A modern open-concept kitchen with recessed lighting.

Call then can lights, pot lights, recessed lights, or high hats. Whatever you call them, they can eat LED bulbs for lunch if you don’t shop carefully. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Do LEDs Fail in Recessed Lighting Fixtures?

LED bulbs don’t generally burn out; they simply become less efficient over time. The big exception is when the internal circuitry of the bulb fails. And just like with other electronics such as computers, game consoles, and even your smartphone, the enemy of electronics is heat.

When you put a typical off-the-shelf LED bulb in a table lamp, there is sufficient space around the bulb for the bulb to adequately dissipate heat. But when you put the same bulb up in a recessed ceiling light canister, the heat is trapped in the fixture with the bulb.

It likely won’t burn out immediately, but you’re certainly not going to get the 50,000 hours promised on the box. So if you put a bunch of LED bulbs in your can lights and then were dismayed to see a few of them burned out a few months later, there’s a good chance they were cooked to death.

What Can You Do About the Problem?

To avoid wasting money on LED bulbs and ensure you get as much life out of them as you can, there are a few simple things you can do.

First, skip putting “standard” A19 bulbs in can fixtures—especially pricey smart bulbs. Save those bulbs for table lamps and other fixtures with adequate ventilation to allow the heat to dissipate entirely.

Second, if you really want to use a particular LED or even smart bulb line, check for bulbs intended for can light use. Philips, for example, recommends against putting Hue A19 bulbs in can light fixtures and encourages you to use the Hue BR30 bulbs designed for the purpose.

Third, and this is the best solution for most people, use a retrofit kit to retrofit your existing recessed lighting with an LED “puck” instead of a bulb. The pucks are much better at dissipating heat and much longer lasting in the recessed fixture than a traditional bulb ever could be.

You can find them in smart lighting formats, like the Hue White and Color Ambiance retrofit kits, but they are expensive. Depending on the smart lighting system you use, your cost per fixture will be $30-55.

Fortunately, plain old LED retrofits are cheaper. For around $5-6 per fixture, you can pick up popular after-market retrofit bulbs like these ones from Sunco Lighting.

Sunco Can Retrofit Lights

These LED retrofits give you the benefits of LED lighting with a sleek custom-fit look.

They’re not smart, but they include selectable lighting so that you can switch between five different white color temperatures ranging from very warm white to pure white.

If you’re not sure what color temperature you’d like in your kitchen, rec room, or anywhere else in your home, it’s a great way to experiment without wasting money on multiple sets.

When shopping for retrofits for your recessed lighting, there are only a few crucial things to keep in mind. Make sure you get a retrofit kit that matches both the diameter of your existing fixtures—typically 4 or 6 inches—and the bulb connection style. If your recessed lights accept bulbs with an E26 base (the traditional screw-in light bulb base), then you want a kit that includes a power cord tail that ends in an E26 base.

With the right retrofit kit, upgrading your recessed lights is a breeze. You just have to remove the bulb and the baffle (the white or black plastic trim around the opening). Then screw in the E26 connector and clip the new LED assembly (which includes an integrated baffle) into place. And you’re done! No tools, wire stripping, or drywall patching are required. And better yet, your new retrofitted fixtures will last much longer than A19 bulbs jammed into the same fixture.

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Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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