The Most Overlooked Fire Hazard In Your Home
An exposed light bulb can easily reach dangerous temperatures, creating a hazard in your home.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Can Closet Lights Start Fires?
Closet lights that don’t have an enclosure around them pose a fire and safety risk in the home. Under normal circumstances, a 60-watt light bulb will not get hotter than 175 degrees Fahrenheit. In a tight, enclosed space, though, it could reach close to between 290-500 degrees, a temperature high enough to make things burn and catch fire. A light bulb like this needs to be moved farther away from the PVC pipe or replaced with a LED or CFL bulb, which works at much cooler temperatures.
What Does the Code Say?
While at one time it was acceptable to have these lights in closets as long as the bulb was at least 18 inches away from the closet shelf, exposed incandescent lights are no longer allowed in closets, period. Here’s what the 2020 National Electric Code (NEC) says about closet lights:
410.16 Luminaires in Clothes Closets.
(A) Luminaire Types Permitted. Only luminaires of the following types shall be permitted in a closet:
(1) Surface-mounted or recessed incandescent or LED luminaires with completely enclosed light sources
(2) Surface-mounted or recessed fluorescent luminaires
(3) Surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaires identified as suitable for installation within the closet storage space
Also, here’s the definition of a luminaire:
Luminaire. A complete lighting unit consists of a light source such as a lamp or lamps, together with the parts designed to position the light source and connect it to the power supply. It may also include parts to protect the light source or the ballast or to distribute the light. A lampholder itself is not a luminaire.
How To Prevent Closet Light Fires
To prevent a fire hazard, try installing a LED closet light replacement like the one pictured below. Look for a light that is fire-safety tested and comes with the parts needed to make it hardwired. Some replacement lights can simply be screwed into an existing light bulb socket, right over a porcelain lampholder.