Lighting Planning: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

How Much Light is Needed to Light an Area Properly?

Most rooms need more light than a chandelier or ceiling light fixture can provide. This is where portables come into a lighting design for a room. Table lamps, desk lamps, torchieres and floor lamps are called portables because they can be moved around the room or home wherever they can be plugged into an outlet. Light fixtures are hard-wired into the walls or ceiling of the home.

What is the Purpose of Portable Lighting?
Portable lighting balances overhead lighting, provides task lighting and creates ambient lighting. Think of rooms and areas in the home where light is needed for tasks such as homework, reading or crafts. Portable lighting provides the needed light for these activities.

Is There a Standard Height for Floor Lamps and Table Lamps?
Ideally for both table and floor lamps the bottom of the shade should be no more than 42 inches from the floor for ambient or reading light. Torchieres, or up-light floor lamps, can be taller, reaching between 66 and 72 inches from the floor. A desk lamp shade should be about 16 inches above the desk or work surface. Placing the desk lamp 13 inches from the front edge of the desk is ideal. The bottom of the lampshade should be approximately 42 inches from the floor’s surface. Desk lamps should be 16 inches above the work surface and 13 inches from the front of a desk. Torchieres, used to light dark corners, can be from 66 to 72 inches from the floor.

How Do I Find the Proper Chandelier Height for a Foyer?

Chandeliers should be hung so that the bottom or finial is at least seven feet above the floor. The chandelier should be hung so that the door when opened easily clears the light.

What is the Proper Height for Wall Lanterns by the Front Door?
There are no absolute rules on this. It all depends on the height of the front door and entrance. The average height of the lantern should be between one fifth and one sixth of the overall entrance height.

When Should I Use Portables?
Portables can be used to increase the wattage for general illumination in a room as well as provide task lighting. There is a proven formula for calculating the amount of general light you should have in every room or area of the home. This number is expressed in overall watts and it’s a simple formula:

Multiply the length by the width (using feet) of the room. Multiply this number by 1.5. This number is the amount of wattage needed to properly illuminate the space, room or area.

Example: A room is 12 ft long and 16 ft wide (12 x 16 = 192). 192 multiplied by 1.5 equals 288 watts. An eight-light chandelier with 40-watt bulbs would provide 320 watts overall, which is more light than needed for general illumination.

For specific task lighting or where stronger light is needed, multiply the square footage of the area by 2.5 instead of 1.5 to determine the proper wattage. The kitchen island or a home office desk are examples of task areas in the home.

These rules apply to every room and area in the home.

What is the Proper Height for a Chandelier or Ceiling Light in a Foyer?
There should always be clearance to walk beneath a ceiling light in high traffic areas like foyers, entries and hallways. Typically the bottom of the chandelier or ceiling fixture should be no less than seven feet from the floor, allowing all but the tallest people to walk underneath without ducking. This means a flush-mount light or a semi-flush mount may be needed to meet this clearance requirement. If the ceiling is above eight or nine feet, a large multi-tiered chandelier is needed to fill the vertical space.

What is the Best Lighting for a Kitchen?

Kitchen lighting can be complicated given the size and activities that take place in the kitchen. Dining, prep work, homework, cooking and general lighting needs all need to be taken into consideration. Many people start with a central lighting fixture, centered in the space or over a kitchen island. A two or four light decorative fluorescent light is a cost efficient option over a large pendant or chandelier. Soffit lights can create ambient lighting. Recessed lights or pendants over work surfaces can provide task lighting, while under cabinet lighting can be used for ambient and task lighting.

Example: A 100 square feet kitchen may have only two work zones while a 250 square foot kitchen or larger may have four or more work areas. Each area should be measured according to the formula for general lighting above and task light provided.

How Should Kitchen Work Areas, like the Island, Sink, Stove and Countertops be Illuminated?
Besides the general lighting needs in the kitchen, the work areas require dedicated task lighting. Using the formula for task lighting, square feet multiplied by 2.5, determine what wattage is needed. Cabinet lighting or recessed cans can be used for task lighting above counters. Pendant lights or a long kitchen island light work above a kitchen island or peninsula for task lighting and decorative design elements in the space.

How to Light an Eat-In Kitchen Dining Area?

A single pendant light or small chandelier centered over the table is the best solution for an eat-in kitchen. The same formula applies to this light as it does for a light above the dining table (see above). The light should be no lower than thirty inches above the table surface. A dimmer switch can be used to change the mood or provide task lighting for a 100 watt bulb.

When and Where Should Dimmer Switches Be Used?
Dimmer switches can be used throughout the home, but are most popular in dining rooms and bedrooms. Kitchen lights can be placed on different dimmer switches to create ambient and task lighting. Ceiling lights in kids’ rooms can also be used with dimmer switches for bedtime or brightened for playtime.

Will a Single Chandelier Provide Enough Light?
The answer to this is based on the overall wattage needed for general illumination in the room and the wattage of the chandelier. To complement the light output from the chandelier, wall sconces, portable lamps and recessed lighting are options to add additional wattage or ambient light.

How Should Wall Art or Items Inside a Cabinet or Special Areas in the Home be Illuminated to Highlight Them?
For wall art or architectural features, recessed or track lighting can be used to focus pools of light onto the wall or architecture. Inside a cabinet, such as a china cabinet or breakfront, low voltage cabinet lighting can provide highlighting.

What Are the Different Types of Lighting that can be Used When Designing a Room?

There are four basic lighting types that achieve the best lighting design. They are: ambient lighting, accent lighting, task lighting, and decorative lighting.

Ambient lighting is used to fill undefined areas of a space with soft levels of general light, just enough to navigate through the room or watch television.

Task lighting is bright light that illuminates an area for visual activity, such as food preparation, reading or crafting.

Accent lighting focuses attention on specific areas, artwork, or architectural features. It can help set the mood or provide drama in the room’s decorating. Accent lighting is like task lighting in that it is largely directed light.

Decorative can be the focal point or centerpiece of a room. Any of the three preceding lighting types can also be in the form of decorative lighting. The dining room chandelier is a good example of decorative lighting that is also ambient lighting. Decorative lighting should complement room colors, furniture styles and the overall design plan for the room.

What are the Basic Rules for Planning a Lighting Design?
The most basic rule for lighting is to put a light where it is needed. Beyond that, thinking about balancing light will insure an attractive lighting atmosphere. Creating an effective spread of light is essential throughout each room, even better if it flows between rooms. The optimal way to find this balance is to layer light sources in a well decorated room.

The first step in creating a lighting plan is to identified the room’s main activities and focal points. A room with multiple focal points will be more balanced and visually interested. Direct the brightest layer of light at the focal points. This can be achieved with task and accent lighting.

The second step is to create a middle layer of light that illuminates specific areas, but does not detract from the focal points. Accent lighting and task lighting work here.

The third step is lighting that fills in the background and corners or ambient light.

Once the essential light layers are in place, decorative pieces can be added.

Can a Room Have Too Much Light?
Yes. When planning a lighting design all light sources and natural light must be considered. Both day and evening lighting options need to be planned.

If a room has too much light, the overall effect will be uncomfortable and harsh especially at nighttime. Lamps that have dark or black shades, or chandeliers on dimmer switches are options that can be added to control light as well as decorative details.

Can Glare Be Avoided in the Location of Lighting?
Yes, glare can be avoided. Be aware of where light fixtures are placed to avoid glare. Direct glare from a bare bulb is the worst kind. This can be avoided with lampshades or a diffuser type of bulb. Reflected glare can also be a problem. Watch for light reflection off of glass or other high gloss surfaces that bounces light into eyes.

Can Lighting Help a Small Room Feel Bigger or a Large Room Feel Smaller?

Yes. Light direction can be used to enlarge or shrink the feeling of a room. Small rooms can feel more expansive and large rooms can be warmed using the correct lighting fixtures. “Washing” all four walls with soft light can make a small room expand, especially if the walls are light in paint color. Small, concentrated pools of light can have the opposite effect, drawing the eye to certain objects or areas to make the room feel more intimate.

Ceiling height can pose a problem or it can become a special feature. If the ceilings seem too low, up-light fixtures like torchieres can bounce light up to visually raise the ceiling. Uplighting can also highlight a cathedral or beamed ceiling. Using down lights will take the focus away from a high or uninteresting ceiling. Chandeliers with shades or semi-flush mounts can work.

How Can Lighting Expand a Narrow Room or Hallway?
Narrow rooms and hallways can be expanded by placing lighting on the ceiling and short walls of the room or hall rather than bringing attention to long walls. This will result in a wider looking space. For narrow hallways wall sconces that project both up and down light on the walls. Lighting both sides of the hall can also help expand the feel.

How Can Lighting Be Used to Highlight Special Features or Textures?
Skimming light down the surface of the fabric, stone or other texture will highlight the surface. Downlights and spot lights are best for creating acute angles that achieve this effect when placed near surfaces and features.

How Can Lighting Highlight the Decorative Objects in a home?
Lighting objects from below or above using accent or track lighting can draw the eye to these objects. Cabinet lighting, spot lights and light that bounces indirectly off of an object can achieve this pleasant effect. Underneath lighting is good for glass or other transparent materials, or glass shelves.

How Should an Entryway Be Lit?

Entries should not be too brightly lit. The transition from dark outdoors to brightly lit interiors can be disorienting. Avoiding blinding glare is important in this area of the home. An entry should be warm and inviting to guests and family. Lighting should be balanced and flattering as this is the first impression for the rest of the home.

How Should a Living Room or Family Room Be Lit?

Living rooms and family rooms highly benefit from layered lighting designs because they are multi-functional rooms. Soft ambient light is good for television viewing while task lighting is needed for reading, games or knitting. These rooms are often the most used rooms in the home so lighting should be warm and welcoming, avoiding glare and over lighting the room.

Is a Chandelier the Only Light Needed for a Dining Room?
Not necessarily. In some cases, the chandelier will provide enough general ligh based on wattage requirements for the room. In most dining rooms, the chandelier should not be the only source of light in the room. Wall sconces, table lamps or buffet lamps can balance out the overhead lighting. Candlelight and even light from a fireplace in the room can create a romantic feeling.

How Can I Get the Right Lighting in the Kitchen and Bathroom?
Kitchens and Bathrooms both require a mix of task and ambient light. Lighted work areas such above an island or over a vanity sink are key. Add ambient light in addition to the task lighting. Use separate switches and dimmers for different looks and function. Ample lighting is a must in both rooms. Avoid shadows in the bathroom mirror with wall sconces or a large enough vanity light.

Is Transition Lighting Needed Between Rooms, Hallways and Staircases?
Hallways and staircases need ample yet pleasant lighting as they are the thoroughfares of the home. Transition lighting between rooms and halls, or entries and staircases should be as even as possible to avoid a harsh transition. Light fixtures visible from room to room or from the hall to the stairs should coordinate and compliment each other. Hallway lighting should be kept simple if the hall is narrow. Large, ornate lighting can make a small space feel smaller. Staircases should be well lit for style as well as safety.

What Are the General Rules for Lighting a Master Bedroom?
Bedrooms require the same layering of light as other living spaces. Many activities beside sleep take place in the master bedroom. Reading, movie or television viewing, dressing, and makeup application all possibly take place in the bedroom. Have both soft lighting to full bright light options available in the appropriate zones of the room. Matching lighting on both nightstands is not critical. Allow for personal tastes for both people to be included in the lighting and overall design. Each taste can be reflected in pieces and lighting that complement each other. Dimmers and ambient lighting create a relaxed, calm environment.

What Lighting Should be Included in a Home Office?
Unlike a work cubicle, a home office design does not need to be utilitarian or cold while being a functioning workspace. Proper task lighting is a must as well as ambient lighting. Avoid glare from a too tall table lamp on the desk. Glare can be harsh on the eyes when doing work on the computer. Task lighting should be placed to the side of the work area, not behind or in front. Overhead and task lighting create a balanced lighting plan in the home office.

What is a Ballast?
In lighting the ballast regulates the amount of current that goes to a lamp. Without a ballast a lamp could overheat and burn out very quickly. In a fluorescent light it starts the lamp by giving a voltage jump. If there is no ballast, there is no control over the current flow. If the lamp is plugged into a high power source, the current will increase to the point that the lamp breaks. Therefore the ballast gives the fixture enough voltage to turn on and keeps the current steady to be kept on. The connection between the starting voltage and the steady flow is called electrodes. Ballasts are the key to long lamp life and the optimum light output.

What does ADA Mean?

ADA is an acronym for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, a law requiring owners of publicly accessible areas to be responsible for accommodating disabled persons. For the lighting industry there are regulations on the projection of wall sconces and the height clearance on hanging lights.

The lighting regulations are found in Section 4.4 of the ADA: “objects projecting from walls with their leading edges between 27″ and 80″ above the finished floor shall protrude no more than 4″ into walks, halls, corridors, passageways or aisles.” These guidelines must be observed in public spaces but do not apply to private residences.

What are ADA Compliant Fixtures?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was enacted on July 26, 1990 for the purpose of banning discrimination against people who have disabilities. The intent of ADA is to accommodate people with disabilities and give them equal or similar access that is provided to the general public. Most ADA requirements apply to public buildings, public spaces, and commercial establishments that are accessible to the public at large.

In the early years of ADA compliance, lighting fixtures were limited in design to a few cold, industrial designs that had little style or warmth. More recently, there has been an increased demand for more pleasing designs for discerning customers that still fit the requirements of compliance. Today’s lighting market has many innovative and unique designs in lighting to fit customer demand and Section 4.4 of the ADA (listed in the section above).

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