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Old 09-12-2008, 02:27 PM   #1
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


We recently purchased a home that has bare incandescent bulbs on pull chains in the closets. I was considering putting in switches if I can gain access from the attic and avoid having to knock holes in the plaster to run the wiring. I haven't looked yet to see if that's feasible. My question is, looking around it seems like a bare bulb in a closet is a no-no. These closets aren't very big. The biggest is 24 1/4 deep by 59 1/2 wide. Obviously I can't get 18" of clearance from all walls. Do I just need a light fixture or can I replace with a compact fluorescent or am I worrying about nothing?

Oh, and I haven't gone up into my attic to look at my access from above yet because I'm going to have to pry up some plywood. Am I most likely wasting my time or should I have a reasonable chance of gaining the access I need? Wiring the actual switch doesn't bother me.

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Old 09-12-2008, 02:35 PM   #2
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


You're correct, bare bulbs in a clothes closet is a no-no.

Given your space limitations, you just need to make a best-effort to get a safe installation, without necessarily pulling new wires and patching holes.

The code requires that any part of an incandescent fixture must be situated at least 12" (measured horizontally not diagonally) from the nose of the nearest shelf. That is tough in a small closet.

The code reduces the requirement to 6" for flourescent fixtures. That does not mean a screw-in flourescent bulb, it means a fixture that is only functional with flourescent bulbs/tubes. Flourescents run pretty cool. I'd suggest that you install compact flourescents and make an effort not to stack things ap against them.

If you're needing to pass some sort of inspection, you may need to pull some wire in the attic and locate them over the door.

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Old 09-12-2008, 02:59 PM   #3
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


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Originally Posted by thekctermite View Post
You're correct, bare bulbs in a clothes closet is a no-no.
The code requires that any part of an incandescent fixture must be situated at least 12" (measured horizontally not diagonally) from the nose of the nearest shelf.

Do I understand this correctly that a bare bulb in a closet is fine as long as it is a minimum of 12" from a shelf? Is there a required amount of clearence from the walls / door?

In houses build in 1970 or earlier, I have seen many many many closets with a bare bulb in them. Even my 1963 built home, that was built to high standards at the time has bare bulbs in the closets.
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:05 PM   #4
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


Our home inspector didn't ding the bare bulb or the clearance but he did make the sellers replace one fixture that was hanging and had exposed wiring.
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:14 PM   #5
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


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Our home inspector didn't ding the bare bulb or the clearance but he did make the sellers replace one fixture that was hanging and had exposed wiring.

Not meaning to rip on inspectors at all, I just had a bad experience with a quick pre-purchase home inspection. Before I knew any better, years ago, when I got my first home. I paid for an inspection of the property before I bought it. The inspector said everything was fine, no problems, no violations.

As I found over the years, the outright violations were numerous and there were other significant problems with the property as well. My point is just that unless you ask for a really complete inspection, they may just do the basic once over and call it good. They won't even necessarily make sure things are up to current codes by any means (which isn't always necessary, but can be nice to be aware of what isn't up to current codes).

Of course you will find some inspectors that are wonderful and really take the time to make sure everything is right or at least document everything in a written report. A Big THANK YOU to the inspectors that really care and take the time to do a good job - It saves everyone many many headaches and hassles.
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Old 09-12-2008, 03:33 PM   #6
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


The prohibition of bare bulbs and partially enclosed bulbs in clothes closets is based on section E3903.11 of the International Residential Code and 410.8 of the National Electric Code.

It is code now, but probably wasn't code 30-40 years ago.

A pre-purchase inspector has to pick his battles. Some of them don't have a clue what the code says, some do. Unless a project is being undertaken, current code shouldn't always be applied to existing homes. As mentioned, it never hurts to make suggestions. You have to remember that these guys often are in the position of making or breaking a sale/purchase of a home with their report. So, they'll sometimes note the big stuff and not sweat the little stuff, because none of them want the reputation that they screw up real estate agents' pending deals with long inspection lists riddled with rather inconsequential calls. That being considered, bare bulbs can pose a safety hazard in a very cramped full closet. As an inspector that I know often says...

"Worry about getting away from the alligators, don't spend your time swatting at flies."

The nice thing about being a building codes inspector is that I don't have to worry about messing up someone's process. My main concern is the current code and life/property safety, and good solid enforcement that benefits pretty much everyone except the guy violating the code. It makes it much more simple.

Last edited by Termite; 09-12-2008 at 03:35 PM.
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Old 09-17-2008, 06:46 AM   #7
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help with code on bare bulb in closet


Current code says that incandescent type fixtures have to have their bulb completely enclosed. Recessed cans would have to have a trim like you use in a shower...no open baffle type. Surface mount fixtures have to have a globe that encloses the bulb.

In small closets like the OP mentioned, I've put up 18" & 24" florescent under cabinet style lights...either above the door on the header or on the ceiling flush to the header. It allows about as much light as you can get and usually doesn't interfere with the shelving.

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