Published In March 2000
One of the most confusing aspects of residential wiring is installing lighting fixtures in clothes closets. Therefore, the National Electrical Code (NEC) devotes one of its relatively few diagrams (Figure 410-8) to the subject of where lighting fixtures can be located in clothes closets. This month we'll try to shed a little light on a matter that has formed the subject of several online "Code Questions of the Day." Question: I've been hanging narrow fluorescent fixtures in closets for years. I pull KOs in the back of the fixture and in a finish ceiling plate and hang it to the outlet box. Now on this last house I've been told I can't do this anymore. Is that right? What do I do now? Answer: Yes. The NEC is very explicit about the requirements for access to boxes. Section 410-14(b) titled Access to Boxes reads "Electric-discharge lighting fixtures surface mounted over concealed outlet, pull, or junction boxes shall be installed with suitable openings in back of the fixture to provide access to boxes." This means that you must be able to get at the wiring in the outlet box without removing the fixture. There is no way to mount a narrow fluorescent strip over an outlet box and get access to the wiring through the fixture. Knock-outs are provided in the back and ends of these fixtures, but there just isn't room for an access plate which needs to be wider than the fixture. The end result is "You can't do this anymore." What should you do now? By the very nature of its size, the narrow fluorescent fixture must be surface mounted and fed with an exposed wiring method. If this is unacceptable, use a larger fixture. I've been assuming that the fixture location you have been choosing is in accordance with the Code, but just in case, let's go over the location of a ceiling-mounted fluorescent fixture in a clothes closet. Section 410-8(d)(2) reads "Surface-mounted fluorescent fixtures shall be permitted to be installed on the wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided there is a minimum clearance of 6 in. (152 mm) between the fixture and the nearest point of a storage space." A storage space is as shown in Figure 410-8 of the National Electrical Code. Question: Can I put a cover on a concealed outlet box in the ceiling and run a piece of flexible metal conduit from the cover to a surface-mounted fluorescent fixture? Answer: Yes, but be sure the cover is attached in a secure manner such as with screws, and run an equipment-grounding conductor in the flexible metal conduit to connect the metal housing of the fixture to the outlet box--not to the cover. Section 370-22 in the exception reads, "A surface extension shall be permitted to be made from the cover of a concealed box where the cover is designed so it is unlikely to fall off, or be removed if its securing means become loose. The wiring method shall be flexible and arranged so that any required grounding continuity is independent of the connection between the box and the cover." A non-flexible surface extension can be made if an extension ring is mounted and mechanically secured to the concealed outlet box. Grounding may then be made in accordance with Article 250; this means of course that you can use a metallic raceway for the grounding means. This information can be found in Section 370-22. Question: Can I use a flexible cord to connect a fluorescent fixture to a concealed outlet box in the ceiling of a closet? Doesn't the Code say that electric discharge fixtures can be cord connected? Answer: "No" to question No. 1 and "yes" to question No. 2. You have to play by the rules. Electric discharge fixtures can be cord-connected according to Section 410-30(c). The fixture, however, must be mounted directly below the outlet box. This requirement can be found in Section 410-30(c)(1)(a). Question: Can I use a stem and canopy set with a fluorescent fixture on the ceiling of a clothes closet if I have the proper clearance from storage spaces? Answer: No. Section 410-8(c) does not permit pendant fixtures to be installed in clothes closets.