Q: We live in a two-story house that has recessed floodlights in the first-floor ceiling and have been told that we cannot add insulation to the second-story floors because of the floodlights.

We plan to build a two-story house with lots of recessed lighting. How do you use recessed lights and still soundproof the floors?

A: We love recessed lighting and have put a lot of it in over the years. When installed properly, it does its job, it looks good and, at $10 or so a fixture, it’s inexpensive.

When you say “soundproof,” we hope that you are asking how to limit the sound transmitted between floors, not totally stop it.

Eliminating sound on the ground floor created by foot traffic on the second floor is virtually impossible and definitely impractical in a residential application.

Although recessed lighting (we call them cans) is an obstacle because of the heat it generates, the problem is not insurmountable. We suggest you approach sound attenuation in the following manner.

First, and most important, you must check the manufacturer’s specifications for the fixtures to determine the distance recommended between the fixture and combustible material.

Such material includes the framing and any insulation you may install in the plenum (the open area between the framing members).

We think your best bet is to buy IC-rated cans. These recessed housings cost a little more than the nonrated ones, but because they allow direct contact with insulation they eventually will pay for themselves in energy savings.

The trade-off is that most likely you won’t be able to use as high a wattage light bulb as you could with a non-IC fixture.

If you go with non-IC cans, decide where you will put each housing and install blocking between the floor joists to create a space for each fixture. Drill holes in the blocking or joists through which to run the electrical cable.

You can then install insulation in the cavities that don’t contain the cans.

This will help with sound reduction. But this is not the whole story.

There are two types of sound affecting the noise level in a structure:

  • Airborne sounds are created by sound waves traveling through the air. An example might be the sound of a jet plane.

  • Impact sound is the noise transmitted by impact within a building. Examples are leather-soled shoes walking on a hardwood floor, or a piece of furniture being dragged across tile.

Sound reduction in buildings is affected by choices you make in the floor system (carpet, wood or tile), the substrate (plywood, lightweight concrete), the ceiling below (gypsum board) and any insulation in the plenum.

Sound transmission, whether it is impact sound or airborne sound, can be limited to a greater or lesser extent depending on which materials you select for these components and how they are installed.

For more information on this subject, check out these two Web sites: www.thetiledoctor.com, a publication of Ceramic Tile Institute of America; and www.regupol.com, a company that makes a buffer to be installed under a ceramic tile floor.


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription