Lighting Basics for the Home

Find out how ambient, task and accent features work to light up your home.
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Photo by: Jupiterimages

Jupiterimages

Lighting is a key visual element in any home. Not only does it allow you to see where you're walking it can also set a mood or highlight prized possessions. When deciding what lighting to use in your new home, there are a number of things to consider:

  • How each room will be used
  • What fixtures are appropriate
  • Energy efficiency
  • Cost

Lighting

There are three types of lighting: ambient, task and accent lighting. Ambient, or general, light illuminates the entire room. This basic form of lighting replaces sunlight and is fundamental to a lighting plan.

Task lighting provides illumination for specific tasks, such as cooking or reading. Task lighting should be free of distracting glare and shadows and should be bright enough to prevent eyestrain. Accent lighting highlights specific features of a room, such as cabinets, ceiling beams or artwork. It can create visual interest in a room by highlighting architectural features, such as a mantel or the texture of a wall. All three types of light can work together to fulfill the lighting needs of a room.
Let's take the dining room, for example. The most obvious purpose of the dining room is to eat, right? But the table also may serve as a desk space for your children to do their homework. And if you entertain, you'll want to set the lighting mood differently. A traditional chandelier usually works best for general light with recessed downlights providing more targeted light for specific tasks, such as homework. Wall sconces or wall washers can provide a subtler feel. Another option is to set any or all of the fixtures in a room on a dimmer switch so that you can easily control the amount of light in the room.

Types of Fixtures

Once you've considered what types of activities will be taking place in a room and what type of lighting is needed, you can decide what fixture will best fit your needs. Walking into any home improvement store lately, you've surely seen the plethora of lighting fixtures available. Before making any decisions about your fixtures, make sure you ask your builder if there are any restrictions on the types of fixtures that can be used in any specific room. Sometimes things such as ductwork, insulation or ceiling height can affect whether or not a fixture can be installed properly in a room.

The following guide will give you a general idea of which fixture types can be used for ambient, task and accent lighting:

  • Ambient such as recessed downlights, cove lighting, soffit lighting, valance lighting, wall washers, sconces, surface-mounted lights, pendant lights, track lights, chandeliers, under-cabinet lights and portable fixtures.
  • Task such as valance lighting, pendant lights, under-cabinet lights and portable fixtures.
  • Accent such as all washers, sconces, track lights and under-cabinet lights.

Certain fixtures are designed for a specific type of bulb, such as a two- or four-pin fluorescent bulb. Others can accommodate the more common screw-in type. When choosing fixtures, be sure to note what type of bulb it requires, so that you won't be surprised to find the bulb you bought isn't the right one.

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