What Type of Lights Go Over the Shower?


Without sufficient lighting in the bathroom, it's difficult to shave or attend to the rest of your personal hygiene. However, electrical fixtures in the bathroom are typically subject to stricter regulations than those found elsewhere in the home, given the amount of moisture present around the shower, bath and sink areas. Before selecting lighting for your shower area, consult with local authorities regarding the municipal and state electrical codes.

Acceptable Forms of Lighting

  • According to the National Electrical Code, a major set of regulations for safe electrical installation in the United States, only certain types of light fixtures are permissible within a certain distance from a shower stall or bathtub. Within this space, known as the shower and bath zone, you cannot use any fixtures that are suspended by chains, cables or cords. Track lighting is also prohibited, as is any lighting affixed to paddle-style ceiling fans. Any lighting that is used in the zone must be approved for damp locations. In addition, any lighting that is subject to shower spray must be approved for wet locations, a more stringent classification. Recess lighting, a popular style of lighting for bathrooms, is also subject to the same restrictions. In order to comply, recess lighting may be fitted with specifically approved waterproof trim.

The Shower and Bath Zone

  • According to the NEC, the shower and bath zone is defined either by the rim of the bathtub or the threshold of the shower stall. Measuring from the upper edge of the bathtub rim or the shower stall, the zone extends outward three feet horizontally and upward eight feet vertically.

Additional Regulations on Bathroom Lighting

  • In addition to the rules on wall- or ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures directly over the shower area, most local building codes specify the types of outlets and lighting you can use elsewhere in the bathroom. As determined by the shower and bath zone, if your vanity area is within three feet of the edge of the shower stall, you cannot use standard outlets or lighting. Outside the zone, the restrictions no longer apply to mounted lamps. However, according to the NEC, all outlets in the bathroom must be GFCI protected, and one such outlet must be located within three feet of the bathroom sink. In very small bathrooms, where the sink is very close to the shower, it may require some ingenuity to comply with both regulations.

Additional Considerations

  • If the regulations on over-the-shower lighting make it challenging for you to properly illuminate your shower area, consider alternative arrangements. Switch from an opaque curtain to clear shower doors and install bright lighting of your choice outside the shower area. If you use recessed lighting over the shower, opt for a code-compliant glass cover instead of a plastic one, which can turn yellow quickly. While most states and municipalities use the NEC as the basic framework for their laws, slight variations exist from one area to another. In addition, local laws are often slow in adopting the annual changes in the NEC, so your local requirements may be based on an older version of the NEC code.

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