Safely Installing Electrical and Service Panels in Residential Closets

This month’s column addresses controversial issues that have come up in NECA’s online “Code Question of the Day.” The author gives his opinion in his answers and invites your comments on the material discussed. Please e-mail your comments to QUESTION: Can I install the service panel for a residence in a walk-in closet? Section 240-24(d) is vague on this matter. ANSWER: According to Section 240-24(d) of the National Electrical Code (NEC), which says “Overcurrent devices shall not be located in the vicinity of easily ignitable material, such as in clothes closets,” you are not permitted to do this. This section does not differentiate between one type of clothes closet or another. This is further reinforced by the NFPA code-making panel’s rejection of a proposal for the NEC 1999 edition, which asked for an exception to 240-24(d) to read: “If the working clearance space described in Section 110-26(a) is met, panels shall be allowed in walk-in closets.” The substantiation for the proposal was that “Jobs would no longer fail due to sub-panels being located in walk-in closets which meet required clearances. This exception would also remedy choosing difficult sub-panel locations to meet Code requirements especially in large custom homes.” In rejecting this proposed revision of the NEC, the panel statement reads: “A walk-in closet is designed for storage of materials, many of which may be easily ignitable, and installing overcurrent devices in this area would constitute a hazard. There is no way to control how this space would be used since it has been designed for storage, even in a large custom home.” Author’s comment: Yes, walk-in closets are designed for the storage of materials, many of which may be easily ignitable. But as far as constituting a hazard, we are no longer talking about installing fuses in porcelain fuse blocks in a wooden cutout box. Today, overcurrent devices are contained in metal enclosures, which if not considered able to survive in a walk-in closet would leave me wondering about other areas—in fact, any area where panels are allowed. Are we suggesting that storage rooms, furnace rooms, basements, and garages do not contain easily ignitable materials? The only point to consider here is that of “proper clearances.” I might question the reasoning behind installing panels in any type of closet in a one-family dwelling, but there may be certain circumstances under which this seems like a valid approach. QUESTION: The installation of electrical panels in apartments or condominiums is sometimes a problem. What’s wrong with installing a panel in a clothes closet or a walk-in closet? ANSWER: Let’s do a little history on this issue, since it keeps coming up all of the time. The location of overcurrent protection devices prior to the 1975 edition of the NEC was entitled “Location in Premises” and was found in Section 240-16(c), which read, “Not in the vicinity of easily ignitable materials.” This requirement was relocated in the 1975 edition to Section 240-24(d) but the wording remained the same. A proposal was submitted for the 1981 NEC for a new sub-section (e) to Section 240-24, which would read, “Overcurrent devices shall not be located in clothes closets.” The substantiation for this proposal reads as follows: “The practice of panels (overcurrent protection) in clothes closets in my opinion creates a hazard as much, if not more, than a fixture not properly installed per Code. In dwelling type occupancies, closets are filled with clothes covering panels, and they are also behind closed doors. With the use of many panels (overcurrent protection) being installed in the apartment’s closets, tenants are unable to reset their GFI for bathroom (if a breaker is used) quickly. Locating overcurrent protection in closets violates 110-16, 422, and 440-14.” (This information is presumably taken from the 1978 edition of the NEC, which was in effect at that time.) The Code panel’s unanimous vote on this revision proposal was “Accept as revised.” The panel’s revision was adding the words “such as in clothes closets” to Section 240-24(d). And what was 240-24(d)? Why, it prohibits the installation of overcurrent devices in the vicinity of easily ignitable materials. Author’s Comment: First, I can’t believe the following substantiations: * “Panels in closets create more hazard than a fixture not installed per Code.” * “Closets are filled with clothes covering panels and they are behind closed doors.” “Tenants are unable to reset their GFI for bathrooms quickly.” * “Overcurrent protection devices in closets violates 110-16, 422, and 440-14.” Was everybody out to lunch? There isn’t a single comment in the panel statement regarding the substantiation for this proposal. One public comment was submitted requesting that the panel action be reversed. The substantiation for this request read: “The only appropriate action to be taken on this proposal is to delete it on the grounds that it has been in the Code since the days when it was common practice to install fuses in porcelain fuseholders in a wooden cabinet. The rule made sense then but it doesn’t make sense now, because all overcurrent devices are now enclosed in metal cabinets. The clothes closet is not particularly favored as a panelboard location, but there are few other locations in a dwelling unit, which are aesthetically acceptable to architects or occupants. The clothes in a clothes closet can be easily and quickly removed. Safety will not be enhanced by the panel recommendation.” This public comment was rejected with the panel statement “CMP-4 believes safety will be enhanced by the acceptance of Proposal No. 19.” Well, this happened 20 years ago and it is still with us today. No proposals to change Section 240-24(d) were submitted during the current 2002 NEC revision cycle, which means we’ll be continuing to operate under the present 1999 NEC language for the foreseeable future. TROUT is a technical consultant for Maron Electric Company of Chicago, and represents NECA as chairman of the National Electrical Code-making panel 12. He is also the principal author of’s online feature, “Code Question of the Day.”

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.