That single, small lighting fixture protruding from the middle of your bathroom ceiling doesn't cut it by today's lighting standards. What to do? Alternative sources of general lighting include recessed ceiling fixtures and indirect lighting that bounces off the ceiling or the walls. Adequate task lights have become a must, too.
How the bathroom lighting is selected and placed depends on the size and layout of your bathroom. It also depends on the color scheme — bright colors reflect and enhance lighting effects, while dark hues absorb and subdue them. Most experts recommend using incandescent bulbs in the bathroom because the light they produce has natural, complexion-flattering properties. But incandescent bulbs also produce a good deal of heat that's often unwanted. Compact fluorescent fixtures are a good alternative; they demand far less electricity per lumen (a measurement of light intensity), and the tubes render a warm, pleasing spectrum of colors.
Consider having a dimmer switch installed for your bathroom's overall lighting (though fluorescent lighting doesn't typically function on a dimmer switch). This will let you adjust the light to suit your needs and mood. Dimmers also make nighttime visits to the bathroom more bearable, since the light can be turned down below the blinding level.
When planning a lighting design for your bathroom, follow these guidelines to ensure adequate general lighting:
Lighting a Mirror
Small or large, a bathroom typically functions as a grooming center. For this reason, the area in front of the mirror should be evenly illuminated and free of shadows. Light sources should be placed so that light emanates from above, below and both sides of the mirror. If you have light coming only from above, it hits your eyebrows and causes shadows beneath your eyes — not an encouraging sight first thing in the morning.
The first consideration should be a fixture that casts light just over the front edge of the sink and countertop. If you choose a light-colored countertop, more light will reflect up onto your face. Then add more lights centered on each side of the mirror.
If fluorescent fixtures are selected to illuminate a mirror, tubes designed for vanity illumination or tubes that produce daylight-spectrum light is ideal. The light from standard fluorescent tubes can be cold and harsh — acceptable for office or shop lighting but not for makeup application. Use one 24-inch, 20-watt tube on each side of the mirror. Two 24-inch, 20-watt tubes mounted above the mirror or a 32-watt circle light on the ceiling will offer adequate lighting.
If fixtures are selected that require incandescent light bulbs, one option is to mount a wall fixture or pendant lamp on each side of the mirror. These side lights should each contain two 60- or 75-watt bulbs. If the ceiling fixture is round, it should be at least 12 inches in diameter and contain a bulb or bulbs rated at a total of 100 to 120 watts.
Mirrors that are 36 inches or more in width may require a different approach. If standard guidelines are followed, the center of the mirror may look a bit dark. To avoid this, more powerful overhead light fixtures should be selected, and full coverage over the width of the mirror should be ensured. An effective option is a double row of recessed ceiling fixtures over the vanity.
Small powder rooms typically require a light above the mirror, a fixture on each side of the mirror, and a ceiling light directed toward the front edge of the vanity countertop.
Bath and Shower Lights
In an enclosed shower or tub area, most codes call for enclosed, vapor-proof lights. Use caution when positioning them, however; you don't want to look right into the light when you're lying in the tub. An infrared heat lamp mounted just outside the tub or shower will help you to avoid chilly exits. All switches should be located at least six feet from the tub and shower.
In toilet compartments, a centered ceiling fixture using a 60- to 75-watt incandescent bulb or a 30- to 40-watt fluorescent tube should be installed.