The Home Inspectors at Shawn Chesney Home Inspections see many different things every single day when performing a house inspection. Some things are minor and some things can be dangerous. Lighting is often dismissed as a minor thought due to its reliability and ease of use and low risk, but there are a few things to be aware of.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
CRI is a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully, in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. The closer the CRI of a lamp is to 100, the more “true” it renders colors in the environment. Poor CRI is the reason that a shirt and pants that seemed to match at home now clash in the restroom at work. Incandescent lights are inefficient but they have a CRI of 100, making them the most aesthetic lighting choice. Compact fluorescents lights (CFLs) are far more efficient and have a longer life than incandescent bulbs, but they have a CRI in the low 60s. Low-voltage halogen and LED lights are relatively efficient, long-lasting, and have a high CRI, although not as high as incandescent bulbs.
Clothes Closet Lighting
People don’t often think about the fire risks posed by the light in their clothes closet, but it’s one of the few places in the house where a source of high heat can get too close to flammable materials. Lighting must be installed safely, with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and other flammables stored in the closet. Additionally, the quality of the light, as well as bulb efficiency, will influence your lighting choices.
The 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) on “Permitted Luminaires and Clearance from Clothing”
The IRC defines a “luminaire” as:
a complete lighting unit consisting of a lamp or lamps, together with the parts designed to distribute the light, to position and protect the lamps and ballast (where applicable), and to connect the lamps to the power supply.
Types of luminaires permitted by the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) include:
• surface-mounted or recessed incandescent luminaires with completely enclosed lamps, surface-mounted or recessed fluorescent luminaires; and
• surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaires identified as suitable for installation within the storage area.
Luminaires not permitted by the 2009 IRC include:
• Incandescent luminaires with open or partially enclosed lamps and pendant luminaires or lamp-holders should be prohibited.
Clearances permitted by the 2009 IRC:
• The minimum distance between luminaires installed in clothes closets and the nearest point of a storage area shall be as follows:
1. Surface-mounted incandescent or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed on a wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 12 inches between the fixture and the nearest point of a storage space.
2. Surface-mounted fluorescent luminaires shall be installed on the wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches.
3. Recessed incandescent luminaires or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed in the wall or the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches.
4. Recessed fluorescent luminaires shall be installed in the wall or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches between the fixture and the nearest point of storage space.
5. Surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaires shall be permitted to be installed within the storage space where identified within this use.
Also, metal pull chains may be dangerous; if the base cracks, the chain can become electrified.
Homeowners should replace lighting in their clothes closets if the light has the potential to ignite flammable materials in the closet.
A nightlight is a small, low-powered electrical light source placed for comfort or convenience in indoor areas that become dark at night.
Facts and Figures
• Before they were powered electrically, nightlights were usually long-burning candles placed in fireproof metal cups, known as tealights in some countries. (Tealights in the U.S. refer to very short and wide candles that can be purchased within or without an aluminum tin cup that are commonly used inside a decorative glass holder. They are also known as votive candles.)
• There are roughly 90 million nightlights purchased each year in the United States. In 2001 alone, more than 600,000 of them were recalled by manufacturers for safety reasons.
• Defective nightlights can cause fires, burns and electrocution.
Nightlights are typically installed to create a sense of security and to alleviate fears of the dark, especially for children. They also illuminate the general layout of a room without causing the eyestrain created by a standard light, helping to prevent tripping down stairs and over objects. This is an important safety measure for older adults, for whom falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. Nightlights may also be used to mark an emergency exit.
A wide variety of nightlights is available to homeowners; bulbs vary from incandescent to energy-efficient options, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), neon lamps, and electroluminescent bulbs. Some of these devices are equipped with a light-sensitive switch that activates the light only when it’s dark enough for them to be required, saving electricity and the effort needed to manually turn them on and off. Some designs also incorporate a rechargeable battery so they will continue to function during power outages.
Nightlights present the following hazards:
• fire. Nightlights can become excessively hot, causing them to melt and pose a risk of fire if they come in contact with flammable materials, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC receives roughly 10 reports annually of fires that were caused when nightlights ignited toilet paper, pillows, bedspreads and other flammable materials. In many of these cases, the nightlight was installed so close to the bed that falling blankets or pillows made contact with the nightlight and started a fire. For this reason, nightlights should not be plugged in next to bed coverings, curtains, and other potentially flammable objects and materials. Nightlights should not covered with tape, cardboard or any other material that might cause them to overheat. Homeowners may consider using nightlights equipped with mini neon bulbs instead of higher-wattage bulbs;
• poisoning. So-called “bubble” nightlights are special, decorative nightlights that contain a dangerous chemical called methylene chloride. If the vial breaks, the unit should be thrown away immediately and precautions should be taken to avoid skin contact with the leaking chemical; and
• electric shock. Nightlights pose the risk of electric shock when used outdoors or in locations that may become wet, such near sinks, hot tubs, in garages, and at covered patios. They should never be plugged into an extension cord, surge-protector strip, multiple-outlet strip, or other movable types of receptacles. Electric shock is also possible if the nightlight overheats and melts.
• Plug the nightlight into an exposed wall outlet where it will be well-ventilated.
• Do not repair any nightlight yourself. Only replace the bulb.
• Avoid installing nightlights in locations where they might be exposed to excessive sunlight, as UV rays will degrade the plastic.
• Never let children handle nightlights. If you have small children, avoid purchasing or installing a nightlight decorated with cute or funny figures to which they may be attracted and that may be easy for them to reach.
Pot or Recessed Lighting
There are many different styles and kinds of lighting available when choosing recessed or pot lights. One of the main concerns is to know the capacity of the circuit you are creating or changing. This is why you always use an approved Electrical Contractor.
When choosing your fixtures, you need to be aware of where they will be installed. Things such as insulation over head is a very serious issue. There are specially designed light fixtures that are permitted to be installed when in close proximity to insulation or other materials susceptible to high heat. Fire is a very serious possibility if the wrong fixture is installed. Always refer to a professional on any work you do.