Light, whether natural or artificial, plays a huge role in enhancing the quality of life of a home’s occupants. The right level of light is a must for any domestic activity. A well-thought-out lighting plan will guarantee optimum conditions in every room of the house.
The three basic types of lighting in the home
The experts at the American Lighting Association (ALA) tell us that, with some exceptions, every room in your home should be equipped with three basic kinds of lighting.
First, general lighting (also referred to as ambient lighting), needed to light the room overall to an acceptable degree of brightness. Ceiling fixtures, chandeliers, wall-mounted fixtures, recessed or track lighting will do the job. These sources are sufficient when they radiate a generous amount of light, but are not blinding.
A room must also provide task lighting, suitable for the specific activities taking place: reading, preparing meals, laundry, games, etc. It is usually provided by floor lamps, table lamps, pendant lighting, recessed or track lighting, or lamps that are part of built-in furniture. It must be bright enough so as not to cause eye strain, but must not cause glare or areas of shadow either.
Lastly, all the functional lighting just described can be complemented by accent lighting, designed to cast the spotlight on a focal point of your interior décor: a prized piece of furniture, a painting, an ornament or a mantelpiece, for example. Accent lighting is usually provided by strategically placed sources: wall-mounted, recessed or track fixtures.
How would you like your light? Warm or cool?
The source of lighting, of course, is a bulb – or lamp, in industry parlance. Your choice of lamp should not be made only according to compatibility with a given type of fixture. Whether you use xenon or fluorescent, halogen, light-emitting diode (LED) or other kind, lamp selection also depends on the type of lighting and the effect you are looking for.
For general lighting, go with so-called warm lighting: warm or soft white. For task lighting, a whiter or bluish tone, similar to daylight, is most suitable for the majority of tasks or activities.
For even more accuracy, specialists refer to the Kelvin (K) scale, which is used to measure the colour temperature of light bulbs. A high K number denotes bluish-toned light that is described as “cool.” Conversely, a low number refers to soft white or even yellowish light, called “warm.” The Kelvin temperature is sometimes listed on bulb packaging, but you are more likely to see it on light fixtures on retailer shelves.
The right dose
Having said all that, a lamp will be inadequate if it does not provide the right brightness for the basic lighting type it is being used for. The output of a light source is measured in lumens. One lumen corresponds to the amount of light falling on an area of one square foot. Increasingly, manufacturers list the lumens performance of bulbs on packaging.
Some reference points: General lighting is considered sufficient if it provides 100 lumens/m² in a living room, double that in a stairwell, and triple in a kitchen or bathroom. For task lighting in these spaces, light output should be 300 lumens/m2, except in kitchen and bathrooms, where a value of 500 lumens/m2 is the norm.
It’s important to lay to rest the popular misconception that the brightness of a light bulb has to do with its rating in watts. A watt is a measure of energy. Regardless of its type, a 100-watt bulb consumes 100 watts of electricity. The number of lumens per watt, however, varies according to lamp type. For instance, the output of an ordinary 100-watt incandescent bulb is close to 1,700 lumens, but a 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb puts out nearly 1,750 lumens. That’s comparable brightness at a quarter of the energy cost!
Lastly, dimmers are the ultimate tool for controlling lighting in your home—except if you have traditional fluorescent tubes or use the new compact fluorescent bulbs. In almost every case, dimmers are incompatible with fluorescents.
Sources: American Lighting Association; Office of Energy Efficiency