When I first started working as an electrician in 1971, most bathrooms and separate shower areas in a home were fairly small, basic, utilitarian spaces. How things have changed! We now have bathrooms the size of bedrooms, complex enough to rival the most sophisticated kitchen with various fixed appliances and other niceties. And with the expansion of these areas come changes required by the National Electrical Code.
Many bathrooms have hydromassage bathtubs large enough to hold two people, as well as dry sauna rooms and steam rooms. Some of these are installed to help with medical issues and others are for convenience and luxury. Many bathrooms now have full-size separate bidets or bidet toilet seats with built-in heated seats and water flow. I have stayed in hotels that had small TV sets located in every bathroom adjacent to the sinks.
I know of at least one hydromassage bathtub and shower combination from a major appliance manufacturer that had a built-in TV, stereo and surround sound. I attended a large conference where that hydromassage unit was the grand prize in a raffle for attendees. I was really happy that I did not win, since it would have required a bushel basket of money just to get it home, let alone install it.
Installation requirements in the NEC
Now, let’s look in the NEC to see how we deal with some of these installations.
Since shower areas are subject to water spray, any luminaires must be rated for wet locations, based on 410.10(D). This could be a judgment call by the electrician and the electrical inspector, depending on the situation. If the shower area is totally enclosed and subject to steam, water spray or both, then the luminaire must be at least rated for a damp location, and at most for a wet one.
When I was an electrical contractor, I often waited until the finish was applied to the area to decide what type of luminaire to mount. If the shower area was totally enclosed and the floor, walls and ceiling were tiled, then definitely a wet location luminaire must be installed. If the ceiling area and down the wall for a foot or two was drywall without any additional protection, then I would usually install a luminaire that was not wet-rated, since the drywall would not be able to withstand wet situations.
Tub and shower zones
The NEC states: “(1) No parts of cord-connected luminaires; chain-, cable- or cord-suspended luminaires; lighting track; pendants or ceiling-suspended (paddle) fans with luminaire (light kit) can be located within a zone measured 900 mm (3 feet) horizontally and 2.5 m (8 feet) vertically from the top of the bathtub rim or shower stall threshold. This zone is all-encompassing and includes the space directly over the tub or shower stall. (2) Luminaires located within the actual outside dimension of the bathtub or shower to a height of 2.5 m (8 feet) vertically from the top of the bathtub rim or shower threshold must be marked suitable for either damp locations or wet locations. Luminaires located where subject to shower spray must be marked suitable for wet locations.”
Receptacles in areas with bathtubs and showers must comply with requirements in 406.9(C), with four exceptions: Receptacles must not be installed inside of the tub or shower or within a zone measured 3 feet horizontally from any outside edge of the bathtub or shower stall, including the space outside the bathtub or shower stall space below the zone of the tub or shower.
The zone also includes the space measured vertically from the floor to 8 feet above the top of the bathtub rim or shower stall threshold. The zone is all-encompassing and includes the space directly over the bathtub or shower stall and the space below this zone, but not the space separated by a floor, wall, ceiling, room door, window or fixed barrier. Receptacles installed for a hydromassage bathtub supply are permitted.
In bathrooms with less than the required zone, the receptacle(s) required by 210.52(D) for the bathroom countertop are permitted to be installed opposite the bathtub rim or shower stall threshold on the farthest wall in the room. A single receptacle shall be permitted for an electronic toilet or personal hygiene device, such as an electronic bidet seat. The receptacle must be readily accessible and not located in the space between the toilet and the bathtub or shower.
Remember that requirements elsewhere in the NEC also apply, such as 210.8(A) for GFCI protection. Checking with the authority having jurisdiction and in the NEC is always a good idea.
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