How to air seal recessed lights on a budget?

Recessed lighting LED bulb retrofit to remove air leaks.
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An old house, upgraded by the previous owners with recessed lighting (also known as canned lights) has the benefits of conveniently lighting up the room without deal with floor lamps. However, a major downside is that recessed lights are notorious for leaking air. On hots days, hot air from the attic will leak into the living space. On a cold day, cold air from the attic will leak into the living space, diluting any heat from your heater. In fact, on windy days, I can feel the draft coming from the attic. So my goal in this DIY home project was to stop air leakage from recessed lighting throughout the house (around 22 total recessed lights). This project happened in a couple of phases. But I succeeded in solving my problem, in two phases, and have a potential future upgrade if necessary.

Phase 1: Buying Replacement Retrofit Bulbs

The professional option would be to replace the entire recessed light housing with one that is air tight. However, I'd probably have to hire a handyman, but all the new parts, and pay a lot of money. My more affordable DIY solution was to buy replacement bulbs that completely seal the recessed lights. The logic behind this solution is that the new lights would perfectly fit and seal the entire gap that was exposed (the original BR-40 light bulb left a gap enough to leak air). It also has the option for a plug in or a screw-in plug for the bulb.

Depending on the age of the recessed light fixture, there are plenty of videos tutorials. Some are springs loaded. Others snap in. This was the video that worked for me:

My setup included purchasing various sizes that varied between 5 and 6 inches. I ended up going with Hykolity from Amazon, which was substantially more affordable than the retrofit LED lights available at Home Depot and Lowes. It worked well in the 6 inch housings, but didn't fit well in the 5 inch without a lot of wire tweaking. Like always, read the reviews!

Phase 2: Sealing the Poor Installation

Between Phase 1 and 2, I waited a year so I could test the results out in the winter season. And there was a noticeable difference on windy days. But I could still feel a small draft squeak through around the edges of the canned lights. And upon further explanation, I found that the housings that leaked the most were poorly installed. There were large air gaps between the recessed light housing and the drywall. It didn't bother me, but figured I could pipe in some silicon caulking.

One day in the summer after another small project, I had a partially used tube of silicon caulking. I popped off one of the LED retrofit bulb from Phase 1 and applied some caulking. I waited a couple hours to let it dry before replacing the light. Once I switched to the LED lights, the whole fixture ran much cooler than the original BR-40 lights.

Future Phase: Additional Tape Sealing

Lastly, if I happen to have any leftover, I would finalize the sealing with aluminum tape. The main reason I haven't proactively done this fix is that the stuff is not cheap. I've noticed that in a lot of new construction, they tape up the heater registers gaps with the stuff. My primary reason for purchasing the aluminum tape is for the registers. Any excess tape would then be applied to the LED Retrofit bulbs.

Ever since we moved into our home in Millbrae, our guests have commented our home is notably chilly. We felt it too, but wasn't sure what to do about it. Here's are the projects I've done to improve the temperatures inside my home. For those not familiar with Millbrae, it is a city in the SF Bay Area. The weather rarely gets to freezing temperatures in the winter and rarely gets to 100F in the summer. We never get snow.
  1. Results of Re-Insulating Attic in SF Bay Area
  2. How to Seal Power Outlets and Switch Airleaks
  3. Better Home Insulation by Sealing Gaps
  4. My Dog Door for Sliding Patio Door Is Drafty? Seal it with Insulation!
  5. Solving Water Intrusion into VERY SHORT Dirt Crawlspace
  6. Alternative to Messy "Great Stuff"
  7. How to air seal recessed lights on a budget?
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