Between hot showers, flushing toilets, and running sinks, your bathroom is hands-down the most humid room in your home. Understandably, then, you might be hesitant to install smart technologies in your bathroom. But when it comes to smart lights, you have nothing to worry about.
Safely install smart lights in your bathroom by following basic safety guidelines for wet and damp locations. As long as the lights are damp or wet-rated, they should be safe to use in a humid bathroom. For extra safety, opt for recessed lights and check the IP ratings for bulbs and fixtures.
In the US, the go-to manual for electrical installations is the National Electrical Code. This manual is the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property in the US from electrical hazards
If you’re wary of installing smart lights in a bathroom, keep reading to learn how you can incorporate smart technologies without running into hazards. We’ll also explore some alternatives and explain what makes some bulbs safer than others.
But if you’re looking for some of the best bathroom smart lights that have Bluetooth, voice command, and a range of color temperatures, read How Bathroom Smart Lights Brighten Your Life.
Do Bathroom Lights Need To Be Waterproof?
Your bathroom should be an oasis—a space for you to relax, rejuvenate, and destress before and after a long day.
Part of creating a bathroom haven includes finding the right lighting, though. As easy as it sounds, finding the right lights for a bathroom takes a little research.
Full bathrooms are the dampest rooms in a home. The average American will run around 16 gallons of hot water through their shower every single morning, producing steam and water droplets that quickly fill the room. (Source)
Even if you’re careful, your lighting fixtures are bound to get damp. Therefore, you need to find lightbulbs that are suitable for use in a bathroom.
Fortunately, lightbulbs and light fixtures are rated for different humidity levels using a universal IP rating. Unlike with other measurements, IP ratings are standard around the globe, so you know that your lightbulbs are safe regardless of where you buy them. This includes smart light bulbs.
John Fisher, an electrician in Virginia says:
“The IP rating of the fixture will be as or more important than the IP Rating for the bulbs, because you never know what bulb will be installed in the fixture at some point down the road.”
As long as you understand the rating system, you can install light bulbs and fixtures in your bathroom without worry.
How Do Smart Light IP Ratings Work?
IP (Ingress Protection) ratings are a universal rating system used to designate how dustproof and waterproof a lightbulb is.
Ratings consist of two numbers, the first of which designates how well protected the bulb is from dust and other solid particulate matter. The second digit indicates how well-protected the bulb is from water, steam, and humidity. The higher these two values, the safer the smart light.
Where to Use Light Bulbs and Fixtures with Low IP Ratings
Anything rated below IP44 should be considered a low-rated light bulb or light fixture. These low-rated light bulbs are suitable for indoor spaces, such as living rooms and bedrooms. They’re also ideal for interior spaces that are rarely exposed to dirt, dust, or moisture.
Any light bulbs rated between IP44 and IP65 are suitable for semi-outdoor use, such as in a screened porch or a garage where the space might be exposed to low levels of moisture or dust. Do not use these lightbulbs in purely outdoor environments or in a bathroom.
Where to Use Light Bulbs and Fixtures with High IP Ratings
Light bulbs with high IP ratings—anything above IP 65—are safe to use outdoors or in a humid environment, such as in a bathroom. They are built to withstand exposure to moisture and dust and won’t short out if dampened.
Although IP 65 light bulbs are considered waterproof, IP 66 light bulbs are even more durable and can withstand direct exposure to water. Do not submerge these lights, though, as they cannot withstand pressured exposure to water. Instead, consider installing them above a shower or sink.
Dust protection ratings max out at level 6 but moisture ratings continue up to level 9. Level 7 and 8 lightbulbs can withstand immersion in water.
Bulbs with an IP rating with the second digit being 9 can stand up to prolonged exposure to heat and steam. These bulbs are ideal for use in a bathroom.
How to Safely Zone Smart Lights in Your Bathroom
Although installing IP 69 light bulbs throughout your bathroom would ensure the ultimate level of protection, it’s not entirely necessary.
Not all areas of your bathroom are at the same risk of exposure to water and steam.
Instead, zone your bathroom into three separate areas based on their risk. Then, install the more expensive higher-rated bulbs in zones that need more protection.
You can break these zones down into the following areas:
- Zone 0 – Consider Zone 0 the riskiest areas in your bathroom. These are the spaces directly around and inside your shower, bath, and sink basin. Never use a lightbulb or fixture rated below IP 67 in Zone 0 as it can short out and spark an electrical fire.
- Zone 1 – Zone 1 is at lower risk than zone 0 but it’s still not safe for low-rated light bulbs. Zone 1 areas are directly above your shower and sink, up to 7.4 feet (or 2.25 meters) away from the floor and at least 1.97 feet (60 cm) from the water source. Use IP 65 bulbs or fixtures in these areas for safety.
- Zone 2 – As you extend farther from the sink and shower, your light bulbs no longer need as much protection. Zone 2 exists roughly 3.9 feet (120 cm) away from the water source or double the distance of Zone 1. At this range, it’s safe to use IP 44 light bulbs and fixtures.
- Zone 3 – Zone 3 doesn’t really have set parameters; it exists anywhere outside of Zone 2. Zone 3 is at a safe enough distance to avoid direct contact with the water source and should be far enough away to safely use IP 20 light bulbs and IP 20 light fixtures.
Can You Put Lights Directly Above a Shower?
It’s safe to install smart lights directly above a shower as long as the light bulbs are rated for moisture. This comes with a few caveats, though. Not all lighting fixtures are suitable above a shower. Let’s take a look at a few types of lights that won’t work out above your shower:
- Chandeliers – If you’re hoping for a high-class, palatial look, you’ll be disappointed to learn that your shower won’t look like Versailles unless you have extremely high ceilings. According to electrical codes, chandeliers require at least 8 feet of space between the top of a bathtub or shower and the bottom of the chandelier. Even if you use high-rated bulbs, a chandelier will likely violate building codes.
- Ceiling fans – Although some ceiling fan light kits are built to be recessed in a bathroom, ceiling fans fall under the same building codes as chandeliers. Unless you have extremely high ceilings with 8 feet of distance between the top of the shower and the bottom of the fan, you won’t be able to install a ceiling fan in the shower either.
- Track lighting – Track lights can add a moody flare to your bathroom but we don’t recommend installing them directly above a shower. They fall under the same building regulations as ceiling fans and chandeliers. Instead, use them above the sink so you won’t accidentally reach up and smack them while bathing.
So, what types of lights can you install above a shower? Try recessed lights with a high IP Rating. They sit flat against the ceiling, making them ideal for use directly above a bathtub or shower area.
Are LED Lights Safe for a Bathroom?
If the problem with chandeliers, track lights, and ceiling fans is that they hang too close to the shower, are LED lights safe? Yes and no. As with other types of lights, LEDs are rated using an IP scale but most LEDs are not built at a high IP rating. At most, they’re typically built to a moderate level.
If you want to use LED lights in the bathroom, be strategic about where you place them. Keep the 4 moisture zones in mind as you begin planning out where to place LED lights and consider how you can maximize their effects. LEDs work well as task lighting and for creating an ambient effect. They’re not designed to be the main light source.
We recommend using LED lights in Zones 2 and 3 to add accents around the mirror, along the walls, or below cabinets. They can create an under-glow effect or transform your standard bathroom mirror into a makeup vanity.
However, if you decide to use LEDs around the mirror, keep them to the sides rather than above. Placing LEDs above a mirror can create harsh shadows and ruin your makeup. But used correctly, LED bathroom lights can create a home spa vibe.
You might also try an LED shower head. Read about these very cool and fun bathroom fixtures here.
Be Safe About Smart Lights in the Bathroom
Just because your bathroom is wet by nature doesn’t mean you can’t spruce it up with some high-tech smart lights and LEDs. The trick is to be smart about which light bulbs you use and where you place them.
Always check light bulb IP ratings before installing a new light in your bathroom and zone your bathroom according to the four zones detailed here.
Although it will take a little more research to illuminate your bathroom, better light can transform a boring old lavatory into a personal home oasis!
For more smart bathroom ideas, be sure to read the 9 Coolest Smart Bathroom Ideas.
Want to learn how your bulbs can create the exact bathroom ambiance you want? Check out What Is the Best Color Temperature for YOUR Bathroom?
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