Endon Lighting

An 8-step Plan for Lighting Design

To develop a basic lighting design plan, the following steps are recommended.

Decide whether the room will be "designed", or whether ordinary or utility lighting is adequate.
Decide upon the style and décor of the room.
Choose your decorative lighting and decide where it goes.

  • Locate your tasks and illuminate them.
  • Locate the displays and illuminate them.
  • Determine if additional ambient lighting is needed. and balance.
  • Add switching and dimming as needed to control the lighting.

Step 1: Decide whether the room will be "designed", or whether ordinary or utility lighting is adequate.
For many spaces, such as garages and closets, a simple lighting solution is the most appropriate one. In storage rooms, basements, and other places, basic lighting may be all that is needed. These are excellent opportunities for energy efficient lighting fixtures, especially if lights are left on for extended periods of time during the day. Choose a light that is right for the room and the style.

If the room is a living space, dining room, kitchen or other finished space that is likely to have lighting design elements, then move on to steps 2-6.

Step 2: Decide upon the style and decorative motif of the room.
A lighting design begins with architecture, style and décor. Some things just look right, feel right, and fit well with the overall design of the room. Decorative lighting such as chandeliers, sconces, and table lamps are part of our culture, and they provide at least some portion of the light needed for certain tasks.

Step 3: Choose your decorative lighting fixtures and decide where they go.
As a general rule, designers should choose the decorative lighting that fits the space. Traditional locations include a chandelier over the dining room table, a pendant light over the breakfast table, a lamp on a side table in the living room or a lantern by the front door. Keep in mind that other lighting may also be needed (to illuminate tasks or displays), but due to the important role that decorative lighting plays, it comes first.

Step 4: Locate your tasks and illuminate them.
If the decorative lighting does not sufficiently illuminate a task, provide "task lighting". Two of the most common task lights are recessed downlights and undercabinet lights.

Recessed downlights are located over task locations, especially in the kitchen, bath, shower, or at a desk. One recessed light may be all that is needed in a shower stall or tub, but in a kitchen a group of downlights often provides more flexible task lighting. It is best to locate downlights directly over a task, but in the kitchen keep in mind that the downlight will need to illuminate into the base cabinets as well, making fixture locations over the center of the room equally important.

Undercabinet lights are used whenever there is an overhead cabinet above a counter, such as in a kitchen, laundry room or home office. Fluorescent undercabinet lights produce significantly more light than incandescent strips and use much less energy.

A specific type of task light fixture is used in the bathroom, called a "vanity light". The purpose of this fixture is to illuminate the face - allowing grooming, shaving and makeup. There are a growing number of appealing fluorescent options available to designers, and many choices of styles using ordinary incandescent lamps. As a rule of thumb, provide 60 watts of fluorescent light or 150 watts of incandescent light for every 5' of sink or vanity width.

Step 5: Locate the displays and illuminate them.
Some homes don't have displays, others have many. Determine whether you want to highlight objects of art, memorabilia, bookcases, or other things that you may wish to have stand out. For many families, the fireplace mantel and the wall above the mantel are primary locations for display items.

A popular accent lighting system is recessed lighting and track lighting. Modern CFL technology can now be effectively employed with this system. Paintings can be illuminated with a warm tone CFL, using at least 23 watts.

As a rule of thumb, mount the light 21" from the wall with an 8' ceiling, 27" from the wall with a 9' ceiling, 34" from the wall with a 10' ceiling, and so on. One accent light will illuminate anything from a small object (with a 10-15 degree "spot" lamp) to a painting up to 3' wide (with a 35-35 degree "flood" lamp). Add a second light for every 30-36" of width of the object your lighting.

Step 6: Determine if additional ambient lighting is needed.
This step can often be the most difficult part of all. Even if your design produces the right amount of light for each task and display and you have sconces or chandeliers, there is sometimes the chance that more "ambient" light is needed. Ambient light is intentionally not very obvious, and as such it can be difficult to determine when more is necessary. Often the best way to provide ambient light is with hidden lights.

Ambient light is a primary concern in the kitchen, where table lamps and floor lamps aren't welcome because they get in the way. Some common ways to introduce ambient light in the kitchen are:

Fluorescent uplights atop cabinets
Central fluorescent lights on the ceiling
Wall sconces, especially those with uplight
Decorative lights with an open top that place most of the light on the ceiling

In other rooms, such as bedrooms or living rooms, ambient light can be introduced by portable lighting fixtures such as torchieres, floor lamps or table lamps. As an alternative to halogen torchieres there are now compact fluorescent torchieres. These fluorescent torchieres generate good quality dimmable light without the energy consumption and safety hazard of ordinary halogen torchieres.

Step 7: Prepare and make lighting calculations as a check and balance.
As a check in balance you can quickly assess whether you have the right amount of light using the following formulas:

Room Using Incandescent or Halogen Lighting Using Compact Fluorescent or Fluorescent Lighting Notes
Kitchen 3 to 4 watts per square foot of floor plan 1 to 1.5 watts per square foot Often there is a mixture of both types - but for efficiency, always try to favor the fluorescent
Bathroom 30-40 watts per foot of width of vanity plus 1 to 2 watts per square foot of all lighting 10-12 watts per foot of width of vanity plus 0.4 to 0.8 watts per square foot of all lighting Unless the bathroom is larger than 100 square foot, often the vanity light is all you really need. Make sure you employ glass shower or tub enclosure or a white translucent shower curtain
Living Spaces Up to 3 watts per square foot Around 1 watt per square foot Also common to have a mixture somewhere in between
Remember - this is only a rough estimate and many factors, such as the color of paint, height of ceiling, amount and size of furniture, and actual lighting equipment used can affect the outcome.

Step 8: Add switching and dimming as needed to control the lighting.
People tend to love dimmers, and compact fluorescent technology is getting better all the time with dimming capabilities. There are dimmable CFL bulbs on the market right now, but selection is still limited.

The proper location for a switch or dimmer is a function of code requirements (the National Electrical Code establishes some specific locations where control devices are required) and common sense. For example, the code requires a wall switch adjacent to the door upon entry to a room. But you can also add a switch in a preferred location, such as next to the bed.

Another choice available today, are motion sensors that automatically switch lights. Motion sensors turn off lights when the room is empty, and they are especially efficient devices in spaces like garages, utility rooms and other spaces where lights are only needed occasionally and are often left on inadvertently.

There are even more technologically sophisticated products that permit handheld remote dimming, whole house master controls and many other features.