Do I Need Fire-Rated Recessed Lights?


When selecting lighting for either a home or business environment, the choice between fire-rated and non-fire-rated recessed lights, commonly known as downlights, is crucial. This decision impacts the safety and regulatory compliance of your property. This guide will explore what fire-rated lights are, where they are used, why they are necessary, regulations and standards, scenarios requiring their use, how to identify them, and tips for selecting the right ones.

What is a Fire-Rated Light?

Fire-rated light

Fire-rated downlights are specially designed to limit the spread of fire through the cut-out hole made for their installation, thereby preventing the spread of flames and smoke from spreading through ceilings and wall. The most important characteristics that separate fire-rated lights from standard lights include:

  • Construction: Fire-rated lights use fire-resistant materials such as intumescent seals and steel enclosures.
  • Sealing: Fire-rated lights are sealed to prevent expansion in the event of heat exposure. This helps prevent fire penetration and spread.
  • Testing: Fire-rated lights undergo rigorous testing to ensure they meet specific fire resistance standards, such as maintaining structural integrity during a fire for a specified duration.

Where are Fire Rated Lights Used?

Fire-rated lights in the home and in commercial buildings


Fire-rated lights are mandated for many commercial properties by local building codes. You can expect to find fire-rated lights in offices, retail spaces, and industrial facilities. Places where large numbers of people gather, such as schools, hospitals, and other public buildings, must also have fire-rated lights. However, fire-rated lights can also be used in residential buildings, particularly in areas prone to fire hazards, like kitchens, attics, garages, and basements. 

Why Do I Need Fire-Rated Downlights?

Safety benefits of fire-rated downlights

Fireproof Your Home

In residential settings, fire-rated downlights play a crucial role in preventing the spread of fires. By containing flames within the fixture, they help limit damage and provide valuable time for evacuation and firefighting efforts. Installing fire-rated downlights in your home can provide peace of mind and extra protection in an emergency. 

Safety and Compliance

From a safety perspective, fire-rated downlights comply with building codes and regulations that mandate fire-resistant fixtures in specific locations. Using non-fire-rated downlights can pose significant risks regarding fire safety and may result in legal liabilities.

Do downlights have to be fire-rated?

Map of fire-rated light laws

Fire-Rated Light Regulations and Standards

Regulations and standards vary by region and building type. However, in many jurisdictions, fire-rated downlights are mandatory in areas with fire risk, such as escape routes, ceiling penetrations, and areas with insulation.

Risks and Legal Implications

Failure to use fire-rated downlights where required can lead to severe consequences, including property damage, injuries, and legal action. Adhering to fire safety regulations and installing appropriate fixtures is crucial.

When Fire-Rated Downlights are Required

Mandatory scenarios for fire-rated downlights include:

  • Ceiling Penetrations: In ceilings with fire-rated assemblies, downlights must maintain the integrity of these assemblies.
  • Insulated Ceilings: Areas with insulation require fire-rated downlights to prevent heat transfer and fire spread.
  • Escape Routes: Corridors, stairwells, and emergency exits must have fire-rated lighting to ensure safe evacuation during a fire.

How to Tell if a Downlight is Fire Rated?

Features of fire-rated lights

Identifying fire-rated downlights involves checking for specific markings, documentation, or physical features.

  • Markings: Look for labels or markings indicating fire rating, such as "FR" or "Fire Rated."
  • Documentation: Review product specifications and documentation provided by manufacturers.
  • Physical Features: Fire-rated downlights often have sealed enclosures and intumescent seals visible during installation.

Selecting the Right Fire-Rated Lights

Fire-rated lights

UL 263

UL 263 is the default standard for building construction and materials fire tests. It measures how long a given assembly can contain a fire or maintain its structural integrity while resisting heat. Only light fixtures that pass UL 263 certification can be considered fire-rated. 


ASTM E119 is another standard for testing fire resistance in building construction materials and assemblies. ASTM E119 is often used to test assemblies like walls, floors, and ceilings. ASTM E119 and UL 263 are both more stringent than the standards required for fire protection.


CAN/UCL S101 is the Canadian equivalent of UL 263. Light fixtures that pass CAN/UCL certification are classified as fire-rated for building purposes in Canada.


ENERGY STAR certification requires strict specifications with high safety, quality, and performance standards. ENERGY STAR-certified light bulbs must meet fire safety requirements and pass testing conducted in EPA-recognized laboratories. They also produce about 75 percent less heat and are much cooler to the touch than incandescent lighting.


Fire-rated lights are rigorously tested to ensure they maintain their structural integrity in the event of a fire. These tests involve exposing the fixture to high temperatures and flames and observing how long it remains fire-resistant. A 2-hour fire rating indicates that the light fixture can withstand fire exposure and maintain its fire resistance for a total of two hours. 


Ensures safety by allowing direct contact with insulation materials without posing a fire hazard. This feature simplifies installation and enhances energy efficiency by minimizing heat loss through the ceiling. Additionally, these fire-rated lights eliminate the need for fire-resistant light covers, making them suitable for any type of ceiling.


High-quality recessed LED ceiling lights come with 5-in-1 CCT options, which allow you to toggle between 2700K soft white, 3000K warm white, 3500K neutral white, 4000K cool white, and 5000K daylight. With a flick of a switch and a consistent flux of 1200 lumens, you can choose from soft to daylight.


The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a scale from 0 to 100 that measures how well an artificial light source replicates the visual color spectrum. A CRI of 90 or higher is considered excellent and will provide optimal color clarity for most applications.


This feature allows you to achieve the precise mood of your desired atmosphere by smoothly adjusting the brightness from 100% to 10% using most dimmers on 120V AC flicker-free. 


Canless installation means that there is no need for fire-rating housing or covers. These ultra-thin fire-rated lights can be installed directly into the ceiling easily, requiring only a hole for mounting. The absence of a housing or fire-resistant cover also means it can fit into shallow, tight ceilings.

Final Thoughts

The need for fire-rated recessed lights depends on building regulations, fire risk assessments, and safety considerations. Understanding the importance of these lights, identifying their presence, and selecting the right ones are crucial steps in enhancing fire safety in residential and commercial environments. Explore NuWatt’s fire-rated recessed lights to bring extra protection and peace of mind to your home, workplace, or business.