Home Lighting Guide: Tips and Ideas for Lighting Your Home
Homeowners may be surprised by the effort that goes into designing lighting for the home. Lighting is crucial for doing activities in the home, especially during the night or early morning. The right kind of lighting can give an energy boost without feeling harsh or excessive. Poorly chosen or incorrectly positioned lighting can force people to strain to see or may even make it harder for them to sleep at night. By making wise decisions in the lighting for each room, homeowners can have all the light they need for a task without overwhelming the space or making it look uncomfortable. Read on to learn what kinds of lighting are available and how to use lighting to best effect in your home.
Table of Contents
- Types of Home Lighting: What Are Your Lighting Options?
- Rules of Indoor Lighting
- Ideas to Make Each Room Shine
- Rules of Outdoor Lighting
- Strategies for Outdoor Lighting
- Brighten Up Your Life With Home Lighting
Types of Home Lighting: What Are Your Lighting Options?
Homeowners have a variety of home lighting types that they can choose, depending on their needs. By creating layers of lighting in different color temperatures and selecting unique fixtures, people can have ideal lighting for functionality that also makes a room look better.
Layers of Lighting
Most rooms need more than one type of lighting to be functional. Layering the lighting makes it easier for homeowners to tailor the volume of the lighting for the activity. There are three essential types of lighting: ambient, task, and accent. Ambient lighting is the primary light source that people use while they are in the room. However, some ambient lighting options may not be particularly bright. Homeowners may need to select several options, such as chandeliers, canister lights, or floor lamps, to provide sufficient illumination for regular use of the room.
Ambient lighting is a necessity, but task and accent lighting are also important. Task lighting provides enough light for a specific task, even if that task is sitting at the dinner table. Task lights range from spotlights with a narrow range to floor lamps that point downward. Accent lighting showcases décor in the room or adds to the ambient lighting. As such, accent lighting is often positioned so that the light points upward and reflects off the ceiling. Accent lighting may also sit behind furniture or wall-hanging décor as a way of backlighting it. Wall sconces, table lamps, and lights on a string are popular accent lighting options.
Lighting Colors and Temperatures
Homeowners may wish to choose a selection of lighting colors and temperatures to vary the way that each room's lighting looks. Each light bulb has a color temperature. People may not be able to tell the difference between them at a glance unless they can compare them together, but color temperature can drastically change the mood of a room. Warm lighting has a soft white or yellow cast. By comparison, cool lighting has a bright white or blue cast. LED lights that come in different colors use different technology than color temperature.
Color temperature is measured in Kelvin, and most light bulbs range from 2,700 K to 6,500 K. The lowest numbers offer a very warm color temperature. Light bulbs at 2,700 K to 3,000 K will be a warm white, almost yellow. By comparison, bulbs with a color temperature of 5,000 K or more resemble bright daylight. People choosing light bulbs should plan to get a combination of lighting in different color temperatures. For example, the bright white cast of cool lighting may be excellent for a study lamp, but if a room has nothing but bright white bulbs, the space may feel harsh or sterile.
Types of Light Bulbs
There are essentially five different types of light bulbs that homeowners should consider for home lighting:
- Light-emitting diode (LED)
- Compact fluorescent (CFL)
The right type of bulb depends on a person's budget, the purpose for the lighting, and its location. Before people choose, they may want to consider the lumens they need for the space and the wattage used by each type of bulb. Lumens are a measure of how much light is produced, while wattage is a measure of how much power is consumed. LED bulbs typically use the least number of watts and last the longest, up to 10 years. Like CFL bulbs, they use a small percentage of the watts of an incandescent bulb, and they come in all color temperatures. People can buy decorative bulbs that come in a variety of colors and styles. Homeowners who want to hook up their lighting to a smart home system typically need to buy LED bulbs.
Incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent light bulbs use more wattage to provide the same amount of lumens. Incandescent bulbs are classic but old technology, which means they can only show a soft white color temperature. Like halogen bulbs, they use a relatively large number of watts and can only last for a year or two. Fluorescent light bulbs last longer, but they use more watts than either CFL or LED bulbs. Fluorescent lights can also flicker noticeably, which can be a problem for those prone to migraines.
Types of Lighting Fixtures
Homeowners can choose from hundreds of different varieties of lighting fixtures. The right choice depends on the room and the purpose of the light:
- Chandelier: Ideal for dining rooms or tall foyers
- Recessed/canister: Better for ambient lighting or bright lighting
- Flush/semi-flush mount: Best for ambient lighting in small rooms or rooms with lower ceilings
- Pendant: Great for decorative lighting, as well as kitchens and bathrooms
- Vanity: Good to provide illumination in the dressing room or bathroom
- Rope/Tape: Ideal for decorative lighting or a minor addition to the room's ambient lighting
- Ceiling fan: Better in large spaces, such as the living room
- Track: Optimal for rooms like the kitchen that need task lighting pointed in different directions
- Lamps: Best for task or accent lighting
- Wall sconces: Better for mood lighting or accent lighting, especially the options that point upward
People should keep in mind that the type of lighting fixture is dependent on the room. For example, some materials used in lighting fixtures may not be appropriate for use in places like the kitchen or bathrooms. Metal or wood that's not treated for moisture may rust or rot over time.
The Importance of Good Lighting
Good lighting is essential for people to maintain good health and sleep rhythm. People are accustomed to seeing bright daylight in the early morning. This bluish hue increases alertness and helps to regulate mood. As the day wears on, the color temperature of natural lighting gets progressively warmer. This change helps people to start to decrease their alertness and energy level as they prepare for rest. In the absence of proper lighting, people may suffer from conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or insomnia.
Rules of Indoor Lighting
Although homeowners can choose whatever lighting they prefer for their homes, there are a few design rules they may want to follow. With careful attention to natural lighting and lighting for safety, people will know the right amount of light to use in any space.
Using Natural Lighting
Natural lighting is one of the best ways to illuminate a space without having to add as much ambient lighting inside. Homeowners might want to emphasize the natural lighting they get from windows on the western or southern sides of the house. By opening these windows during the day or opting for sheer curtains or blinds, people can maximize the amount of light they get from the sun.
Natural lighting is energy efficient, good for people's mood, and can cut down on the amount of lighting that people have to use. Homeowners who find that they struggle to get moving in the morning may want to install shades that open automatically or plan to open the blinds at first light. If a room lacks sufficient windows, people can consider installing doors with built-in windows or adding skylights to increase the amount of natural light.
Using Lighting for Safety
Lighting is an important aspect of safety in the home, particularly in dark rooms and at night. Homeowners should plan to install light switches in convenient places and add extra task or accent lighting on staircase landings and along dark hallways. Think about the path the home's inhabitants might take when turning off the home's lights for the night—will they ever have to cross a room in the dark due to a light switch on the far side of a room? If fumbling for a switch is a concern, locator switches, which glow slightly when in the off position, may be useful. A handful of lighting options that run on batteries can provide a stopgap measure in case of power outages.
Lighting for safety can still look stylish, depending on the approach that homeowners choose. For example, people looking to light a dark staircase at night may opt to install rope lighting next to the handrail. Homeowners who want to provide more light in the kitchen could think about putting in downlights on the toe kick of the lower cabinets so that they don't stumble.
How Many Lights to Use in a Space
As a general rule, homeowners can determine the number of lights they should have in any given space based on the number of lumens needed to illuminate it. The average 100-watt bulb provides about 1,600 lumens. For the most part, the kitchen needs more lighting than any other room of the home. A brightly lit kitchen with appropriate ambient and task lighting will have 5,000 to 10,000 lumens. Bathrooms need a similar amount of illumination. However, since they tend to be smaller, people can usually get away with several bulbs providing a smaller amount of lumens per bulb. By comparison, the bedrooms and other living areas of the home may only need 2,000 to 4,000 lumens, with additional task lighting as needed.
Positioning the lighting is crucial for stylistic effect and practical use of the space. For example, a pendant light in the kitchen should not be any lower than about 2.5 to 3 feet above the countertop. Otherwise, it may interfere with the use of the counter. Similarly, a chandelier in the dining room should extend to about 5.5 feet above the floor. Homeowners may want to select table lamps based on the height of the table. Lamps that are too tall may shine in people's eyes when they sit next to them.
Ideas to Make Each Room Shine
Homeowners can come up with a virtually unlimited number of lighting designs for each room. They only need to decide which approach they would prefer. With these tips, people can start to brainstorm ways to illuminate the space stylishly.
The foyer needs proper illumination for safety but can also strike a bold impression for people upon entry. As a general rule, people should choose lighting that matches the height of the ceiling. For example, standard-height ceilings may need a flush-mount ambient light. Vaulted ceilings can take advantage of the extra space with the installation of a large chandelier or pendant light. These options are best in larger foyers or above a grand staircase. Otherwise, accent lighting around handrails or on walls can add to the effect.
The kitchen should have some kind of lighting option for every 10 square feet. Flush-mount ceiling lights are ideal, but they may not be as decorative as a chandelier or pendant lamp above a kitchen island. Task lighting does not need to take up a lot of space. Homeowners can install spotlights or rope lights under the upper cabinets so they can easily see what they are doing on the countertops. The last step includes additional accent lighting around the bottom of the island or on the walls.
Vanity lighting is the standard for most bathrooms, although homeowners are not required to take this approach. For example, people might want to consider adding a pendant light, as long as it's rated for moisture. Task lighting is important for the bathroom, but people may prefer to install bulbs on the sides of the mirror instead of the top. Lighting that comes from the walls is less likely to cast shadows on a person's face, which is vital for shaving or applying make-up. A separate shower may benefit from a recessed light installed on the ceiling, particularly if it's surrounded by tile walls.
Bedroom lighting should be optimally customized for waking up in the morning and settling for bed at night. Homeowners can start by installing ambient lighting with a cool or bright color temperature for the morning. A dimmer switch or a tool that allows people to change the color temperature can make it simple to adjust ambient lighting to be more comfortable in the afternoon and evening. Small table lamps in a warm color temperature can help people relax and prepare for sleep. At night, backlighting or safety lighting with a red hue makes it easier to get up without disrupting sleep too much.
The purpose of a home office is productivity, so the lighting should be positioned to reflect that. Homeowners can begin by adding ambient light with bright white bulbs in multiple places, like the ceiling and desk. Residents who intend to work on precision tasks during the day may need additional spotlighting from track lights installed on the ceiling or desk lamps. People might prefer to install accent lighting behind their computer screens. This can provide better illumination without making the light seem harsh or cast a glare on the screen.
Main Living Space Lighting
The main living area needs lighting based on the feel that homeowners want to create. For example, a living room design to encourage natural light may have walls in a light shade, as well as a pale-colored carpet or rug. To complement this design, people could choose a combination of recessed lights on the ceiling and floor lamps that point upward. By comparison, a cozy, relaxing living room may rely almost exclusively on backlit and recessed lighting options. This design can also highlight interesting interior architecture.
Dining Room Lighting
Creating the perfect effect for a meal in the dining room is not particularly difficult for homeowners to achieve. Typically, people like to install a chandelier in the dining room. Chandeliers have multiple light bulbs to spread out the lumens across the space. A dimmer switch can make it easy to brighten the lighting for breakfast or dampen it to mood lighting for a late meal. Wall sconces and other types of uplights create a sense of comfort that allows people to see each other's faces without casting excessive shadows. Backlighting for décor on the walls highlights the room's most beautiful elements.
Rules of Outdoor Lighting
Homeowners may not have the same kind of flexibility for lighting the outdoor spaces as they do inside the home. However, following certain design recommendations for outdoor lighting can make it easier for people to create a well-illuminated space that's safe and enjoyable. As a general rule, people should limit the amount of outdoor lighting that they use in any one area. Installing too many lighting options, or selecting lights that are too bright, creates a contrast where the rest of the property may feel much darker by comparison.
People can avoid common outdoor lighting problems by illuminating several spaces on the property, including:
- Bushes and trees
Identifying a focal point for different areas of the yard will draw the eye and outline lighting needs for that specific space.
Light pollution can be a significant problem, especially in areas with a higher level of population density. Light pollution makes it difficult for people to be able to see the night sky. Uncontrolled use of outdoor lighting can to also pose risks for people who find themselves temporarily blinded due to the glare and cause problems for local wildlife. As such, many regions implement laws controlling the use of outdoor lights. Although legal restrictions depend on the area, most have a common feature: outdoor lighting must be fully shielded so that the lights point down instead of up or out.
Otherwise, experts recommend that homeowners use common sense to determine the best lighting to use outside. Typically, people should plan to minimize the amount of lighting and aim for a color temperature no higher than 3,000 K. Avoiding bright white or blue lighting options helps to minimize the alertness-raising or stress-increasing effects of those types of bulbs. Installing more light bulbs with fewer lumens can provide adequate lighting for safety without creating any single area that feels glaringly bright.
Strategies for Outdoor Lighting
Homeowners have lots of options for creative outdoor lighting that looks great and works well. Some designs require installing low-voltage electrical lighting, while others can rely on solar or battery-powered lights. People may want to choose a combination of these, to minimize the complication and allow them to tailor the design as they see fit.
A string of lights around the handrail on a deck can provide a small amount of ambient lighting. Wall lights or lanterns work well for entertaining or other outdoor activities. When combined with under-mount lights on the stairs, the effect is striking. For walkways and driveways, low-sitting lanterns along the side are easy to install and provide a path that people can follow. Spotlights with a low range show off interesting trees and bushes. Rope lights may also highlight an interesting path without becoming a trip hazard.
Brighten Up Your Life With Home Lighting
Designing great lighting for the home can be complicated, but the effort has a lot of payoffs. Choosing the right bulbs based on the color temperature for the time of day can make people feel better. Selecting the appropriate amount of light makes tasks easier without washing out the room. Fixtures can direct the lighting in the right way and serve a creative function for the room's appearance. By incorporating all of these, decorators can create a space that appears comfortable and is easy to use.