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Lighting design can be confusing. To make this process easier and more enjoyable, we have created a lighting tips section that defines common lighting terms, answers basic design questions, and gives suggestions for how to properly light your home. Please click on the following categories to read more.
Q: Types of Lighting:
Ambient/General Lighting: Ambient lighting is a type of light that illuminates an entire room and creates a warm, inviting atmosphere. In a home environment, ambient lighting should be moderate. Too much light can cause a dreary effect, whereas too little light can limit your ability to engage in simple activities, such as cleaning. General lighting also provides background lighting so as to reduce excessive contrast from task lighting.
Task Lighting: Task lighting is ideal for areas that require lighting for functional activities such as cooking or reading. The purpose of task lighting is not to light an entire area but to provide localized light on specific areas.
Accent Lighting: The main purpose of accent lighting is to illuminate and accentuate certain features of your home. Often such features include artwork, plants, accessories, alcoves, beams, and textured surfaces.
Decorative Lighting: Fixtures that fall under this category are made to enhance your home décor. This includes every type of light fixture from chandeliers to table lamps. Whether a fixture is used for ambient, task, or accent lighting, it can be classified as a decorative piece.
Q: Lighting Categories:
Torchiere: a tall floor lamp with a bowl-shaped top that diffuses the light or directs it upward. Torchieres are ideal for living rooms and spaces lacking proper general ambient lighting.
Floor Lamp: a tall shaded lamp with a base that stands on the floor.
Table Lamp: a shaded lamp with a shorter base that is meant to sit on a stand or table.
Minipendant: a small pendant hanging from a ceiling, usually on rod, chain, or wire. Minipendants are ideal for kitchen islands, over sinks and over vanities.
Bowl Light: an inverted pendant hanging from a ceiling that diffuses light through glass. A bowl light usually hangs by chain or rod and is ideal for a kitchen nook, front entry, or landing.
Recessed/Pot Lighting: has housing that is either in or flush to the ceiling and has a selection of trim and bulb types suited for a variety of applications, including general ambient light, task lighting, and accent lighting.
Tiffany: lighting products made from stained glass. Available in chandeliers, table lamps, floor lamps, billiard lights, pendant styles, wall sconces and more.
Track Lighting: a light mounted on a track that can be moved and/or repositioned. Track is available in a variety of types, including low voltage and line voltage, and is ideal for accent lighting and task lighting.
Cabinet Lighting: lighting designed to illuminate areas that typically receive little light. It is ideal for counter tops, cabinets, coves, up-lighting, and wall washing.
Wall Sconce: a fixture with a single bracket that mounts to a wall, typically containing one or two lights. Wall sconces are ideal for ambient lighting or accent lighting and are usually placed between 5 and 6 feet from the floor.
Flushmount: a ceiling fixture that is anchored directly against the ceiling. Flushmounts are ideal for hallways, bedrooms, pantries, and any space with a low ceiling.
Semi-Flushmount: a ceiling mounted fixture that protrudes down from the ceiling. Semi-flushmounts vary in length and are ideal for general lighting in a bedroom, kitchen, entryway, or family room.
Vanity or Bath Light: a fixture that fits either horizontally across or vertically beside a bathroom mirror. Vanity lights are ideal for both general and task lighting in any bathroom.
Chandelier: A branched, often decorative lighting fixture that holds a number of bulbs or candles and is suspended from the ceiling. Chandeliers are ideal for foyers, dining rooms, great rooms and areas with high ceilings.
Ceiling Fan: A device, suspended from the ceiling of a room, which has hub-mounted paddles that rotate to move air. Ceiling fans often have an integrated light kit and are ideal for areas that require additional air flow.
Q: Bulb Categories:
Halogen Bulb: Essentially, a halogen bulb is an ordinary incandescent bulb with a few important modifications. The fill gas includes traces of halogen gas, which returns evaporated tungsten to the filament through the halogen cycle process. The end result is high intensity light output that is 10-20 percent more efficient than a regular incandescent bulb. The halogen cycle also works to increase the lifespan and brilliance of a halogen bulb as compared to a regular incandescent bulb. Halogen bulbs are available in line voltage or low voltage and have a variety of base types.
Halogen bulbs are typically used for ambient (general) lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting.
Incandescent Bulb: A regular incandescent bulb produces light by heating up a filament of wire (usually tungsten) inside a bulb with an electric current, causing incandescence. The glass bulb containing the filament is filled with a non-reactive gas, such as argon, to prevent the wire from burning. These bulbs typically have a medium base or candelabra base. They are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wattages. In terms of efficiency, they are rated among the lowest.
Compact Fluorescent Bulb: A fluorescent bulb is a type of bulb that consists of a glass tube filled with a mixture of argon and mercury vapor. A current of electricity causes the vapor to produce ultraviolet radiation that, in turn, excites a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube, causing it to fluoresce or, reradiate the energy as visible light. Fluorescent lamps are cooler and more efficient than incandescent lamps, but are more difficult to dispose due to their high mercury content.
Compact fluorescent bulbs differ from fluorescent bulbs in that they are compact and often have a medium base that allows them to screw into most light fixtures. Another point of differentiation is that compact fluorescent bulbs have a built-in ballast, whereas many other (but not all) fluorescent bulbs have a ballast separate from the bulb.
Design Q and A
Q: What size of ceiling fan should I choose?
A: For an answer to this question, please see the websites of Kendal and Monte Carlo, two of our largest ceiling fan suppliers:
Q: How high should my dining light be over my table?
Typically, there should be 30 to 36 inches of separation from the bottom of your fixture to your tabletop. This will allow you to showcase the light fixture while also preventing the fixture from getting in the way of functional activities. However, it is important to remember the height of your fixture over your table depends on your own personal preference.
Q: How do I determine the proper size fixture over my dining table?
A: Although the size of a dining light is a matter of personal preference, there is a general rule that states that the diameter of the light fixture should be approximately half the width of the table. Therefore, if a table is 4 feet wide, the diameter of the fixture should be approximately 2 feet.
If this does not seem to work, consider a second rule. This rule states that the diameter of your fixture should be equal to the summation of the room’s dimensions. For example, in a 10’ by 15’ room, the proper diameter of a fixture over the table may be approximately 25 inches. However, always look at these rules with a grain of salt, as their main function is to serve as a guideline.
Q: How do I determine the proper size of my outdoor lights?
A: Selecting the appropriate size of outdoor lights depends on the size of the house’s front entrance. Customarily, an outdoor light should be about 1/5 to 1/6 of the entrance height.
Q: What is the proper height to install my wall sconce?
A: A wall sconce should be installed between 5 and 6 feet above the bottom of the wall. If you have more than one wall sconce on the same wall, the space between each sconce should be approximately 6 to 8 feet. Again, however, there are a number of variables that may change the location and height at which you prefer to install your wall sconces.
Q: How much clearance do I need from the bottom of my fixture to the floor?
A: In areas where you walk underneath your fixture, it is essential to ensure that you always have about 7 feet of clearance from the bottom of the fixture to the floor. Not only does this prevent people from hitting their heads on the fixture, but it also makes the fixture look proportionate to the space.
Q: How do I determine the proper size fixture for a foyer or empty space?
A: Again, fixture size is subjective, but can also follow a general rule. To ensure the width of your fixture is appropriate, apply the second rule of the above question: add together the length and width dimensions of the foyer or empty space, and the added dimension is the minimum width your fixture should be.
For example, if the space is 12’ by 14’ (12 + 14 = 26) your fixture should not be smaller than 26” wide.
The fixture height depends largely on the ceiling height. The bottom of a lighting fixture should not drop below 7 feet above the floor. Thus, if your ceiling is low, you may need a fixture that hugs close to the ceiling, such as a flushmount or semi-flushmount. If your ceiling is high, a 2-tier or 3-tier fixture may be appropriate for the space.
Q: How do I determine how much light I will need to properly illuminate a space?
A: The answer to this question depends on the type of activities for which the space will be used. If it is a space for reading or cooking, you will want more light than if the space is strictly for entertaining. However, this being said, there is a general formula that can be used to determine the proper amount light (expressed in wattage) for a room. This formula is as follows:
Square footage x 1.5 = approximate wattage required
For example, if you are looking to illuminate a 10’ x 10’ space, determine the square footage (10 x 10 = 100) and multiply that number by 1.5. In this case, 100 x 1.5 = 150. Thus, you will need approximately 150 watts to properly illuminate that space.
Design Tips by Room
Q: What kind of lighting is best for a Hallway?
A: To best light a hallway, there should be a fixture every 8-10 feet. Depending on how high the ceiling is, a flushmount or semi-flush can be used.
If you have a long or wide hallway, you may want to add wall sconces for added light and design. A general rule is that sconces should be placed 6-8 feet apart and about 5 feet above the floor.
Q: What kind of lighting is best for a Dining Room?
A: Proper lighting for a dining room can be achieved by multiple lighting options. A main light, such as a chandelier or a bowl, over the dining table can provide excellent ambient lighting when the wattage is at its maximum but, with a dimmer switch, can also emit mild diffused light when serving dinner guests or hosting a cocktail party.
If you have designed your dining room with specific art pieces that you would like to properly highlight, accent lighting can provide adequate light that is not overpowering, yet really makes your art pieces noticed. Fixtures such as wall sconces, recessed lighting, tracks, or straightforward picture lights, will add glow and presence to the art in your room.
Q: What kind of lighting is best for a Kitchen?
A: Depending on how many fixture outlets your kitchen has, there is a variety of different lighting options. If your kitchen has one outlet centered in the room, a fixture that provides ambient (general) lighting will illuminate the space the best. Ambient lighting emits a comfortable level of brightness throughout the room. Fixtures like a 4-tube fluorescent light or a semi-flushmount can provide great ambient lighting.
If your kitchen has a few outlets positioned near a counter space, kitchen sink, work area, or over an island, task lighting will allow you to properly perform specific tasks, such as cooking, reading, or homework. If you are building a new home or renovating, consider hardwiring accent lighting and/or task lighting, such as undercabinet lighting or recessed lighting, to make the lighting look more seamless and integrated.
Fixtures such as recessed lighting, track lighting, and pendants can also provide task lighting for a kitchen, while creating a comfortable atmosphere
Q: What kind of lighting is best for a Bathroom?
A: Bathroom lighting is very important to many people, as this is the room where they apply make-up, shave, or perform other tasks that require supreme lighting. To produce light that is both flattering and prevents shadows, consider installing a vanity light not only above the mirror but also a wall sconce on each side. The light above the mirror should not be smaller than 24 inches wide, and the two wall sconces should be about 60 inches above the floor and no less than 28 inches apart.
If installing wall sconces on either side of the mirror is not an option, choose a vanity light with more wattage. In order to maximize wattage, choose a larger vanity light rated for higher wattage. To retain an aesthetic, proportionate look, do not choose a vanity light larger than the bathroom mirror and vanity sink.
Considering that there are various sizes of bathrooms and vanities, you should take these suggestions as guidelines for designing a well lit, proportionate bathroom. It is important to be innovative and to choose lighting that suits your specific needs. For example, if your bathroom is extremely large, the three fixtures suggested earlier may not be sufficient. To give the room better lighting, you may want to add a flushmount in the center of the bathroom.
On the other hand, if the bathroom is strictly a powder room, you may not require the same amount of wattage as a bathroom that is used for more functional activities. If you wish to create a calmer atmosphere in your bathroom, consider going with less wattage or a dimmer switch.
Q: What kind of lighting is best for a Living Room?
A: In many older houses there is no ceiling fixture in the living room. Portable lamps are very popular to ensure the room has ample light. Lamps can range from table lamps, to reading lamps, to floor lamps, to torchieres. A torchiere will shine its light upward, supplying the room with proper ambient lighting, while also creating a comfortable atmosphere. In addition, you can add table lamps that not only provide extra light, but can also act as a decorative piece. The number of lamps you need for a room chiefly depends on personal preference.
If your living room does have a ceiling fixture, table lamps and floor lamps can still enhance the room with accent lighting or simply to add a touch of décor.
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