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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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about ELECTRICAL WIRING:

 Which house appliances need a dedicated electrical circuit?

 Can a short circuit cause a high electric bill?

 What is the maximum spacing requirement for securing NM-cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable)?

 Is it alright to just put wire nuts on the end of unused or abandoned NM-cable or wiring?

 What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?  

 What are typical aluminum service entrance wire/cable sizes for the electrical service to a house?

 Why is it unsafe to bond neutral and ground wiring at subpanels?

 Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house?

 Why is a strain relief clamp necessary for the cord connection to some electric appliances?  

 Does a wire nut connection need to be wrapped with electrical tape?

 What is the minimum clearance of overhead electric service drop wires above a house roof?

 What are the requirements for NM-cables entering an electric panel box? 

 What is the color code for NM cable (Romex®) sheathing?

 Why is undersize electric wiring in a house dangerous? 

 What causes flickering or blinking lights in a house?

 Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?

 How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house?

 Can old electrical wiring go bad inside a wall? 

 What is an open electrical splice?

 What are the most common electrical defects found in a home inspection? 

 What is the life expectancy of electrical wiring in a house? 

 What is an "open junction box"? 

 How dangerous is old electrical wiring? 

 What is a ground wire? 

 I heard that aluminum wiring is bad. How do you check for aluminum wiring?  


 What is "knob and tube" wiring?  

 What is the code requirement for receptacle outlets in a closet?

   Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

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