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Can I Use a Chandelier Over My Bathtub?

Can I Use a Chandelier Over My Bathtub?

Can I hang a chandelier over my bathtub?  This is a question often asked by homeowners during their remodeling or home building project.  While there is not a cut-and-dried answer across the board, there are many decorative lighting options for today’s homeowners.

Hanging a chandelier over the bathtub is a great way to bring style and warmth to an otherwise stark bathroom.  However, before you start remodeling your bathroom, you need to be aware that your local building ordinances may prohibit such an installation.

This bathroom, shown on the Kohler website, is a great example of how a chandelier can work in both traditional and modern spaces.  It also illustrates the problem many cities and states have with the installation of a chandelier over a tub.  In many areas, a light fixture can only be installed over a tub if the bottom of the fixture will be at least 5 feet above the water’s surface when the tub is filled.  This photo shows a fixture that likely hangs lower than that 5 feet above the water:

Kohler Modern Bath

The reasoning behind the 5′ height requirement is to keep the water and the electricity from mixing.  Obviously, this is not a good combination, and safety always comes before style.

Keep in mind, however, that not all municipalities have the same building codes; you should always check with your local building inspector or licensed electrician for advice before embarking on any remodeling project.  (See UPDATE below)

This bathroom created by Kristi with Addicted 2 Decorating is a lovely example of the warmth a chandelier can add to a bathroom.  This fixture hangs quite high over the tub, which makes it perfectly safe and presumably legal to install here.

Addicted 2 Decorating Bath

Remember, too, that building codes are always changing.  If you checked into your project years ago, check again before taking on another project.  Something previously allowed may no longer be legal, while other things may now be okay.

However, if you cannot install a chandelier over your bathtub due to local building codes, all is not lost.  There are still a couple of options for adding decorative lighting to your bathroom, beyond the standard vanity lights above or near the sink.

One option is to add a chandelier to the center of your space, instead of over the tub.  This will still get you tons of style, without creating an electrical hazard at the tub.  Provided it meets your building codes, and it doesn’t get too close to your shower or doors (which could hit it when they swing open!), you are golden!  This photo from Kohler shows a great example of this technique:

Kohler Bathroom

You will typically need ceilings that are higher than a standard 8′ high if you plan to install a chandelier in any room.  Lower ceilings create difficulty in keeping a chandelier at the proper height, no matter its location in the room; we don’t want anyone bumping his head on the fixture!

Another option is to use wall-mounted lights, or sconces, to create ambiance in your bathroom.  This Kohler bath shows this option beautifully.  Again, check with local building officials about your local building codes before choosing this option, as the light fixture is near the tub.

Kohler Contempo bath

Decorative lighting can make a major impact on both style and ambiance in the bathroom.  With so many style and location options, you are sure to have plenty of choices for your next bathroom project.

UPDATE:  I did a little more checking on the building code requirements in my area (Wisconsin) and asked four different people about hanging a chandelier over a bathtub.  I got 4 different answers.  A general contractor told me we could do it if the fixture will not be “reachable” from the tub (kind of vague).  A lighting supply company thought the fixture needed to be at least 5′ above the tub (as I had been told in the past).  An electrical contractor told me the fixture should be at least 6′-10″ above the tub.  And the local building inspector told me the fixture needed to be 8′ above the top of the tub, OR 3′ out into the room from the outside edge of the tub.  And, his word is the official one.  

So, the moral of this story is that you may get different answers from different people when researching a project and building code.  The other moral of the story is that unless you have ceilings at least 10′ high, you likely cannot place a chandelier directly over your bathtub.  Since we are seeing so many chandeliers installed over bathtubs, I can only conclude that one of three things is happening:  1)  Inspectors are not properly enforcing their local building codes.  2)  The project was not inspected at all  OR 3)  Homeowners are installing the chandelier after their inspection is complete (which I don’t advocate doing.  Building codes are there for a reason – to keep us safe).  The best way to avoid all this hassle:  install your chandelier at another location in the room, as I mention in the article above.  You will get the look you desire, and you won’t violate any building codes!  :)

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2 Responses to Can I Use a Chandelier Over My Bathtub?

  1. The national electric code reads on hanging chandeliers over tubs
    It must be 8′ above the top of the tub. While local codes may be different,
    It is my understanding that local codes must mirror or exceed national code,

    • Teri says:

      Hmmm – interesting! I’m going to look into it further for the two states I work in, and see what I can find out. Since so many chandeliers are being installed over tubs these days, at heights obviously not 8′ or more above the tub, we either have very different codes from state to state, or inspectors who don’t know the codes (or aren’t enforcing them!). Even a recessed fixture wouldn’t be installed 8′ above a bathtub in many homes. I’ll report back. Thanks for your comment!

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