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I went to a house this evening for a showing and encountered a situation involving the basement lighting that I'm almost certain violates at least one part of the NEC. The house was built in 2000. The basement is finished with the exception of a utility room containing the HVAC, water tank, all of the plumbing stacks, and the main service panel. If it matters at all, we're in Wisconsin.

The basement has 3 total light circuits: a single socket in the utility room with a pull string, a pair of pot lights in the area ~15' from the stairs with a switch on the far wall, and 6 pot lights in the main area near the stairs with a dimmer switch on the wall immediately opposite the staircase.

The pair of pot lights far from the stairs were only affected by the nearby switch. The utility room socket, and the main area lights however, were only operational if the switch at the top of the stairs was on. The utility room and main area circuits did not affect each other thankfully, but as soon as you hit that switch at the top of the stairs both circuits were dead.

Based on what I know of the NEC from lurking on this SE, I believe that there are supposed to be lighting controls at the top and bottom of the stairs that work no matter what state the other is in; and that rooms are supposed to have lighting controls within x feet of the entrance of the room, and that the top of the stairs does not count as the entrance to the room for the majority of the basement; and that a room's lighting (like the utility room) shouldn't be controlled from the opposite end of an adjoined room.

We passed on the house for other reasons, but I'm curious as to how wrong this setup actually is, and given the behavior of the circuits, if it could even be fixed without running new wire.

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The stairs require a light control device at both the top and bottom of the stairs this has been code for many decades. The other lighting sounds questionable

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The lights for the staircase need to be dimmable (not just switchable) from the top and bottom of the stairs

There are two main Code issues with your configuration. First off, the light fixtures nearest to the staircase need to be controllable from both ends of the stairs, as per NEC 210.70(A)(2) point 3:

(3) Where one or more lighting outlet(s) are installed for interior stairways, there shall be a wall switch at each floor level, and landing level that includes an entryway, to control the lighting outlet(s) where the stairway between floor levels has six risers or more.

Second, since the light fixtures nearest to the staircase are on a dimmer, not only do they need to be switchable from both the top and bottom of the stairs, they need to be dimmable from both locations as well, as per NEC 210.70(A)(2) point 4:

(4) Lighting outlets controlled in accordance with 210.70(A)(2)(3) shall not be controlled by use of dimmer switches unless they provide the full range of dimming control at each location.

Generally speaking, this requires wiring the setup for multi-way switching and using a multi-location digital dimmer (not just a 3-way dimmer!) such as a Lutron Maestro or Leviton Decora Digital with a corresponding remote at the other control location.

The rest of it isn't really a matter of Code, but probably should be straightened out anyway

The primary other issue involved is that the utility room lights won't work unless the top-of-stairs switch is turned on. This is annoying, but technically not a Code violation. Furthermore, having other lights on the same switches as the stairwell lighting is also not a Code violation. In fact, other than for staircases and storage or utility spaces, the Code does not specify where control locations for lighting outlets need to be, considering it a design issue that's left up to common sense and designer judgement.

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  • You say the light in the utility room being master switched from outside the room (and up stairs) is not a violation, but you also say that the code specifies rules for utility spaces. The room in question contains serviceable equipment, and I thought those locations need lights that are controlled nearby or else it's not up to code. – Logarr Dec 12 '20 at 21:09
  • @Logarr -- there is a point of control at the usual entry to the space, which is all the Code requires – ThreePhaseEel Dec 12 '20 at 21:43
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I'm not an electrician but I've read through the code book and my first thought/question/comment would be... Is it a finished basement.(I'm thinking with that many lights it may be, but mine is well lit but not finished) If unfinished it isn't considered a liveable(or whatever word they use) space. Most spaces not designed to be living spaces are exempt from alot of requirements possibly such as needing receptacles per wall and windows. As far as having a switch after a switch, i don't find any issue with that. Here Its actually part of code for furnace furnace installations. A switch is required at the top of stairs. A switch may be installed at furnace, but it's feed must run through a switch ontop of stairs, so when top of stairs switch is off, there is no power to furnace, regardless of the position or operation of the switch at furnace. Same for When the switch at the furnace is off.

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  • As stated in my question, the majority of the basement is finished. The remaining unfinished area is the separate utility room. According to the code around here, the basement is "habitable" and would need to meet all the requirements in the NEC for a habitable space. – Logarr Dec 12 '20 at 7:00

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