Is a bare bulb light in a closet alright?
Saturday, September 29, 2018
Bare bulb light fixtures are called “lampholders” and two dangers lurk around these light fixtures in a clothes closet. The first is a fire risk from any flammable item that contacts the hot bulb. In the photo above, taken during a recent inspection, the blue travel bag is already leaning towards the bulb. All it would take is a little shift in the adjacent stacked boxes to topple it over in slow motion onto the bulb.
The International Residential Code (IRC) and National Electrical Code (NEC) set a number of fire safety standards for “luminaires”—the term used to indicate light fixtures in building codes—in a clothes closet:
1) Incandescent luminaires with open or partially enclosed bulbs are prohibited. Pendant (hanging) luminaires are also not allowed.
2) Surface-mounted incandescent or LED luminaires must have a completely enclosed light source.
3) Surface-mounted incandescent or LED luminaires can be installed on the wall of ceiling, but be held a minimum of 12-inches away from any “closet storage space,” which is defined by the NEC as: “The volume bounded by the sides and back closet walls and panes exteding from the closet floor vertically to a height of 1.8 M (6 ft.) or to the highest clothes-hanging rod and parallel to the walls at a horizontal distance of 600 mm (24 in.) from the sides and back of the closet walls, respectively, and continuing vertically to the closet ceiling parallel to the walls at a horizontal distance of 300 mm (12 in.) or the width of the shelf, whichever is greater; for a closet that permits access to both sides of the hanging rod, this space includes the volume below the highest rod extending 300 mm (12 in.) on either side of the rod on a plane horizontal to the floor extending the entire length of the rod.” The diagram below may make the definition a little clearer. It is essentially the space that would be occupied by hanging clothes down to the floor and the volume above shelving where stored items could be stacked.
4) Recessed incandescent or LED luminaires require only a 6-inch distance from the closet storage space.
5) Fluorescent luminaires, both surface-mounted and recessed, can be installed on a wall or ceiling, with a minimum 6-inch offset from the closet storage space.
Danger number two is possible injury from a spray of broken glass when a bulb is accidentally shattered while moving things around the closet. Whenever we mention the second safety risk to customers, they invariably wince and recall exactly where it once happened to them.
One easy way to replace an exposed bulb fixture in your home safely—and without having to do any electrical wiring—is to buy an “Easy Light” kit from Home Depot for about $20. The base of the flush-mount fixture screws into the lightbulb socket of the porcelain or plastic base, then you attach the translucent globe over it. The lamp is LED, uses 11.5 watts to equal the light output of a 60-watt incandescent bulb, and rated to last for 50,000 hours.
The photo above shows the top part of it that screws into your existing light socket, encircling and covering it; and the photo below is what is looks like completed. You can buy the light with, or without, the pull-chain shown. Also, see our blog posts Can a bare bulb "lampholder" light fixture be installed outdoors? and Are lights required in closets? and Why does the bedroom have a light switch but there is no light in the ceiling?
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