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What are the code requirements for light fixtures in a closet?
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Closets are often packed to the ceiling with flammable clothes and boxes, so 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.
The #1 lighting fire hazard in closets is a bare-bulb light fixture—the kind with a white porcelain base, which is called a “lampholder” in the codes. See our blog post Is a bare bulb light in a closet alright? for more on this.
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