You may find that the short days of winter, when it seems like you go to and come from work in the dark, are the perfect time to consider warming up your house with new lighting. If you are thinking about making a lighting change, consider your current fixtures and determine your game plan. Do you need to increase the amount of light? Warm up or tone down the light, or just update to more attractive light fixtures and shades? An overall lighting goal is a good idea even if you are only preparing to change or add lights in one room.
Think about your comprehensive lighting plan, broken down room by room, and takethe following notes:
• Ceiling height
• Square footage
• Number of current lights (or waiting electrical boxes)
• Natural or other light sources
• Purpose of lights (ambient or task)
Once you have taken your measurements and observations, you will be ready to consider fixture light output and scale and then choose a design you love (see below.)
Many people use one or more ceiling-mount light fixtures to provide illumination for their living rooms. Wall sconces placed around the room can also provide general light for the space. Some use a combination of ceiling and wall fixtures. For example, if you have a fireplace in your living room, you may choose to light the room from overhead while providing supplemental light by highlighting the fireplace with wall sconces.
Single-socket surface mount or multiple-socket pan fixtures are good choices for living areas depending on the amount of light needed. Single-socket ceiling-mount fixtures often provide up to a maximum 100 or 150 watts of incandescent light output. Fixtures with multiple sockets usually take a minimum of 60 watts of incandescent light per light bulb. More sockets often mean more light.
In living areas where people will be moving underneath the light(s), a good rule of thumb is to keep a minimum of 7’ of clearance from the floor for rooms with 8’ ceilings and 7.5’ of clearance from the floor for ceilings that are 9’ or higher.
Chandeliers and drop-pan light fixtures provide an essential element of style in a dining area but they also provide ample light for the room. If you choose to hang or drop your light fixture from the ceiling, a good overall length from the ceiling to the very bottom of the fixture and glass is in a range that is approximately 36” to 46” off the top of the table, or 66” to 76” off the floor.
Bathrooms may be the most important rooms in the house for task lighting. If you are selecting wall-mounted lighting for your bathroom, focus on your mirror(s). Lighting thoughtfully placed above or beside a mirror can provide more than adequate light so that many bathrooms do not require both ceiling and wall mount light fixtures. Some bathrooms have fanlights, which can provide
supplemental light to that over a mirror.
Most wall-mounted bathroom light fixtures have open shades, and sockets are usually rated between 75 and 100 incandescent watts. Two single-socket wall sconces beside mirrors or one double or triple-socket light fixture above mirrors will provide good light for shaving and make-up.
When placing lights beside your mirror, place them somewhere in a range that is between 65” and 70” off the floor and approximately 30” apart. When placing a light fixture over a medicine cabinet, make sure there is clearance for the door to swing.
Many people use a combination of task and ambient lighting in the kitchen. The goal is good quality light with enough illumination to see and be safe in your work or eating spaces. Depending on your ceiling height, pendant lights can bring light down into the room and closer to your table or countertop. Pendant lights usually allow for higher output light bulbs, and opal glass shades that act as lenses provide even light — without shadows — in all directions.
Hang pendant lights so that the bottom of the light (including glass) falls somewhere between 36“ and 46” off the top of the workspace, or 72” and 82” off the floor.
Photos courtesy of Schoolhouse Electric
Tricks of the Trade
When you are trying to determine the overall length you would like your new fixture to be, hang a piece of string and a balloon or paper plate (or something to give you a sense of scale) from your ceiling, and try out lengths within the recommended range. This will allow you to stand back and look at the total drop as well as practice moving underneath it, and you will find it much easier to make your decision on length than by simply holding a measuring tape to the ceiling.
Dimmer switches can be used to control the amount of light a fixture provides and work well in rooms that serve multiple purposes. For example, a dining room table may be used for entertaining and also for reading the paper, paying bills, etc. While bright light is not needed to serve and eat meals, the option of adjusting the brightness of the light to see when you read or write allows rooms to serve multiple uses. Dimmers can also help save energy; using less light uses less power. At this present time dimmers do not work with Energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
There are a number of vintage lighting specialty stores based in Portland, OR, offering a variety of styles and designs.
Schoolhouse Electric Co., 503-230-7113
Hippo Hardware, 503-231-1444
Old Portland Hardware & Architectural, 503-234-7380