by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Clothes Closet Lighting
People don’t often think about the fire risks posed by the light in their clothes closet, but it’s one of the few places in the house where a source of high heat can get too close to flammable materials. Lighting must be installed safely with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and other flammables stored in the closet. Additionally, the quality of the light, as well as bulb efficiency, will influence your lighting choices.
The 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) on "Permitted Luminaires and Clearance from Clothing"
The IRC defines a "luminaire" as follows:
a complete lighting unit consisting of a lamp or lamps, together with the parts designed to distribute the light, to position and protect the lamps and ballast (where applicable), and to connect the lamps to the power supply.
Types of luminaires permitted by the 2009 IRC include:
- surface-mounted or recessed incandescent luminaires with completely enclosed lamps, surface-mounted or recessed fluorescent luminaires; and
- surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaires identified as suitable for installation within the storage area.
Luminaires not permitted by the 2009 IRC:
- Incandescent luminaires with open or partially enclosed lamps and pendant luminaires or lamp-holders should be prohibited.
Clearances permitted by the 2009 IRC:
The minimum distance between luminaires installed in clothes closets and the nearest point of a storage area shall be as follows:
1. Surface-mounted incandescent or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed on a wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 12 inches (305 mm) between the fixture and the nearest point of a storage space.
2. Surface-mounted fluorescent luminaires shall be installed on the wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm).
3. Recessed incandescent luminaires or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed in the wall or the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm).
4. Recessed fluorescent luminaires shall be installed in the wall or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm) between the fixture and the nearest point of storage space.
5. Surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaires shall be permitted to be installed within the storage space where identified within this use.
Also, metal pull chains may be dangerous; if the base cracks, the chain can become electrified.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
CRI is a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully, in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. The closer the CRI of a lamp is to 100, the more "true" it renders colors in the environment. Poor CRI is the reason that a shirt and pants that seemed to match at home now clash in the restroom at work. For clothes closets lighting, the CRI should be as high as possible. Incandescent lights are inefficient but they have a CRI of 100, making them the most aesthetic lighting choice. Compact fluorescents lights (CFLs) are far more efficient and have a longer life than incandescent bulbs, but they have a CRI in the low 60s, making them a poor choice for clothes closet applications. Low-voltage halogen and LED lights are relatively efficient, long-lasting, and have a high CRI, although not as high as incandescent bulbs.
In summary, homeowners should replace lighting in their clothes closets if the light has the potential to ignite flammable materials in the closet.