Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
Lighting Primer: Don’t Be in the Dark
Good lighting can make a room look more attractive, larger, more romantic — even safer. Help home owners make smart decisions that turn buyers on.
August 26, 2014
Don’t let home owners struggle with what type of lamps to buy or how many lights to use inside and outside their home. Get up to speed on illumination options — bulbs, fixtures, terminology, and more — so no one’s left in the dark.
Design experts have provided REALTOR® Magazine with answers to common lighting questions, which will help you better serve your clients:
Q. How much light does a room need?
A. It depends on a room’s size, color palette, and natural light and the function it serves, says Joseph A. Rey-Barreau, consulting director of education for the American Institute of Architects and associate professor at the University of Kentucky. He says most rooms should have three different layers: ambient or general lighting that gives a room its overall light, task lighting that sheds light on an area so users can perform a function such as reading at a computer, and accent lighting that focuses on a specific architectural detail, like a coffered ceiling.
Q. How do home owners achieve specific effects in each room?
A. They can use a mix of fixtures and lamps, depending on the room’s size and furnishings, as well as the desired brightness and color quality of the lighting, say Rey-Barreau.
Home owner Suzanne Alfieri wanted different lighting than the ceiling high hats and two pendants she had before she and her husband redid their dated 1990s kitchen. John Starck, president and CEO of Showcase Kitchens in Manhasset, N.Y., added new cans with more energy-efficient bulbs that worked better with the room’s different ceiling heights and skylight. He also installed sconces with shades on either side of a 60-inch range to add a soft glow.
Q: What about the type of lamps or bulbs?
A: Due to the need to cut energy use, the federal government has required that certain bulbs be phased out over time, and states have instituted regulations, too. This has led to the increased use of LEDs, which are much more efficient and give off less heat than traditional incandescents. One area where they have helped greatly is in the ceiling, eliminating the “Swiss-cheese effect” caused by many cans. Though they used to cost much more than incandescents, prices for LEDs have come down – and they don’t have to be replaced as often, which helps in hard-to-reach places such as high ceilings and closets, says Ryan Ramaker, product marketing manager at Acuity Brands. Colors have also been improved to match warmer incandescents, and they work in almost all applications, both outdoors and indoors, says Michael Murphy, interior design and trends producer of Lamps Plus, a lighting retailer.
Another good option is compact fluorescent lamps, which are slightly less efficient than LEDs, yet more efficient than standard incandescents. Incandescents are still useful as halogen incandescents, particularly for table lamps and recessed lamps. Other fluorescent lights are seldom used any more, says Rey-Barreau.
Q: What should home owners look for on packaging to buy the best light?
A: Thanks to the Federal Trade Commission’s Energy Labeling Rule, lightbulb packages must be labeled with “Lighting Facts” to help make choices, similar to how food packages are labeled with “Nutrition Facts.”
Here are three key definitions:
Lumens: Measures the amount of light produced (rather than the old method of watts, which indicated how much energy was used). A 100-watt incandescent bulb produces about 1750 lumens.
Kelvins: The color of the bulb’s light. A warm, white LED usually is rated below 3000 Kelvin, while a cooler blue is typically above 3500, says Rey-Barreau.
Color Rendering Index (CRI): Measures the accuracy of color from a lamp on a scale of 0 to 100. Higher numbers provide better color rendering. Many choices today are dimmable, which helps vary effects and avoid having a shopping mall ambience in a home, says Kelly Daiberl, design coordinator and real estate salesperson at Kinzie Real Estate Group’s custom homes division in Vernon Hills, Ill.
Q: What about cost?
A: Rey-Barreau estimates that yearly costs are based on three hours of use daily for a year. A 13-watt CFL might cost $1.57 a year while an 18-watt CFL might run $2.17 a year for the same daily amount of light. LED bulbs cost about $15 apiece now, but might have been double two years ago. LED tape that’s one-quarter-inch is only $7 to $10 a foot and works well underneath cabinets since it’s barely visible. A 60-watt incandescent might last 1,000 hours, a typical CFL might last 10,000 hours, and a LED 50,000 hours.
Q: When should lighting choices be made in the decorating or remodeling process?
A: Early on, and preferably before rooms are painted, patched, or wallpapered in case wiring or outlets have to be installed or holes cut for cans, chandeliers, swing-arm wall lamps, or sconces. A good example would be cove lighting, a ceiling addition that requires concealing low-voltage strips for a nice glow, says Daiberl. Choices should also be made in conjunction with furnishing plans since it’s wise to have some type of lighting close to a sofa, chair, or bed. Too often cans are installed in a ceiling willy-nilly rather than with a purpose in the room design. Usually, 5-inch-diameter cans should be spaced 6 to 8 feet apart in a 9-foot high ceiling. Many room lighting systems allow home owners to alter moods from their computer, phone, or tablet without great cost.
Q: What are some helpful tips for sellers?
A: Advise home owners to be sure their electrical panel is updated to a minimum of 200 amps. Also, tell them to play up positive features such as exterior specimen trees and walkways and interior features such as furnishings, architectural structures, or artwork. Every lamp or fixture should be in good working order with the right lumens and bulbs, and fixtures should be squeaky clean. The biggest mistake home owners make is using inappropriate lighting in a room. Remember, lighting needs to change over the course of a day.
Q: Finally, any trends home owners should know about?
A: When it comes to fixtures, Lamps Plus’ Murphy notes a trend for antique bronze, blue hues, exaggerated sizes, floor lamps, and the continued appeal of Mid-Century Modern designs.