Bathroom Lighting (C) Daniel Friedman Guide to Bathroom Lighting Locations, Levels, Types

  • BATHROOM LIGHTING GUIDELINES - CONTENTS: Guide to Bathroor light fixtures,Bathroom Lighting Guidelines: General Lighting Rules for Bathrooms. Recommendations for lighting levels for bathrooms. Bathroom Mirror Lighting Recommendations. Guidelines for Lighting Over Tub and Shower. GFCI requirements for bathroom and shower lighting.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about lighting specifications for bathrooms
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Bathroom lighting design specifications:

This article gives guidelines for lighting location, strength, and safety for bathrooms. This article series details guidelines for selecting and installing interior lighting to meet the requirements for different building areas.

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Bathroom Lighting Guidelines

Bathroom lighting in a historic home (C) D FriedmanThis article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons.

Also see LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE our home page for information about all lighting topics relating to building interiors.

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Bathroom Mirror Lighting Recommendations

Good lighting is critical at the bathroom mirror for shaving, makeup, and other tasks of personal hygiene.

For optimal lighting, place strip lights or globe type light bars at least 16 inches long on each side of the mirror centered at 61 to 64 inches (about the average eye height).

Wall sconces on either side are also an option for smaller mirrors. These provide even cross lighting without shadows or glare (see Figure 5-23). Our photo (above left) illustrates lighting in a historic home in New York. The placement of a bulb suspended in front of the mirror generates plenty of glare.

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

For small mirrors under 30 inches wide, use about 75 watts of incandescent lighting or 20 watts of warm-white fluorescent on each side. For larger mirrors, use up to 150 watts of incandescent or 40 watts of fluorescent on each side. Additional lights across the top of larger mirrors are also helpful.

If using fluorescents, select lamps with high CRIs and warm color temperatures in the 2700K to 3000K range.

Bathroom lighting over small mirror (C) Daniel FriedmanLighting from above the mirror only using globe-type light bars, a pair of recessed downlights, or a lighting soffit is acceptable as long as the vanity top is a light color.

Otherwise, areas under the eyes, nose, and chin will be in shadow. If recessed fixtures are used, choose an A lamp, flood, or compact fluorescent for a diffused beam.

General Lighting Rules for Bathrooms

As a rule of thumb, provide one watt of incandescent or 1/3 to 1/2 watt of fluorescent light per square foot of floor space. Increase this by 50 to 100% for recessed lights, indirect lighting, or a room with dark surfaces. In a small bathroom, the mirror lights can also provide the ambient light.

For larger baths, a separate ceiling fixture mounted near the tub and toilet can be useful for ambient light and reading.

Finally, in a room with a high ceiling, indirect lighting with coves or uplights can create a feeling of spaciousness in a bathroom, along with a pleasing, soft glow.


Guidelines for Lighting Over Tub and Shower

Shower light fixture (C) Daniel FriedmanA recessed light with a white diffuser mounted over the tub or shower will be appreciated by bathers.

Watch out: Electrical codes require that these fixtures be totally enclosed and rated for use in a damp location (tub area) or wet location (shower). Most bathroom shower light fixture manufacturers require GFCI protection for their UL rating.

In our opinion the shower light fixture installed in the bathroom shown at left is unsafe, using an improper fixture type and lacking ground fault circuit interrupt protection - a shock and fatality risk. It's just too easy for someone to stand on a wet shower floor or touch conductive metal controls or piping (like that shower head) while fooling around trying to change a light bulb.

In addition, fixtures must be at least 6 feet above the water line and switches must be a minimum of 5 feet from the edge of the bathtub or shower.

Really?  I [Jim Simmons] could not remember a GFCI requirement for shower recessed cans [recessed light fixtures or "pot lights" - Ed.]. Because there is not one. Code (NEC) says the only time you have to GFCI protect the can is if the manufacturer requires it. Otherwise as long as it is a recessed can (metal or standard trim) it can be over a tub or shower.

Surface fixtures (including track lights or paddle fans) are only allowed if they are at least 8' above the maximum water level or at least 3' away from the tub or shower rim NEC 410.10(D). Interestingly the requirement does not address wall mounted fixtures!

I still don't understand why you can install a wall mount light in a tub or shower enclosure!- Jim P. Simmons Mr. Electric, Email:, Website: - 3/19/2014

Watch out: Check with local code officials in your own jurisdiction for specific lighting and electrical safety requirements.

Indirect lighting over a Japanese tub/bathroom (C) D Friedman Steven Ostrow

Our photo (left) illustrates nice use of indirect and rooftop skylight lighting over a walk-in shower in a Minnesota home.

Industry & Trade Associations for Lighting and Other Interior Components in buildings

American Lighting Association

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.


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