Home > Home Wiring USA > Main Dwelling Design and Options > Wiring Closet Lighting (NEC 2002)

Wiring Lighting for a Closet (NEC 2002)

By Warren Goodrich
Wiring Lighting for a Closet (NEC 2002)

The power source for closet lighting can be obtained from several locations including an existing inside outlet or an existing lighting fixture provided that an non-switched source of power can be obtained and both a hot, a neutral, and a ground can be obtained at that location to feed the new closet switch / light installation. Closet lighting is a low amp usage area that can be added getting power from any general lighting source including nearby general use receptacles.

Wiring Example #1

An drawing example of wiring design picking up power from a receptacle then to switch then to fluorescent light fixture in skinny clothes closets can be viewed by clicking the picture icon to the left.

Obtaining a Power Source

The power source feeding a closet light switch can be obtained from a nearby receptacle or directly from the panel from a branch circuit breaker starting a new circuit. It is possible to feed the source of power to the light first. To read about your options for basic switch / light wiring be sure to read the article, Basic Light Switch Wiring.

Fluorescent Lighting Clearance

Clothes closet luminaire (light fixtures), fluorescent style, must maintain a clearance from the edge of that luminaire to the back and side walls of 18" from the edge of the fixture to the back and side walls. You must also maintain 6" from the edge of the shelving storage area to the edge of that luminaire. The 18" clearance must be maintained from the fluorescent fixture whether there is a shelf present in that closet or not. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.2 and NEC Article 410.8.D.2

Incandescent Lighting Clearance

Recessed incandescent luminaire (light fixtures) must have a closed lens and also must maintain 18" from the back and side walls of that clothes closet whether any shelving is present or not. This recessed incandescent luminaire must also maintain a minimum of 6" from the edge of the finished trim’s edge of that recessed luminaire. This trim is the last part you put over the recessed luminaire as a finished trim for the recessed luminaire. Any recessed incandescent luminaire (light fixture) must have a closed lens in its finished trim whether plastic or glass so that no light bulb is exposed in a clothes closet. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.1 and NEC Article 410.8.D.3

Lighting Example #1

An example of a skinny closet requiring either a fluorescent fixture of a recessed lighting fixture with a closed lens can be viewed by clicking on the picture icon to the left. This is a picture of a 24" clothes closet.

Clearance of Light Fixtures

Any surface mounted incandescent luminaire (light fixture) must also have a closed lens (light fixture globe whether plastic or glass) so that no light bulb is exposed in a clothes closet. These surface mounted incandescent luminaire (light fixtures) must maintain a minimum clearance of 24" from the edge of the luminaire (light fixture) to the back and side walls. The 24" minimum clearance must be maintained whether there is any shelving in that clothes closet or not. Any surface mounted luminaire (light fixture) must also maintain a minimum clearance of 12" from the edge of the shelf in that clothes closet. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.1 and NEC Article 410.8.D.1

Lighting Example #2

An example of an incandescent closet light can be viewed by clicking on the picture icon to the left.

Clearance and Shelving

Whether there is a shelf or not, the clearance must be maintained considering that shelving area as if it was present. A shelving area is a designated area from the floor to ceiling that is 12" deep from the back and side walls of the closet. NEC Article 410.8.A

If you were to take the 18" clearance required for fluorescent or recessed luminaire (light fixture) and subtract the 12" designated area for storage area of the clothes closet you should find the 6" clearance as the second clearance requirement from the self’s edge that also must be maintained. This NEC rule is worded making two measurement minimum clearance requirements including the 6" clearance from the shelf’s edge because some clothes closets will have deeper shelving areas. When this deeper shelving area happens the second clearance rule from the shelf’s edge steps in thus increasing that 18" clearance requirement to maintain the second part of the clearance rule concerning a minimum of the 6" clearance required from the shelving no matter how wide the shelving area becomes. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.1 and 2 and NEC Article 410.8.D.2 and 3

Incandescent Lighting, Clearance, and Shelving

The above paragraph also applies to incandescent luminaire [light fixture] having the 12” clearance requirement as a second part of the clearance rule pertaining to incandescent luminaire. If you were to take the 24” clearance required from the edge of the incandescent luminaire with its glass of plastic globe and subtract the 12” designated area for the storage of the clothes closet you should find the 12” clearance requirement from the shelf’s edge as the second clearance measurement required that also must be maintained. This NEC rule is worded making two measurement minimum clearance requirements including the 12” clearance from the shelf’s edge because some clothes closets will have deeper shelving areas. When this deeper shelving area happens the second clearance rule from the self’s edge steps in increasing the 24” clearance requirement to maintain the second part of the rule concerning a minimum clearance of 12” from the shelving no matter how wide the shelving area becomes. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.1 and NEC Article 410.8.D.1

There is no clearances required from the front wall or header located above the closet door concerning a clothes closet.

Lighting Example #3

An example of a header area can be viewed by clicking on the picture icon to the left.

Installing a Header

Most often the header located above the door or on the front wall is where the fluorescent luminaire is installed when dealing with the smaller / skinnier clothes closets most often with bypass doors entering the clothes closet. If you opt to install a luminaire in this type of skinny clothes closet most often as small as 24" deep, then the only option available to you is a fluorescent luminaire mounted on the header above the clothes closet’s sliding bypass doors. In order to set up a rough-in wiring designed for the fluorescent luminaire (light fixture) you should find the center of the header located above the framed opening for your bypass closet doors.

Then measure 6" sideways along that header thus being off center approximately 6" of the total width of the header. Take your drill bit and start drilling a hole straight into the header about ½" deep, then stop and reset the drill bit so that you can start drilling a hole at an angle aiming so that the hole will drill into the stud space or top plate above the header. This most often is an angle of about 45 degrees making it hard to drill unless you drilled that ½" starter hole to keep your drill from sliding before is starts drilling. Make sure this hole is drilled a minimum of 7" above the rough framed header to ensure clearance in the finished product from any wood trim that would be around that bypass door frame upon the finished product.

Lighting Example #4

An example of drilling the header during rough in stage for future mounting of fluorescent fixture on finished work can be viewed by clicking on the picture icon to the left.

Installing a Switch

Now during the rough in stage you may install a switch on the wall picking up your power source from a nearby receptacle or other nearby constant on power source taking that power source to the closet light switch. Do not use a bathroom receptacle circuit for this closet lighting source because the bathroom receptacles must be dedicated only as bathroom receptacles with no lighting and nothing in any other room on that bathroom receptacle circuit. Then install a cable from that light switch, as a switch leg, pulling it through the hole that you drilled at an angle through that solid wood header leaving a tailed cable hanging out of the hole about 12” long.

Lighting Example #5

An example of a pigtailed wire through the header during rough in stage may be seen by clicking on the picture con to the left.

Mounting a Fixture

When the closet is dry-walled and trimmed then you can mount your fluorescent light fixture with a Romex connector bringing the cable that you roughed in previously through a knock out found in the back of that fluorescent luminaire [light fixture] into the case of the fixture where the junctions will be made to the fluorescent ballast and green grounding screw found inside that casing of the fluorescent luminaire. The reason that you drilled off-center should have been discovered when you mounted the fluorescent luminaire [light fixture] when you found the ballast to be mounted center inside that fluorescent light fixture casing by the manufacturer. The 6” off-center should have hit a knock out on the fixture designed by the manufacturer for the switch leg cable to enter into the fixture casing for connection to that switch leg inside that casing. This makes for a clean installation without the cable being exposed for you to see on the finished product. NEC Article 410.8.A and NEC Article 410.8.B.2 and NEC Article 410.8.D.2

Safety Rule and Additional Clearance

Please keep in mind that if you have a clothes closet so designed that you can install an incandescent luminaire [light fixture] on the wall or ceiling near the point where the wall meets the ceiling, then you are required an additional clearance from any adjoining wall and the fixture must be so designed so that the temperature of the adjoining wall must not exceed 194 degree F or 90 degree C that is flammable such as the adjoining point of the ceiling and wall in your clothes closet. This additional clearance says that you must use a type of luminaire that is so designed to prevent any temperature exposure in excess of 194 degree F or 90 degree C due to that light fixture’s hot bulb. NEC Article 410.5

In my opinion, if you maintain a minimum of a 6" clearance from an incandescent light bulb and any adjoining wall surface you should meet that temperature limitation. Just thought I would be safe and add this additional safety rule in case you approach this adjoining wall condition with your luminaire.

Final Thoughts

The above clothes closet clearance requirements are for clothes closets only, there is no clearance requirements in laundry closets or pantry closets or storage closets that do not have clothes rods making that closet a clothes closet. The additional rule requiring the temperature of any flammable material not to exceed 90 degree C or 194 degree F still applies in these type non-clothes closet type closets. I am referring to where the ceiling and wall are adjoining where they meet. Just keep a clearance to ensure that adjoining wall or ceiling does not exceed the aforementioned temperatures to avoid risk of fire exposure.

This document is based on the 2002 national electrical code and is designed to give you an option, as a self-help, that should pass minimum code requirements. While extreme care has been implemented in the preparation of this self-help document, the author and/or providers of this document assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, nor is any liability assumed from the use of the information, contained in this document, by the author and / or provider.

Find a Pre-Screened Electrician
Enter Your Zip Code:


THIS ARTICLE IS PROVIDED 'AS IS' WITH NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND. THE AUTHOR, THE SITE OWNER AND ITS AFFILIATES ASSUME NO LIABILITY FOR ERRORS OR OMISSIONS CONTAINED THEREIN OR FOR ANY USE OF THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT. The article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice.