While recessed lighting can be a great design feature, it can compromise any soundproofing efforts you’ve made. If you’ve come across this problem, you might be wondering how to soundproof recessed lighting.
But before I go into the methods, let’s look at why recessed lighting is such a problem when it comes to soundproofing.
Why is Recessed Lighting a Problem for Soundproofing?
Any break in a surface is an issue when it comes to soundproofing. This is true regardless of whether it’s an electrical outlet, screw fixings, or something like recessed lighting.
So by making a cavity for the recessed lighting to sit in means you’re basically opening up a space for sound to escape through. Finding the right balance between soundproofing and light installation can be a big challenge.
But why are recessed lights such an issue?
The first reason is the lights themselves. The housing will often be made of a material such as aluminum, which is great at transmitting sound. It’s thin and fairly rigid, meaning it vibrates easily when sound waves pass through it.
Also, your recessed lighting might be a small bulb in a big casing, which means lots of empty space. This can be the perfect place for sound transmission because it increases the size of the break in the ceiling.
But perhaps the biggest problem with soundproofing recessed lighting is the excess heat.
Almost all lights produce a lot of heat as waste energy. It’s a symptom of the electrical resistance passing through the lighting filament. Even energy saving light bulbs produce a lot of heat.
And this heat needs somewhere to dissipate. As soundproofing is effectively insulation, padding recessed lighting out with loads of mass becomes a big fire hazard.
Thermal and sonic insulation share many of the same properties. Fibrous materials are great at absorbing sound waves and heat energy, which might be helpful in a wall cavity but becomes a problem around lighting.
This is why soundproof light fixtures don’t exist. There currently isn’t an industry-wide solution to the problem because it presents a fire risk.
So when it comes to soundproofing recessed lighting, you have to find the careful balance between effective soundproofing and allowing the lights to operate properly.
I consider this in the solutions I offer below, but if you have any doubts about fire safety in your home, avoid the issue altogether.
How to Soundproof Recessed Lighting
Here are some options to soundproof recessed lighting:
- Insulate the ceiling cavity as much as possible
- Soundproof the floor above
- Fit the recessed lights using Green Glue
- Build quiet boxes for the light’s housing
- Consider a different form of lighting
- Use a rechargeable surface light
The suggestions I offer don’t specifically soundproof the recessed lighting fixtures themselves but work around the area.
This is the only way to reduce the issue of a fire risk as much as possible. But bear in mind that this might compromise the effectiveness of your soundproofing solutions.
1. Insulate the ceiling cavity as much as possible
It’s entirely possible to insulate the ceiling cavity without impacting the recessed lighting. You just have to be careful with where you place the insulation.
The best product for this job is mineral wool insulation (Amazon link). It’s great at absorbing sound and has the added benefit of being fire and heat resistant.
I’d recommend cutting out holes for the lighting fixtures at the very least, if not avoiding them altogether.
Mineral wool is an amazing insulator, so while it’ll absorb sound waves it’ll also prevent the lights from cooling down. This is where the fire risk comes from.
You can easily cut holes in it with a craft knife and then install the insulation around the recessed lighting. While it’ll compromise a level of sound absorption, it’ll reduce the problem overall.
2. Fit the recessed lights using Green Glue
When it comes to actually fitting the lights, it’s worth using Green Glue (Amazon link).
Green Glue is a noise damping compound that can be used in place of normal caulk sealant.
It’s quite elastic and converts sound waves into heat energy, which reduces sound transmission.
Use it whenever you’d need to seal a gap, such as between the lighting fixture and the ceiling.
Along with sound escaping through the light fitting itself, the join between the light and the ceiling is going to be the worst source of noise pollution.
Therefore, sealing it with some Green Glue will help to reduce the issue.
3. Soundproof the floor above
Check out my article on ways to reduce impact noise from the floor above.
If you’re thinking about soundproofing around recessed lighting, it means there’s a source of noise coming from above.
A safer way to tackle the issue, providing you have access the floor above, is to soundproof there instead.
Doing so will mean you don’t have to worry about fire hazards because the lighting will still have plenty of space in which to dissipate heat.
Your best option would be to lay some acoustic underlayment (Amazon link) under the flooring surface.
This helps to cut down on impact noise transmission, which will mean less noise is able to transmit into the floor cavity.
Alternatively, you could use cork underlayment (Amazon link) or mats for a natural option.
If all else fails, lay some thick carpet or some rugs on the floor. The more you can do to cut down on noises at the source, the less you’ll hear in the room below.
Of course, not everyone will have this option. If you live in an apartment, it might be worth considering a different form of lighting so you don’t compromise any insulation that might be in the ceiling cavity.
4. Build quiet boxes for the light’s housing
A quiet box is basically a box fitted with soundproofing materials that you can use to cover an object. Typically you might build one for something like a generator.
There’s no reason why the same principle wouldn’t work for recessed lighting, providing you make some minor adjustments.
You’ll need the following materials:
You’ll want to build a small box for each light, which you’ll then mount into the ceiling cavity and fix the light housing to.
This provides the benefit of not only adding mass between the light and any noise source, but it also adds a degree of decoupling because the light won’t be fixed directly to the building.
Follow these steps:
- Measure your light’s housing and the depth of your ceiling cavity. These will be the measurements for your box.
- Cut out 5 pieces of MDF for the top and sides.
- Stick all the pieces together and seal the gaps with Green Glue.
- Stick mass loaded vinyl to the outside of the box. One layer should be fine, but you can use more if you want.
- Cut a hole for the light’s wiring, making it slightly larger so it doubles as an air vent.
- Screw the box to the ceiling joists and mount the light inside as normal.
There should be enough room around the light for it to dissipate heat into the box, which should escape through the little air vent.
You can always add in more vents, but the more holes you cut the worse it’ll be at soundproofing.
5. Consider a different form of lighting
If you don’t yet have the recessed lighting installed and are thinking ahead, consider a different kind of light fitting.
You need to decide which is more important to you: a soundproof room or recessed lighting.
As I mentioned above, any break in a surface is going to compromise its sound blocking ability. The larger the break, the more sound can get through.
Obviously, with recessed lighting, you’re going to need more than one in the room. So the more you install, the more holes there are.
Therefore, consider a light fitting that doesn’t require a big hole to be cut in the ceiling.
A good alternative is track lighting, as it can provide the same kind of look as recessed lighting. If you don’t want a light fitting that impedes a room’s space, track lighting can be a suitable option.
The main benefit is that it’s mounted on the ceiling rather than inside it. This means the only break in the ceiling’s surface is the screw holes, which are tiny.
It also solves the problem of heat dissipation because the lights are open to the room.
6. Use a rechargeable surface light
A similar compromise would be to use a rechargeable surface light (Amazon link).
The one above looks just like a recessed light but fixes directly onto the ceiling rather than inside it. It also doesn’t run off mains electricity, meaning you don’t need to have it wired in.
You mount it onto the ceiling using a bracket, again meaning you only need to fit a couple of screws.
Some Final Thoughts
When it comes to how to soundproof recessed lighting, you’re limited in what you can really do. The biggest issue is heat dissipation, which is important to consider before going any further.
I recommend deciding whether you want this particular style of lighting or a soundproof ceiling, as ultimately you can’t have both.