Unless you’re well versed in home decorating techniques and terminology, sorting out the variety of home lighting functions and effects can be a daunting task. What’s ambient lighting? What’s the difference between incandescent and fluorescent bulbs? How do I choose the right lighting for my kitchen? A hallway? The dining room? Do I need task lighting or utility lighting for my home office?
The best way to make sense of all the options and choose what’s best for each room in your home is to plan your lighting scheme around the activity or activities that will take place in the room. In general, you need more light for performing involved tasks such as reading or cooking, and less for relaxing and entertaining. Next, you need to answer three questions:
- How bright should the light be?
- Should it be direct or indirect light?
- What type of light source is best – halogen, fluorescent, or incandescent?
Home offices, studies, and reading areas need moderate brightness. Be sure not to make the common mistake of over-lighting a reading area. Choose bulbs around 75 to 100 watts for optimal reading and working light – any more creates too much glare and shadow and causes a strain on your eyes.
Dining and living areas take moderate brightness as well, but because these rooms are used mainly for entertaining and conversation, just how bright you make them depends on your family’s tastes. A general rule of thumb for dining areas is 200 to 300 watts from a single fixture (usually a chandelier), whereas a living room often needs several fixtures anywhere from 75 to 150 watts to ensure good light coverage. To make sure the brightness of your lighting is perfect for every occasion, try putting dining and living area lights on a dimmer switch so you can easily control the rooms? ambience.
Your kitchen should be the brightest room in your home, while hallways and entryways need the least amount of light. You’ll need lots of bright light to perform food preparation tasks, so consider options such as track lighting in addition to overhead pendant lights to highlight a cutting area, as well as recessed undercabinet and stove spotlights to brighten sinks and counters. On the other hand, hallways and entryways require subtle lighting – just 40 to 60 watts is fine – since they’re used only as passageways to other rooms.Direct and indirect lighting
Indirect, or ambient, lighting is more subdued. The source is often hidden – recessed lighting is an example – and the resulting light is more diffused and gentle. Indirect lighting is used primarily to flood large living areas with soft light. It’s often used in combination with task and accent lights to illuminate an area to create ambience and intimacy or to soften harsh shadows created by powerful direct lighting.
An example of where this combination of direct and indirect lighting is essential is in the home office or study area. A desk lamp is a good choice for a direct lighting option because it brightly illuminates a reading area. But the direct light causes glare on white reading surfaces, which often leads to eye strain. To counteract this effect, you can add indirect overhead lighting such as track lights to soften glare and remove shadows.
Types of light sources
There are three types of light sources to choose from when planning your lighting scheme:
Incandescent bulbs are most commonly used in residential applications. This type of bulb produces warm, natural-looking light that resembles daylight.
Fluorescent light, which is most often used in commercial settings, is more economical than incandescent because it produces less heat and less energy (about 7 watts compared to 60 watts). Fluorescent bulbs also tend to last longer, because they don’t contain filaments. On average, one fluorescent bulb can last up to six years longer than an incandescent bulb. However, it’s important to remember that fluorescent light makes skin tones look less natural, and many fluorescent bulb types can’t be dimmed.
Halogen light is another energy-saving option. Halogen bulbs are filled with halogen gas, which causes the particles of tungsten to be redeposited onto the tungsten filament. The result is longer-lasting, whiter, and brighter light than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs can render. Though they last longer and have low energy output, halogen bulbs are typically more expensive and bulkier than their counterparts. Also, keep in mind that their nonstandard contact elements require your fixtures and housing to be halogen-compatible, so you could be looking at a significant initial cost outlay.
In general, incandescent light works best in living and dining areas, while fluorescent or halogen light brightens task-oriented areas well.
Remember, when deciding how to light your home, start with an evaluation of room usage, traffic patterns, and the individual tastes of your family members. You’ll end up with a lighting design that will transform your home into a warm, intimate environment you love spending time in.
About the Author
Vanessa Kirkland is freelance writer and home improvement enthusiast whose articles offer tips, strategies, and advice about home lighting design techniques, including designing with fixtures such as outdoor lighting, track lighting, and lamps.