Why Are Light Switches Outside the Bathroom in Germany?

Germany is known for its strict building codes and safety regulations, so it’s no surprise that even something as small as a light switch placement can be heavily regulated. In Germany, all bathroom light switches must be placed outside the bathroom. While this may seem odd to some, it’s actually a safety feature.

The light switches are installed outside bathrooms in Germany because it’s a safety regulation designed to prevent potential electrocution from entering the moist or wet environment of the room. It’s also a good way to reduce the chances of a fire hazard due to using electrical appliances.

Understanding the reasons for placing switches outside bathrooms in foreign countries will make it less strange. This article describes the light switch location in Germany and Europe and discusses the requirements for light switch positioning. We also explain why light switches are inside bathrooms in the US. 

Light switch location in Germany and Europe 

Light switches are placed outside the bathroom in Germany and Europe because of the countries’ general electrical rules.

According to CENELEC, the primary developer of European standards in several sectors, you shouldn’t place some electrical appliances close to a shower or tab. This is mainly because of safety reasons. 

New electrical circuits with residual-current devices can be installed in the bathroom. However, they should be sixty centimeters or two feet away from the tub or shower.

This proves to be challenging for small bathrooms; most homeowners choose to place them outside. Those who must have the switch inside, regardless of their bathroom size, opt for ceiling pull cords.

Old electrical circuits, which mostly lack residual-current devices to enhance their safety, shouldn’t be installed in bathrooms with showers and tubs. 

Electrical standards are crucial for enhancing bathroom safety. Full tubs, hot showers, and wet sinks make the bathroom moisture-rich. Excessive moisture easily messes with electrical gadgets, installations, and equipment, which can be hazardous. 

Water has minerals and impurities, which make it a good electrical conductor. When standing in a  puddle, a shock can pass to the water via your body, thus electrocuting you. 

Placing the switch outside the bathroom is also pretty practical, and Germans are all about practicality. Turning on the lights on your way in is more straightforward than fumbling to locate the switch when already in the dark bathroom. 

Installing switches outside the bathroom is hygienic. With the control inside, high chances are that you operate it with dirty hands, especially after using the toilet.

However, with the switch outside, you’re more likely to touch it with clean hands, which prevents bacteria build-up. Additionally, cleaning the bathroom with no switches to worry about is easier and more effective. 

Switches may be placed outside the bathroom due to other design requirements. For instance, it should be close to the doorway for easy access. In this regard, if the area close to the door inside the bathroom is risky, most electricians choose to install the switch outside. 

Other design requirements that may cause the switch to be installed outside include the following: 

  • The door must swing into the bathroom and not outside. 
  • Plumbings run through the wall, and thus the switch can’t be installed over them. 
  • The door should swing open without hitting the tub or shower. 

Requirements for light switch positioning in Europe 

Although most European buildings have switches outside the bathroom, some new buildings install them inside. However, you should follow several regulations if you choose to do so.

Bathrooms are divided into three zones: 0, 1, and 2. Each of these zones has varying requirements when installing light switches. 

Zone 0 consists of the area inside the tub or shower. This is the most delicate, and you should only install extra low-voltage light. Twelve volts is the most appropriate voltage, and the lights should be marked as ‘inner tub safe.’ This area is a danger zone and the most unsafe for light switches. 

Zone 1 includes the area above the shower. This area covers a 120cm radius around the shower head. 2.25m above the floor is this area’s most sensitive section. Only extra low-voltage lights are allowed here, and under no circumstances should you install switches. 

Zone 2 includes area 1, plus an extension of sixty centimeters. Only IPX4 lights are safe in this area. You shouldn’t place switches in this region unless they are integrated into the lights. 

Below is an image illustrating the various bathroom zones for a better understanding. 

Source: DIYData.com

Switches in the bathroom can be placed above the sink, three inches beside the bowl, twelve inches above the sink top, and eighty centimeters above the floor for the hair dryer or exhaust fan.

In a jacuzzi, switches should be installed fifty to eighty centimeters from the floor. You can install key switches outside the bathroom 800 to 900 mm above the ground.

Before installing switches in your home in Germany, you should run a wiring project to determine proper switch positioning. 

Why are light switches for US bathrooms inside the bathroom? 

The US has more lenient electrical regulations compared to Europe. Although there’s the freedom to choose where to place your switch in this country, most buildings opt for the inside installation. Several requirements must be met when installing switches inside the bathroom. 

According to the National Electrical Code in the US, switches shouldn’t be located close to the tub or shower area to prevent touching them with wet hands. 

In the US, light switches are installed inside because the bathrooms have GFCI-protected outlets. GFCI protection reduces the chances of suffering shock attacks common with controls in the bathroom.

Large bathrooms should have two or more outlets for extra protection. Below is an illustration of how GFCI protection works. 

Source: electronicshub.org

Switches are allowed inside in the US, as all bathrooms have outlet protection. According to NEC, all bathroom outlets should have AFCI protection. These prevent sparking, which is a primary cause of fire in electrical appliances. 

Light switches in the US must be green grounded and thus are safe for installation in bathrooms. Regardless of their positioning in homes, all controls must be directly connected to the ground wires. 

Bathrooms in the US have vent fans, which help reduce moisture levels. This, in turn, reduces the chances of electrocution. Some bathrooms with windows don’t have vent fans. However, a vent fan is a must if the bathroom is too large compared to the aeration provided through the window. 

Installing switches in the bathroom is allowed in the US, as the standard amount of household electrical outlets are low. This country allows approximately half of what’s recommended in European countries, which is about 230 volts. Therefore, switches are less likely to cause accidents in the bathroom. 

The United States doesn’t prohibit the installation of switches in bathrooms, as they pose no danger. US switches are airtight and are rated as safe in damp areas. 

Nicholas

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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