How To Evaluate the Lighting in Your Home

published Mar 6, 2014
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(Image credit: Monica Wang)

So you’ve decided to re-haul the lighting in your home. You know that the right lighting can make a space feel bigger, cleaner, and more welcoming, and you’re totally on board. But where to start? Before you run out to the store or call the electrician, you need to evaluate your home’s current lighting. Here’s how.

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Know your lighting types. Designers deal with five different kinds of lighting, but for the average design enthusiast that’s a bit much to deal with. For home-design purposes, most lighting will fall into one of three categories:

  • General, or ambient lighting provides even, mid-level light throughout a space. This is your ceiling spotlights, or your bright pendant in the middle of the room. During daylight hours, natural light from windows is considered part of a space’s general lighting.
  • Specific, or task lighting is meant to make certain jobs easier. It’s the reading lamp by your bed, or the under-counter lights in your kitchen which illuminate the worktop.
  • Accent lighting is what we often call “mood” lighting: the table lamps on dimmers, or the up lighters in the corners of a room.

A complete lighting scheme will incorporate all three types in each room or area.

Take a walk. Move through your home slowly, starting at the front door and spending time in each room, thinking about the quality and amount of light it currently has. Ask yourself is the general lighting in each space is sufficient, and what tasks take place there that might require more lighting. It’s best to do this twice: once during daylight hours and once in the evening, as both the available light and usage of a space can change completely over the course of a day.

Also consider how easy (or difficult) it is for you to access your home’s lighting. Do you have to cross a dark hall when you come home in the evening before you can turn on the light? Is it a hassle reaching behind the sofa to flip the switch on that table lamp? Some of these things will be costly or even impossible to change, but some could be helped by some clever rearranging.

Make a list of all the lighting sources that you currently have, especially movable ones. They might just serve you better in another room or with some easy alterations. Remember, pendants can be moved to other areas, lamps can be given new shades, and almost all lights can be improved by the addition of a dimmer switch.

Armed with a little general info about lighting, as well as an understanding of what you need and what you have, you should soon be in a good position to improve your home’s lighting. Let there be light!