A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Heading Towards the Light- Part 5

In my final post for this series, I want to examine lighting from the perspective of an inspector. Here is where reality and dreams collide. To achieve our goals in having just the right fixture, location, or effect, we sometimes bypass safety without knowing that we went a step to far.

An inspector will look for lighting in all habitable areas and bathrooms of your home. Hallways and stairs need proper light with switches at both ends, and an attached garage is to be lighted. If you have a detached garage, it only requires a light when the building has power provided to it. All exterior doors which provides a grade level access need a light, but not a garage door for your car. Some builders have outlets controlled by a wall switch, but they cannot use this arrangement in a kitchen or bathroom. When they do have a switch for an outlet, many builders will turn the receptacle upside down to inform you that this outlet is the controlled unit. These outlets cannot use a dimmer.

Some safety concerns for the physical fixture are involving the unit’s placement. Bathrooms are fun to light considering the restrictions on where the light can go. You will want a pendant light to be more than eight feet above and three feet away from your shower or tub. For this reason, I like to see fixtures that hug the ceiling instead of dangling down. Closets should not have open incandescent bulbs. A recessed light (or a fluorescent) can be within six inches of a shelf. Fixtures that are ceiling mounted should be twelve inches away from the shelf. This is due to the fact that incandescents heat to a higher temperature than fluorescents. The only location in a closet where mounting a fixture on the wall is allowed would be above the door, as long as there is no shelf there.

This may seem strange, but an inspector has to ensure that track lighting is a minimum of five feet above the floor. Can that fixture hit your head then? Yes. The idea applies to a track light over your seating areas and tables. Pendant (chandelier) fixtures can move by swinging when hit, but track lighting cannot.

Recessed lighting will be attached above your ceiling. There is a rating for the housing saying the unit is IC rated. This rating is for situations where insulation can come into contact with the unit, like in an attic. A non-IC rated unit is meant for drop down ceilings where there is no insulation. Obviously, non-IC rated is cheaper, so people like to save money by using them. They can be placed in the attic when you adhere to the following: 1) the housing is a ½ inch away from an object that can burn; 2) the housing is three inches away from insulation. The problem that I find is that insulation eventually finds its way to the housing. A solution could be to create a barrier to prevent insulation from moving closer to the unit.

As with all electrical fixtures, the lighting units need to be firmly attached to the wall. If they shake or move, stress is placed on the wiring, which could cause the wiring’s protective sheathing to fail.

Most inspectors will not check for this last one, but I was once a certified food service manager, so I like to see if the fixtures in the kitchen have one extra safety feature. Health codes require that for commercial kitchens lights in a food preparation area should be covered, so if the bulb bursts, the pieces will not fall in to your food. Fluorescents are coated with a poisonous material on their interior, and glass shards are never good in food. Lights over your cooktop in the range hood may have a cover missing. I see this a lot. Think about your family’s well being, and consider what would happen if the bulb in different kitchen fixtures breaks.

I hope these posts have been helpful to you. Hopefully, you have come away with some ideas and some knowledge about lighting.


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