Slow Home Essentials: Good Lighting

The concept of good lighting can apply to different things in the Slow Home, from determining your solar orientation to what types of fixtures are the most efficient. As part of this month's theme, we're going to break down the basics of effective and comfortable lighting and offer tips and strategies to help get you there!

Lighting is a design component that often gets overlooked, but it has an important impact on both the quality of a space as well as the monthly electric bill. If a room is poorly lit, it can be difficult to work or relax. If a room is over lit, it can be distracting, uncomfortable and expensive. In general, there are two types of lighting: passive and active. Passive lighting refers to light we get from the sun while active lighting is the artificial light that we get from floor lamps, pendants and other fixtures. The key to creating good lighting is all about striking the right balance between the two and once you know the basics, your home will be a more inviting and efficient place to live. Here are some ideas and tips to get you started:

Take Advantage of Daylight

Natural daylight is free and has a quality that can’t be replicated with light fixtures, so it’s best to take advantage of it where you can.

  • Understand how your home or apartment is sited and which spaces get morning, afternoon and evening sun. Depending on the climate and time of year, this is light that you’ll want to take advantage of or block to keep heat out.
  • Install window shades or curtains to block unwanted heat during the hotter parts of the day. Alternatively, keep shades open in the winter to take advantage of solar heat gain.
  • Make a mental list of the activities that take place during daylight hours and try to locate those near windows and skylights to reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Develop a Logical Plan for Artificial Lighting

Once you’ve established areas that can function mostly with natural daylight, develop a lighting plan for the rest of your home. An easy way to think about efficient lighting is in layers: general lighting first, then task lighting, then special lighting.

  • General lighting: each space should have some type of general lighting that provides a comfortable level of even light.
  • Task lighting: for areas of a home that requires attention to detail (like a reading chair, desk or kitchen), install source-specific task lighting to provide additional light for the activity at hand.
  • Special lighting: this type of lighting may not be necessary and should be reserved for special areas of the home where you want to highlight a piece of art or your grandmother’s dishes. (These applications are especially good candidates for low energy use LED lights.)

Choose Efficient, Quality Light Fixtures and Controls

Once you’ve determined the right types of lighting for your home, it’s time to pick out the fixtures.

  • Look for efficient, quality fixtures that will last a long time. There can be a huge range in the cost of lighting fixtures and so it’s important to buy the best you can. That being said, don’t overlook less expensive options that are durable and efficient but might have a more “industrial” vibe to them. Scope out second hand stores or garage sales for fixtures that could be reused or improved upon.
  • Not every fixture has to be the focal point of a room. Splurge on that Nelson bubble lamp that you've been eyeing forever and use more economical (but efficient) lights in other parts of the space. A well-loved and thoughtfully placed light can bring joy to a space.
  • Be smart about LEDs and CFLs. LEDs work great for undercabinet lighting, display lighting and even small reading lights and are becoming more and more affordable. Use CFLs for existing fixtures, lamps and utility spaces.
  • The most efficient fixtures are the ones that only get turned on when needed. Make a habit of turning lights off when not in use. If you have the flexibility, install switches and controls in locations that are logical to how you use the space.
  • If you leave lights on at night for security reasons, make sure they’re on a timer or photo sensor and that they use the most efficient bulb possible.

Lighting can be a challenge for renters, but there are things you can do. Start by switching out the bulbs for more efficient CFLs (you can always take them with you when you move out). Next, check with your landlord or building manager to see if they’re willing to make upgrades - many municipalities offer incentive programs to install more efficient lighting. If all else fails, invest in quality lamps and desk lights that can work in different spaces over time.

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(Image: The Marion Housebook)