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Q.A client wants to install LED light fixtures in his closets, but my local code inspector is hesitant to approve them. It seems to me that an LED fixture poses no more of a fire risk than a fluorescent light. What does the code say?

A.George Flach, former chief electrical inspector for New Orleans, responds: The risk of a closet fire is considerable. According to some estimates I’ve seen, up to 12 percent of all house fires begin in a closet. Recognizing that risk, the NEC prohibits the use of exposed, bare, or uncovered incandescent lamps in clothes closets. It does permit the use of listed surface-mounted or recessed fixtures, but imposes strict requirements on their placement (see illustration). Previous editions of the NEC recognized only fluorescent and incandescent fixtures, but the latest edition includes LEDs as well.


The most recent (2008) edition of the NEC permits an LED lighting fixture to be located on a closet ceiling or on the wall above the door, subject to the minimum clearances indicated in the drawing.


Horizontal and vertical dimensions are taken from the fixture’s lamp or lamp cover to any part of the storage area as defined in the NEC.

According to Article 410.16 of the 2008 NEC, recessed and surface-mounted fluorescent fixtures and recessed incandescent and LED fixtures with a completely enclosed light source can be placed within 6 inches of the clothes storage area. Surface-mounted (not pendant) incandescent and LED fixtures must be enclosed and placed a minimum of 12 inches away from the storage area.