How to Select the Right Lighting for Your Closet

Good closet lighting should not be overlooked, as it serves a crucial purpose. Many closets lack adequate lighting, with some having no light source at all, while others rely on exposed incandescent bulbs in surface-mounted fixtures operated by pull-chains. The former can be inconvenient, while the latter poses safety risks.

Closets often house flammable items like clothing, making incandescent bulbs, including halogen lights, a potential fire hazard due to their high heat output. Energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights offer a safer alternative, as they can be placed closer to stored items without the same fire risk and consume significantly less energy compared to standard incandescent and halogen bulbs.

Safety First

Safety takes precedence when it comes to closet lighting. Building codes have stringent regulations for closet lighting, but numerous older homes fall short of meeting these essential standards. The primary culprit often lies in standard incandescent bulbs, especially when they are exposed.

In closets, both recessed and surface-mounted incandescent light fixtures must be entirely enclosed within a fixture housing that has a cover, and they should not be partially enclosed. If you’re unable to locate a suitable glass globe or another form of cover for your closet light, it’s advisable to install a new fixture.

For recessed fixtures using incandescent or LED bulbs, there should be a minimum distance of 6 inches between the fixture and all closet storage areas. In the case of surface-mounted fixtures with incandescent or LED bulbs, this distance should be at least 12 inches from storage areas.

As for surface-mounted fixtures equipped with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, they should maintain a minimum distance of 6 inches from storage areas to ensure safety and compliance with regulations, says Dave Roebel, Owner of Northeast Mechanical Services.

Halogen Lights Are Bad for Closets

Halogen lighting falls under the category of incandescent lighting that incorporates a gas element to enhance its light output. This unique feature allows even tiny halogen bulbs or fixtures to emit a substantial amount of light. However, a notable drawback is that both the bulbs and fixtures generate excessive heat, rendering them inappropriate for compact, enclosed spaces or areas where they may come into contact with other materials.

Despite their popularity among designers due to their small and decorative nature, it’s worth noting that you can achieve the same decorative aesthetics using compact fixtures that utilize energy-efficient LED lights, which produce significantly less heat compared to halogen lights.

Go Fluorescent

Although many CFL bulbs haven’t lived up to their longevity promises (leading to their replacement with more durable and efficient LED lights), fluorescent remains the best option for closets due to its minimal heat emission and good energy efficiency. If your closet is equipped with a standard surface-mounted or recessed light fixture, there’s no need for a fixture replacement to accommodate fluorescent lighting.

Just replace the existing incandescent with a CFL offering comparable brightness. In cases where your closet light operates with a dimmer switch (though uncommon), ensure you select a “dimmable” CFL for compatibility, says John Gordon, CEO of Lincoln Concrete Company.

Install Your Own

If your closet doesn’t have a light, you have the option to install a battery-powered light fixture. There are various products available that can be easily screwed or stuck in place. Some models offer touch-sensitive light covers for turning on and off, while others feature switches or cords for control

Motion-activated lights are an alternative option that you can consider for your closet. These lights are designed to detect movement and automatically turn on when someone enters the closet. They are a convenient choice as they eliminate the need for manual operation.

Battery-powered closet lights are most suitable for small closets as they provide sufficient illumination. To ensure adequate lighting, you can install one light fixture on each side of the closet. Opting for a light that has an automatic shut-off feature after a short period of time can help conserve battery life and reduce the need for frequent battery replacements.

It’s important to note that surface-mounted light fixtures should only be installed on the ceiling of the closet or on the wall above the closet door, as specified by the National Electrical Code (NEC) and most local building codes. Installation on any other walls may not be compliant with regulations, says Shlomo Cherniak, Owner of Cherniak Handyman Services.

Add a New Hard-Wired Fixture

To achieve optimal closet lighting, it is recommended to install a fixture that is wired into an electrical circuit. This option is particularly convenient if there is an attic space above the closet, as it allows an electrician to easily connect the fixture to an existing circuit. A fluorescent fixture can be installed for its bright and efficient illumination. Additionally, running a switch outside the closet will provide maximum convenience in controlling the light.

For added convenience, consider using a switch that remains lit when the light is on. This will serve as a reminder to turn off the light when the closet door is closed, helping to conserve energy.

Seek Expert Advice at a Hardware or Lighting Store

It’s worth noting that new lighting solutions are constantly emerging in the market. To ensure you select the best lighting solution for your needs, it is always a good idea to visit a hardware store or lighting store and consult with a knowledgeable salesperson or expert. They can provide valuable insights and guidance to help you make an informed decision.