Before You Buy Closet Lighting

Walk-in closet with shoes on shelves
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Good closet lighting is too useful to be ignored. A lot of closets either don't have a light or are lit by an exposed incandescent bulb screwed into a surface-mounted fixture operated with a pull-chain. The first situation is inconvenient, but the second is dangerous.

Closets tend to be filled with flammable material such as clothing, and incandescent bulbs get very hot. Here are some suggestions to help you choose safe and effective lighting for your closet.

Safety First

Building codes closely regulate lighting in closets, but many older homes fail to meet these minimal standards. Standard incandescent bulbs are the major culprit, especially when they are exposed.

Recessed incandescent light fixtures in a closet should always be closed or covered. If you can't find a glass globe or some other type of cover for your attic light, install a new fixture.

Recessed incandescent light fixtures should be at least 18 inches from the back and side walls of a closet. That distance increases to 24 inches for surface-mounted incandescent fixtures.

Go Fluorescent

New hard-wired closet lights these days tend to use fluorescent bulbs, which, unlike incandescents, do not generate dangerous levels of heat. But you do not have to change fixtures to get rid of incandescent bulbs. Instead, simply replace them with compact fluorescents, which not only are safer but also use less energy.

Install Your Own

If you don't have a light in your closet, install a battery-operated light fixture. You can find products that are screwed on or stuck on. Some models can be turned on and off by touching the light cover, others utilize a switch or cord. Motion-activated lights are also available.

These closet lights work best in small closets, as they don’t produce much light.

But they are so inexpensive and easy to install that you could easily install one on each side of the closet. A light that will automatically turn itself off after a short period of time will save you from buying a lot of replacement batteries.

Add a New Hard-Wired Fixture

The best closet lighting will be provided by a fixture wired into an electrical circuit. This is a much easier option if there is an attic over the closet, where an electrician could easily tap into an existing circuit. Install a fluorescent fixture, then run a switch to outside the closet for maximum convenience. A switch that stays lit when the light is on will help remind you to turn off the light when the door is closed.

Leviton makes a 13-watt compact fluorescent light fixture for closets (9860-LHG) that produces so little heat that it can be installed within 6 in. of a shelf.