types like incandescent and halogen produce light using heated wire filaments and gases. Due to the nature of these components, traditional bulbs get very hot during operation. Their components are designed to withstand this heat that the bulb inevitably gives off while lit.
LED bulbs, on the other hand, don’t involve wires or gases to light up. They instead use light-emitting diodes, controlled by advanced technology like microchips and drivers all contained within the bulb. Thanks to this technology, LED bulbs give off a fraction of the heat that traditional bulb types tend to produce. The delicate electrical components in LEDs are also much more sensitive to the effects of high temperatures.
Regular LED bulbs are therefore unsuitable for enclosed fixtures because of their extreme sensitivity to heat. As we’ve explained, the defining feature of enclosed fixtures is that they lack space for heat dissipation around the bulb. Any excess heat that the bulb creates accumulates in the fixture, causing the temperature around the bulb to rise. This creates the worst environment for regular LED bulbs that require low temperatures to function properly.
With that said, certain LED bulbs that are ‘enclosed-rated’ can be used in enclosed fixtures. You can use these bulbs in enclosed fixtures as they’re designed to withstand the heat that such fixtures generate. Otherwise, you should not use regular LED bulbs in enclosed fixtures.
What is the Best Type of Bulb for an Enclosed Fixture?
The best type of bulbs for enclosed fixtures are those that are enclosed-rated. These bulbs are specially designed to withstand higher temperatures than regular bulbs.
To find out whether an LED bulb is enclosed-rated, you should refer to the bulb’s packaging or spec sheet. The manufacturer will provide information on whether the bulb in question is suitable for use in enclosed fixtures; this could be a simple “yes” or “no”, or a statement that explicitly states whether the bulb is enclosed-rated. Oppositely, regular LED bulbs typically come with a warning that they’re “unsuitable for use in totally enclosed or recessed fixtures”.
You can also look out for the Energy Star logo to determine whether an LED bulb is enclosed-rated. Bulbs with Energy Star certification have been subject to high heat testing, ensuring they’re safe for use in enclosed fixtures. Even so, an Energy Star logo doesn’t definitively mean that a bulb is enclosed-rated; check with the manufacturer or refer to the Energy Star website for confirmation if you’re unsure of the bulb’s rating.
What Happens if You Use Regular LED Bulbs in an Enclosed Fixture?
If you use a regular LED bulb in an enclosed fixture, it will work initially, but problems will quickly arise. The components in the LED bulbs will deteriorate quickly under the high temperatures of the fixture. The bulbs will likely malfunction at first, before prematurely dying out long before their expected lifespan.
Regular LED light bulbs have the longest lifespan of any bulb type. Under optimal conditions, LED bulbs can last for as much as 50,000 to 100,000 hours of use. It’s also technically impossible for an LED bulb to ‘burn out’ in the traditional sense; the lifespan of an LED bulb is instead marked by the dimming of the bulb’s light after a certain amount of use. As a rough estimate, an LED bulb used for 10 hours per day could last 14 years before dying out.
For an LED bulb to live up to its lifespan, it requires cool temperatures around the bulb at all times. Heat is the number one enemy of LEDs; it causes the electrical components in the bulb to degrade quickly, consequently causing the bulb to malfunction and then die. This is why the high temperatures typical of enclosed fixtures are so incompatible with regular LED bulbs.
Using a regular LED bulb in an enclosed fixture can lead to the following issues:
- Light shutting off: The LED bulb may shut off completely after a few hours of use in an enclosed fixture.
- Bulb flickering: After a few days in the enclosed fixture, the LED bulb may start to flicker.
- Discolouration of coloured LEDs: If the LEDs are coloured, the colour gradient may appear significantly different after some use in an enclosed fixture.
- Premature dimming of bulb: The LED bulb may dim well before its expected lifespan after being used in an enclosed fixture.
Will Using LED Light Bulbs in Enclosed Fixtures Create a Fire Hazard?
Using non-enclosed-rated LED bulbs in an enclosed fixture could create a potential fire hazard. Unable to dissipate excess heat effectively, high temperatures will accumulate around the bulb and fixture. This creates the risk of the fixture melting or catching on fire if temperatures rise too high.
When using LEDs in an enclosed fixture, the risk doesn’t solely lie with the bulb, but rather the fixture itself. Enclosed lighting fixtures tend to have well-insulated housings that may also contain plastic parts; these are the parts at high risk of melting or catching fire if the wrong bulb is used in the fixture. The safety risk is even greater if the LED bulb is of poor quality to begin with.
In cases of extreme overheating, the LED bulb or enclosed fixture may start to smoke. If this scenario occurs, you must switch off the fixture, then replace the faulty bulb before using the fixture again. The bulb bases can get extremely hot so avoid touching this part of the bulb upon its removal.
Can You Use an Enclosed Fixture Bulb in an Open Fixture?
Yes, you can use an enclosed-rated LED bulb in an open fixture. Bulbs rated for enclosed fixtures do not necessarily need to be used in enclosed fixtures.
enclosed-rated bulbs are designed to withstand higher temperatures than regular bulbs. This means that there is no issue with using an enclosed-rated bulb in either an enclosed or open fixture; it will perform equally as well regardless of the type of fixture. As we’ve now explained, problems only arise when a non-enclosed-rated bulb is used in an enclosed fixture.