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Question DetailsAsked on 3/26/2016

Overall lighting design- where to start?

We moved into a condo with nearly-zero overhead lighting. One room in particular gets almost no natural light and has no overheads. For now, we've been using floor and table lamps, but we'd really like to have someone add some form of overhead light throughout the house (1 bedroom condo, so kitchen/living room combo room, office, and bedroom-- ~800sq ft).

I have NO idea where to even begin with this-- do you hire a contractor to make lighting plans? an electrician? a designer? I wouldn't even know who to call. I know absolutely nothing about lighting other than that I like a very bright, sunny house-- and ours is wanting. I don't know enough personally to call up a contractor and say "I want X type of lighting in this location." I would need someone who could help me make an ideal plan based on our layout, and a vague desire for a bright, natural-feeling light. At this point, we can't even properly budget due to how little of a clue we have about the process

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4 Answers

Voted Best Answer

I'm an electrician and I sometimes encounter lighting coverage and quality problems.

You should go to a website on lighting or visit a lighting store.

You'll need to familairize yourself with:

1. Lumens

2. Color Rendering Index: Cheap LED lights have a low CRI which makes blue appear brown etc..

3. Color Temperature: Some lights are bluish while others are more yellow. You want them all the same in a particular room

4. Radiance or instensity: How a light on a low ceiling lights a desk better than a light on a high ceiling.

Answered 4 years ago by Kestrel Electric


Professionally - a lighting/illumination engineer - usually work for larger Architect/Engineer firms. Architects generally have some training in lighting design as well.

Interior Designers commonly have a fairly good feel for lighting issues, but cannot work up an actual plan and spec for the exact types of lights you need each place - which you are likely to need for a building permit, and should have for bidders and the eventual contractor to workk from.

If not looking for top-end show or display lighting design, just something that will work fairly well - many lighting stores and lighting design centers will come out and design a layout for you as well as sell you the fixtures - some also do switch and wiring installations, some not.

Pay attention to installation costs - can be as much or more than the lighting in many cases unless you are using high-end fixtures. Working in ceilings where the ceiling is accessible from above from attic are pretty economic - putting in lighting by cutting through drywlal can be pretty expensive by the time the repair and repainting is done. You can avoid some of these costs by watching how fixtures are concentrated (to minimize openings) - so clusters of spots or strip lighting can be cheaper because fewer penetrations. Track lighting even more so. You can also reduce costs by using surface-mounted wiring trays (surface-mounted architectural strips that contain and conceal the wiring) or swag wiring leads to get to lights where running the wiring concealed would be difficult. These latter methods are particularly useful in solid brick, block, or concrete walls/ceilings where you do not have a studwall or ceiling joists to run the wiring in.

Also - since condo which to me means you may not stay there forever - might talk to your realtor about the lighting issue and saleability effect, but you might want to consider removeable lighting you can take with you for at least part of it unless the realtor says enhanced lighting would dramatically improve saleability. After all, you bought it without ceiling lighting, right ? This might lead you to track or corner tower type type lighting for at least some of it.

Also a condo consideration - since you only one one unit, getting access for installation is more limited than if you owned the entire building, so that can be a cost consideration, especially if your breaker panel is not inside your unit.

On installation costs for hard-wired - you can find some info on that (though normally for a small quantity so per-installation cost probably higher) in the Home > Lighting link in Browse Projects, at lower left.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


In addition to the factors Kestrel correctly pointed out - the height of the light above the target area to be lighted affecting the lighting-on-target as well as the sharpness of the dark/light boundary, combined with the lumens (amount of light projected by the bulb) determines the amount of light on the target - but the type of bulb and fixture factors in too. Obviously, for the same lumen bulb a spot provides more intense but more localized light than a flood, and a reflector bulb more so than an ordinary light bulb (on its lighted area, albeit smaller). There are many types of focus available on bulbs - from the spiral flourescents and edison round bulbs which spread light all around and from well above the base downward (away from the base), to floods (wide angle but still focused forward) to highlight or faceted lens bulbs (commonly used in museums and art galleries) to spots to narrow spots that shine it only at a narrow cone (or rectangle for some artisitic bulbs) downwards. Probably about 50 in all, each projecting the light in a different focus or cone or area of projection.

Blending the types in a room can give stunning contracts and complimentary lighting, as well as eliminating intense variations in intensityh from area to area by blending spot type lights to highlight a feature or for reading under a ceiling-mounted light, to overall area diffused lighting to washout the sharp contrasts and give "atmosphere" to a room. And of course consider diffearent uses of a room - for instance, a bedroom might need vanity lighting at a dressing table, overall diffuse lighting for normal use, high intensity ovear a desk, backsplash or indirect on an art display, and muted or dimmable lighting for late at night or contrast mitigation while watching TV or as a night light - perhaps even low-level lighting for low-intensity lighting for moving around after bedtime.

Also - consider what type of finishes you have in a room - a plain light colored painted room needs a lot less lighting than a dark panelled or tapestry-covered room which soaks up and does not reflect the light. Paint finish makes a big difference - big difference in reflective light off a gloss or semi-gloss versus off a flat or eggshell finish.

Consider also if anyone in the family detests certain types of lighting (either temperature, color, or - tube flourescent, spiral flourescent (though those also come in regular bulb type configuration outer glass now), halogen, tungsten HID, simuylated candle candelabra, etc.

Also, consider energy efficiency - do you want higher efficiency or prefer the look of incandescent over flourescent or inert gas or such regardless of cost - and that might be different for different rooms.

Also bulb size - if you want a real small bulb you are limited to low-wattage but can get high wattage with incandescent or HID bulbs. Flourescent/LED are available in mid range equivalent wattages and are more energy efficient but cost more and are, in my opinion, a lot less reliable on their predictions about life so you can get into a lot of wasted $ changing them out all the time if you get a bad brand. If you want high wattage you are basically into 110V lighting rather than low voltage, but low voltage strip or plug-in track lighting can be far less obtrusive and easier to wire in under-cabinet and similar locations - so commonly you get a mix for different applications and >

The bulbs themselves also come in different softness or intensity - from clear glass high intensity discharge to matte to frosted to textured glass, and even tinted or refracting or "light splitting" glass bulbs or receptable covers to change the color or appearance of the lighting effect.

Also - just to make it more complex - are you looking for direct, indirect, or backcast/backsplash reflected (off the ceiling or wall) lighting - likely a combination around the house.

He talked about lighting purity and how the degrees Kelvin "temperature" of the bulbs should be the same in a room. That is true for direct and area lighting in general, though spot type reading-only lights, dimmed lighting (like in a TV room or night lights), and indirect wall backsplash lighting of a different temperature or even color can be effective also. Whether a certain light will be used in daylight or nighttime makes a difference too - many people want a higher temperature (closer to bright white) in daytime, and a softer more yellow or "cooler" light at night in recreation relaxation areas - but maybe the opposite in a kids room or office say - more muted when it will be supplementing daylight but bright over the desk for studying/working at night.

Don't forget garage and outdoor lighting as applicable too.

Also whether you want any of your lighting to be remote controlled or photocell or intruder controlled, and if you want any to be controllable from multiple switches (commonly done with stair and hall lights and in large rooms with multiple entrances) or sound or motion activated.

I would start with a trip to a lighting center or box store and just look at the live displays of bulb color and brightness, look at lighting fixture (spot, track, recessed can, sconce, surface-mount ceiling fixture, chandelier, etc.) and the artistic and materials and colors of fixtures to get a ballpark idea of what type of you want in each room of the house BEFORE you start planning specific applications.Commonly the boxes will show specific lighting info for the specific fixture, showing the angle of arc of the illumination at standard ceiling height, etc.

Manufacturer websites also have many good short articles and videos on planning lighting, and on the terminology and types of bulbs.

BTW - while looking at this would be a good time to, if needing/considering such, look at integrating ceiling fans if desired, any ventilation fans needed (kitchen/bathroom), and security system or fire/smoke/motion or infrared intruder/CO/flooding/freezing alarms into the scope of work as long as wiring is going on.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD


Stay away from halogens if possible. They solve a lot of design problems becuase many are low voltage (you can run low voltage wires just about anywhere) and high intensity but they heat themselves to destruction within a few years and take the sockets with them making replacement a troublesome affair.


Answered 4 years ago by Kestrel Electric


As Kestrel says - other things to watch out for:

Some types of fixtures will accept multiple bulb types, but are designed for only low-heat ones - so putting a halogen bulb into an incandescent fixture for instance can cause overheating.

Also watch wattage ratings on lighting, particularly low-voltage strips and track lighting - many of the ratings these days seem to be failure limits, not truly "safe" - so if you put in bulbs at the maximum rated wattage it gets unbearably hot. Particularly true with can and halogen type lighting. Saw one where some painters masking tape touched a can - caught fire with the rated light in it, so over 450F on the outside of the can !

Watch penetrations in the ceiling of your "conditioned space" - if a box goes into a location where a vapor barrier is penetrated (especially attic ceilings) you need to make sure the electrician is going to seal the boxup and to the vapor barrier to prevent conditioned/moist air loss to your insulation or attic. RARELY done unless you make a point of requiring it, and can cause major issues in a cold attic, not to mention heated/chilled conditioned air wastage.

On the above - you also have to be careful when using ceiling cans in ceilings that connect to the attic or are in insulated areas, that insulation-contact rated cans are used, not ones that require airspace around them, to mitigate fire hazard.

With low voltage systems, the transformer has to be readily accessible AND should be in a sealed electrical box - all openings sealed with fire caulk, for maintenance and because when the transformers fail they commonly melt down and burn. Having them in unsealed boxes has been an increasing cause of fires, and I understand the next major electrical code revision will have this requirement. Personally, I hate low voltage indoor systems (though are useful for landscape lighting because of the safer low voltage) because their functional life seems to be so short - transformer or cheap wiring failures are common.

With incandescent/halogen fixtures - I have been seeing/hearing about a significantly increasing number of sparking fixtures and fires and recalls regarding fixtures (commonly carriage lamp or sconce type) where the bulbs hang inverted - base up. This has been causing burn-through on exposed (even though commonly insulated) wiring leading into the lamp socket. A LOT of the cheap (and some name brand) fixtures lead the exposed wiring inside the top of the relatively airtight housing or unvented can, so the heat from the hot bulb rises and scorches the exposed wiring, eventaully causing failure. I have personally had two such failures this year in my house ! If buying inverted bulb fixtures, I strongly recommend either using only cool bulbs (CFL, LED) or buy ones where both the connecting end of the socket and the wiring pass through the top the enclosure in enclosed metal tubing or threaded fitting so the wires are not exposed to the bulb's heat. Or better yet, buy with significant air vent openings in the top of the fixture (under a rain hood for outdoor ficxtures) so heat does not get trapped in the top.

With enclosed/can fixtures - pay CLOSE attention to not only wattage but bulb type - using improper bulb type can cause dangerous overheating, again especially in invested bulb situations. For instance, most can fixtures are rated for R (reflector) type bulbs only - using a standard flood or regular Edison type incendescent can cuause excess heat buildup in the fixture.

If using track or strip type lighting, consider hard-wiring oer using an exposed cord lead to it - not only for appearance but also for safety against playing/chewing by children/pets.

Answered 4 years ago by LCD

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