What you have to know about IP ratings

lake on Fraser island

There are two things you must know about when specifying lighting: IP ratings and CE. I email about, post about, lecture about, tell you about them because:

  1. lights have electricity in them. They can burn the hotel down. They can kill

  2. the relevant regulations have the force of law

  3. when clients hire a professional, they do not expect something illegal and maybe dangerous to be recommended

  4. what the rules are doesn't seem to be in the syllabus of any interior or lighting course or qualification (imagine if the general public found this out!), so most people get them wrong

  5. yet what you need to know is quick to teach (ten minutes?) and really clear, easy and simple!

So this is my update on IP ratings. Please read it! The subject comes up almost daily, and it      wastes      so      much      time      ...

The new 18th Edition Wiring Regulations (BS7671:2018) – aka the "Regs" – came into effect on 1st January 2019. All new installations from this point must comply with BS7671:2018. How does affect the specifier of lighting? It dictates (amongst many other things) the IP ratings that lights must have in the bathroom and over/around swimming pools. If you select a light that does not have the correct IP rating, you are wasting your time at best (it can't be used) or, much worse, you are putting your clients, their property (and their insurance cover) at risk.

IP ratings are defined by IEC60529 published by the International Electrotechnical Commission. They are expressed by the letters "IP" followed by two digits. See the infographic explaining what they mean at the foot of this post.

All legal lights have an IP rating. If they are not stated as having been tested to a specific rating, they are deemed to be IP20 (so all lights are "IP-rated").

An IP20 light can almost never be re-engineered on demand to make it an IP44 light (for example). It would have to be changed too much.

There are virtually no IP44-rated pendants, because nobody would put a pendant where such a rating is required (for example, in the UK, within 60cm of the bath or shower). But sometimes they are requested, in which case, contact us for acceptable solutions.

So, why do IP ratings matter? Because electrical regulations sometimes specify a minimum IP rating in certain locations. They will be specific about which rating. NB Therefore you don't have to work out the requirement for yourself!

You can use the IP rating specified or, often, a higher one. So, in an IP44 area, you could also put lights that are rated IP45, IP55, IP67...but not always. Using an IP68 fixture in an IP44 environment could cause problems: the IP68 rating is based on immersion in water, which dissipates the heat generated in a way that air does not.

Requirements vary territory to territory, so what is required in the UK will not necessarily apply anywhere else. Thus, the requirements for a French bathroom are not the same as for an English one. This is why you have to ask what the local regulations are. It is no good specifying things and then having a catch-all text in the specification that says items compliant in the territory must be used. They will have to use something else if you've got it wrong.

Yet so often we find someone has invented an IP requirement. This is odd: do they think they know better than the regulators? It is also silly because, if an IP rating higher than IP20 is required:

  1. the vast majority of lights can no longer be considered

  2. the budget will have to go up, because lights that have the necessary additional protection need additional labour and components. The testing also has to be paid for.

Finally:

In the UK, THERE IS NO SPECIFIC IP REQUIREMENT FOR WALL LIGHTS ABOVE A BASIN!!! They don't have to be IP44. But a lot of companies are making money by hoping you don't know this. They include on their web sites diagrams that are wrong. The joke is that the area they tend to say you need IP44 in is an arc above the basin with a 60cm radius, like this:

incorrect IP over basin.jpg

Do they really think you'd put wall lights so low?!

So what are the requirements for lighting in a UK bathroom? Rather than including diagrams here, to prove that I am not making this up, click here for my scan of the relevant pages from my copy of the Regs.

In the UK, THERE IS NO SPECIFIC IP REQUIREMENT FOR OUTDOOR LIGHTS!!! They will certainly have a rating above IP20, but what it is depends upon where the luminaire is likely to be put. Locating a luminaire outside puts a variety stresses on it (temperature changes, wind, sand, salt, sunlight, condensation...), so only ever use an outdoor light that is specified  by a reputable brand for where you want to put it,. If in doubt, ask.

So, now you've read this through, what are the takeaways?

  1. Find out what IP rating is required according to the local regulations

  2. Find a luminaire with that rating. Catalogues will always state the IP rating if it is higher than IP20.

And that's all -- clear, easy and simple!

Do get in touch if you are specifying for a bathroom, a swimming pool or outside. We know all this stuff so we can apply it to make sure the luminaires you propose are legal and safe. It's what we are here for.

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