As a home inspector, I frequently see exposed light bulbs in closets. I mostly see these in older homes, but I have seen them in some homes that are not very old. Most of these lights are the old porcelain light fixtures that have the pull string to turn the light off and on. This situation (having a bare light bulb in a closet) is a recognized fire hazard and is not allowed by the NEC (National Electric Code.) Here are some recommendations regarding your closet lights.
If you have ever touched a light bulb that is turned on, then you know that incandescent light bulbs get very hot. Over the years, exposed closet lights have been the cause of many house fires throughout the country, because the heat that they generate can cause things like clothing, paper, and cardboard boxes to ignite if they get too close together.
Code Requirements for Closet Lights
In order to reduce the fire risk in our homes, section 410.16 of the NEC allows only three types of lighting for our closets:
- Surface or recessed incandescent or LED luminaires with an enclosed light source.
- Surface or recessed fluorescent luminaires.
- Surface-mounted or recessed LED luminaires identified for use within the closet storage space.
NOTE: A luminaire is simply the combination of a light fixture and the bulb.
In other words, bare light bulbs are no longer allowed to be used in closets. Also, only partially enclosed light bulbs are not allowed in closets.
What should you do if you have an exposed incandescent bulb in one or more closets in your home?
All of these requirements were put into place in an attempt to help to keep us and our homes safe. However, there are many, many homes that still have exposed light bulbs in the closets. I have personally seen hundreds of these during the home inspections that I have conducted. If you have one or more of these in your home, there is no need to panic. The safest thing to do is to replace these fixtures, but there are some options that you can choose from if you can’t replace them immediately.
Option 1 – Don’t use the lights. This may be a bit extreme, but it is an option.
Option 2 – Make sure that there is nothing combustible such as clothing, paper, and boxes near the bulb. I would suggest having at least one foot of clearance around the light bulb.
Option 3 – Make sure that the light is always turned off when not in use.
Replacing the closet light fixture(s) in your home with something that is up to code is certainly the safest option. You can do this in one of several ways. The best (and most expensive) way would be to hire a licensed electrician to do the work for you. Second, if you are handy and very familiar with electrical safety and basic electrical work, then you can probably do the work yourself. Lastly, you can purchase and install something similar to the fixture shown to the right. It is a LED Flush Mount Light kit, and it simply screws into the porcelain fixture and provides a much safer alternative to what you have now.
These fixtures can be found at https://www.zoro.com/eti-led-flush-mount-light-115w-4000k-830-lm-54483141/i/G4861917/
Spacing Requirements for Closet Light Fixtures
There are spacing requirements for light fixtures installed in closets. These requirements are put into place to ensure that there is adequate clearance to prevent the heat produced by a light bulb from causing clothing or boxes to combust. The spacing requirements are as follows:
- For surface-mounted incandescent or LED light fixtures, there must be a minimum distance of 12 inches between the fixture and any items stored in the closet.
- For recessed incandescent or LED light fixtures, this distance must be at least 6 inches.
- For fluorescent light fixtures, the minimum distance is 6 inches.
I hope this information is helpful to you and that you can use it to make your home safer. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave it below, and I will respond as quickly as possible.
© 2020 Mike Morgan
This article was written by Mike Morgan, the owner of Morgan Inspection Services. Morgan Inspection Services has been providing home, septic and well inspection services throughout the central Texas area since 2002. He can be reached at 325-998-4663 or at email@example.com. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Mike Morgan.