Unless it is new construction, it seems as if I am reminded almost every day while doing inspections of the serious dangers that porcelain light fixtures in closets and storage rooms represent.
It is not just the proximity of the bulb to storage items that is a fire hazard. If there is a cotton string that is attached to the pull chain and it contacts the bulb it can catch on fire and drop onto combustible items below. Some of these fixtures also have metal pull chains that can contact the bulb. If there is no “isolating link” in the chain the chain can heat up and overheat connections inside the bulb holder as well.
I have had agents tell me I was a “nit-picker” for calling this out, the sad fact is that these bulb holders CAN BE SERIOUS FIRE HAZARDS and should be replaced with fixtures approved for closet installation. These types of fixtures are required by current regulations—and why it is less common to find improper porcelain bulb holders in new construction.
While you might never think of stacking anything so close to the bulb that it can catch on fire—–someone that doesn’t know any better WILL—sooner or later. The next picture shows a light bulb much too close to a cardboard box.
While under normal circumstances where the bulb has good air circulation the typical 60 watt bulb will not get much over 175 degrees Fahrenheit—if you stop air movement or put the bulb in contact with an insulator, general purpose incandescent light bulbs can reach temperatures between “290-500 degrees Fahrenheit.” Temperatures this high can easily ignite materials placed close to the bulbs.
I know that you will all run and check your closets now.
Of course, as we make the shift away from incandescent bulbs this becomes less of a fire-safety hazard. Bulbs that are subject to mechanical damage will still be present and adequate protection of the bulbs will need to be considered.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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