Downlights and fire regulations.
Are downlights safe?
It depends entirely how they have been fitted, by who, and how well maintained they are, i.e. correct choice of replacement bulbs by the end user.
When considering fitting recessed downlighters, there are certain factors to consider
that relate to the passage of fire, sound and heat loss.
FUSE Services will always consider these things for you and will make sure your property
is safe and complies with BS7671 (electrical regulations), Document B (Fire safety),
Document P (electrical Regulations), Part E (transmission of sound).
The electrical contractors responsibilities in these areas are increasing all the time, but
unfortunately, less “scrupulous” contractors often fit “cheap” contractors units offering
no protection whatsoever and able to offer a “cheap” service, but all to often
we are called in, sometimes after the fire service has attended, after wiring has burned
out, insulation in lofts has begun to burn, and problems have started with fittings melting
The problem is this. Ceilings are designed with a 30, 60 or 90 minute fire rating, to give
enough time for persons to be rescued by the fire service if they are trapped in upper
levels of a building. Once you cut a hole in a ceiling, you immediately destroy the ceilings
ability to hold back a fire which can now spread much faster setting fire to the wooden
joists and floorboards above.
Another problem is lofts. Currently there are no requirements to have fire rated units in a
ceiling with a loft above, as there is no dwelling above, but considering how much timber is
in the average loft, it would be crazy not to fit a fire rated unit.
We ONLY fit fire rated units that have an intumescent seal in them, which in the event of
a fire will expand many times over, completely sealing the hole up and giving a 90 min
protection. If you remove a bulb in a downlight and can see straight through to the floor
above, then you don’t have a fire rated downlight. The regulations have been in force since
at least 1987, so they are not new – just ignored for “competitiveness”!
The other problem is maintaining insulation in lofts over downlights. Again we often see
poor practices where insulation completely surrounds a downlight. This is very dangerous
as heat can build up and insulation starts to melt and burn. A solution is to keep the
insulation well away, but this then compromises the properties insulation and heat escapes.
We always recommend a loft cap or loft brace which protects the light unit, and insulation
may then be placed safely over the whole assembly, maintaining the insulation properties in
the loft (or other floors too).
A fire hood can be used to prevent fire spreading through floors, but must NOT be used in
a loft with insulation placed over it. This is the wrong use of this device, and again we
unfortunately see this practice all the time.