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Can I do CFL recessed lighting in a recessed closet?

Aaron Lubeck GC | Posted in Interior Design on

We’re doing a project where the client wants recesssed lighting in a walk-in closet. The electrical code requires lighting in closets to be low heat floresecents, (to prevent fires in overstuffed storage areas, presumably). And there are no good florescent-specific recenssed lights.

We proposed to do a CFL bulb in a traditional recessed housing, and the cheif and field electrical inspector can’t decide if this is kosher.

YES: The CFL bulb meets the spirt and technical requirements of NEC 410.16
NO: There is no way to know what a furture owner will replace the bulb with, and therefore a dedicated florescent fixture is the only way to meet the code

Does anyone have any expereince with such installations?


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  1. homedesign | | #1

    Just buy pin-based CFL and it will be idiot proofed
    I bought some at the big box store...not to expensive.
    My inspector was fine with the concept.
    Also if you are doing Energy Star .. you will get more brownie points.

  2. homedesign | | #2

    oh darn you said recessed..never mind

  3. Aaron Lubeck GC | | #3

    John -

    What is a pin-based CFL?


  4. homedesign | | #4

    Aaron, I understand that they (pin base fixtures)are common(perhaps mandatory) in California.
    Pin base is a push-in type connection as opposed to the more common screw base.
    I think they can be special ordered for recessed cans.

  5. Aaron Lubeck GC | | #5

    Interesting. I couldn't find any recessed fixtures with the pin mounting. Makes sense. Do you know of any suppliers?

  6. homedesign | | #6

    Interesting yes.. I could not turn up any pin base recessed with a quick google.... If anyone has it it will be California.. I think they call the law (outlaw of screw base)T24.
    There are other downsides to recessed fixture.. and I know that there are some(pin base cfl) attractive surface mounted lights..(Kischler for one)

  7. pderas | | #7

    The bi-pin base is properly called a GU24 base.

    No reason you can't use recessed fixtures (also GU24), although they may not be the best sort of lighting for a closet.

    Depends whether the closet is a typical 24" deep closet or a walk-in closet.

    A 24" deep closet is better lighted with surface-mounted fluorescent strip lighting mounted horizontally above the door(s), because a light in or on the ceiling will be blocked by the hanging clothes. Fluorescent under-cabinet lights are ideal for this purpose as they are directional. There are even some specific closet lights available that are a part of the clothes rod.

    A walk-in closet could have recessed fixtures if the client prefers them. A better approach is sconces for ambient light (if you have some wall space) and directional (eyeball) fixtures pointing on the clothing.

    Also important is your choice of lamping for the fixtures (if you want to be able to discern black from navy blue).

    Try to find fluorescent lamps (bulbs) in the 85-95 CRI range (the higher the better), for good color rendering. Such lamps are usually not available in stores. Search for them online and only buy from reputable sources (Like GE, Philips and, for instance).

  8. Shawn Bradbury | | #8

    There is another viable option, Aaron, that I believe gets you everything you need.

    I just put recessed can LED's in (quite a number of) closets in a San Francisco remodel my firm designed. They were CREE LR4E's, and besides being substantially more energy-efficient than CFL's, they give off practically no heat, so combustion became a non-issue.

    They're not cheap, but they fit the bill, and the light is fantastic at 2700K, with a choice of 15 or 30-degree spread.

    That said, Peggy's comments above regarding functionality of closet lighting are well-taken. Part of our concern was to light the closet, and part was to illuminate the translucent panels of the closet doors from behind (for accent lighting in hall). So this solution did it all for us. But probably not the best solution in each and every case...

  9. arisyap | | #9

    hey guys, thanks for all the information! Which brand of recessed light you prefer by the way? You know I'm not after the design, I just need something I can easily install and change bulbs anytime. And if possible, a less expensive one. I was trying to browse this site , and they have like thousands designs, and I have no idea on it. I am a newbie when it comes to things like that. Help please, anyone? Thanks a lot!

  10. user-659915 | | #10

    "They were CREE LR4E's, and besides being substantially more energy-efficient than CFL's, they give off practically no heat, so combustion became a non-issue."
    Just a note of caution: most production LED's are NOT more energy-efficient than CFL's and many are less so. The exception is directional applications where LED's excel and CFL's do not. Also some LED fixtures have significant heat issues - even to the extent of requiring continuous fan cooling.

    The Cree LR4E's run about 46 lumens/watt, about the same as an average CFL. However as can lights they will throw most of their light on the floor and will almost certainly be less effective in lighting the closet than a surface-mount installation of equivalent power input. Can lights are also notorious for allowing air leakage from conditioned space if installed into an attic area. Of course these characteristics may not be of concern if your priority is aesthetic effect rather than environmental performance.

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