UL Listings Explained
Randall Whitehead, IALD, explains the omnipresent UL designation and what it means for your product offering.
 
Randall, what is UL, and why is a label from it required on light fixtures?
UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a testing facility for light fixtures (and other electrical devices) that vouches for the safety of the product. Electricians won’t install non-UL fixtures, and inspectors won’t allow them on jobs. Without a UL label, you have no idea how potentially dangerous a fixture may be. There is a huge liability if the fixture catches fire or electrocutes someone due to a manufacturing defect. It is well worth it to make sure that the light fixtures you sell have a UL listing. They come in three varieties: the designation Dry Location applies to fixtures designed to be used indoors, Damp Location means the fixture can be used outside in an area protected from direct contact with water, and Wet Location guarantees the fixture can be used where it comes in direct contact with water, including exterior locations, showers, saunas, etc. Occasionally, your company may get solicitations online or through the mail to purchase fixtures from foreign countries. Often these fixtures look wonderful and seem to be offered at a great price. But here’s where “buyer beware” really applies. They may not have a UL label, meaning that you would potentially be responsible if the fixture malfunctioned. Is it illegal for manufacturers to sell fixtures without UL testing? No. Manufacturers in Europe, Asia, Malaysia and South America are not required to get a UL listing when selling to countries other than the United States because those countries don’t require it. Those manufacturers in other countries that do want to sell their goods here must go through the testing process when they introduce their lines to the U.S. market. Because it is so costly, what we see in the United States coming out of other countries is often one-tenth of a manufacturer’s product line. They normally pick the line items that will sell best to help amortize the cost of the testing. ETL (Edison Testing Laboratories), another U.S.-based testing laboratory, is an alternative to UL. Approval from Canada’s own testing laboratory, CSA (Canadian Standards Assn.), is required on fixtures manufactured in that country or imported from other countries. According to its Web site, CSA conforms to UL standards and is therefore recognized as safe for the U.S. market. I have personally found that some electrical inspectors won’t recognize ETL or CSA labels as valid alternatives to UL, even though they are. I think it’s like Coke. Their marketing is so pervasive that Pepsi, an equally refreshing brown carbonated beverage, gets less respect.
Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website www.randallwhitehead.com for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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Are light bulbs recommended

Are light bulbs recommended to be UL listed? Or any liability behind that?

Is there an agency that could

Is there an agency that could take my product, evaluate it, and then give me the rejects before applying for the official U.L agency ? Or the right way to go with it would be applying straight ahead to the official U.L agency with my product ? Thanks for any advice, Osher

Wow, great

Wow, great explanation....Just saw a lovely ceiling light fixture in a Lamps Plus catalog and was all set to order it but it has no UL / ETL approval! Time for the lighting store!

Hi Randall, I work in

Hi Randall, I work in interior design in the USA, and am specifying light fixtures all the time. All vintage light fixtures we buy we have UL wired. All fixtures we import ourselves from overseas we have UL wired. However, we purchase lights on American websites that are legally sold here, but manufactured in another country that are not UL listed. My question is this, legally, do we have an obligation to UL wire these lights? i.e. if a house caught fire due to a light manufactured overseas, not UL wired, but legally sold in America, could the owner ever be held responsible, and insurance be void? It's a gray area I've never understood. Thanks Ben

More on UL

Hello Ben, Yes, this is a gray area. First off UL, is not the only testing facility available. Both ETL and CSA are both fully capable of testing light fixtures. It is not illegal to sell untested fixtures in the US, but there is a liability issue. Who takes responsibility if there is a fire related to a defect in the lighting fixture? Electrician's are reticent to install fixtures without certification labels because they then take on the liability. An owner can sign a waiver to release the electrician, but they then become the responsible party. Insurance companies will not look favorably on a fire caused by a light fixture that is not labeled. I hope that this helps, Randall

What about table lamps?

What about table lamps? do they need to be CSA tested? so many stores sell non CSA tested units (as in the electrical components are CSA, but the base and electrical combined have not been tested).

Hi Randall, How does CSA

Hi Randall! How does CSA certification apply to handmade table lamps? I understand that certification/testing is required for fixtures, but is there a legal requirement for the seller of a table lamp to have it tested? If not is the seller liable should (on the off chance) something were to happen with the table lamp?

Is UL written into state

Is UL written into state code? If so how are US light manufacturers selling lights in the US that aren't UL listed?

UL and code

UL is written into the National Electrical Code, not state code. Non-UL listed fixtures can be sold, they just don't meet code.

Is a homemade light fixture

Is a homemade light fixture legal if using CSA approved parts?

The Sum of Its Parts

Even though it seems like it should, it doesn't. A fixture needs to be tested as a complete unit.

6 is the new 8

Large diameter housings are not popular for residential settings. You could find some in catalogs of companies who sell commercial products. Many of them would be rated to be installed in suspended ceilings, which don't require an IC rating.

Just removed a UL listed fan

Just removed a UL listed fan and light control switch from my daughters room. Luckily she smelled the impending electrical fire and noticed the control was extremely hot before our house burned down.. completely melted!

Too Hot to Handle

UL covers this very situation. Take the product back to where you bought it for a replacement or a refund.

Can an UL listed lighting

Can an UL listed lighting fixture be used in Canada?

Across the Border

I believe that CSA can be used in the USA and UL can be used in Canada.

The fixture is approved for

The fixture is approved for use in Canada only if it has a "cUL" mark which indicates it has been UL tested and meets Canadian standards - BC electrician.

what about light fixtures

what about light fixtures that are considered to be one of a kind art?

Art as Light

Don't shoot the messenger. Even art needs to be safe for the collector and their home.

This was very helpful THANKS!

This was very helpful THANKS!

Much Appreciated

Thank you for letting me know.

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