Good home lighting design can affect our moods, our productivity, our mental health and the quality of social life in our homes.
When designing or re-designing a home, you can make a big impact with careful lighting. The first step is to understand the lighting options that you have. The next step is to determine how much light and therefore how many fixtures you’ll need for each room. On this page we’ll discuss types of lighting.
See our page on lighting calculation to learn how to calculate optimal levels for your home.
Types of Home Lighting
When designing your home lighting, you’ll design with both natural and artificial light.
The natural lighting for each room is determined solely by window sizing and positioning. Some may feel inclined to have as many windows as possible and as big as they can be. There are a few considerations regarding window size however.
- Insulation. Windows generally have poor insulating qualities (or R-value). Your love for natural light will need to be tempered by how much you are willing to pay to heat your home during the cooler months. Keep in mind also that one of our biggest impacts to our carbon footprint is the energy we use for our home’s heating and cooling.
- Wall space. Windows do of course take up space so be sure you are leaving adequate space for any furniture that will line your walls, art work, floor lamps, etc.
When positioning your windows for light, consider the A Pattern Language pattern called Light on Two Sides. This pattern describes how a room with natural lighting on two sides will always feel more natural and comfortable to its occupants. This has to do with the quality of lighting achieved when the light is cast from two directions rather than from a single source. (Think of a flashlight aimed just at one side of someone’s face and the effect of this type of lighting.) Light from more than one side is more what we are accustomed to in nature.
Natural Light Direction in Home Lighting Design
North. A room that is used as an art studio or office generally benefits most from northern or indirect natural lighting. North light is more diffuse and doesn’t create glare or harsh shadows. (In the southern hemisphere you would want southern light for the same tasks.)
East. Bedrooms are best designed with natural lighting from the east to experience the natural and gradual alarm clock of the brightening morning to awake you. Obviously in a home with multiple bedrooms it is not always easy to do your home lighting design with all the bedrooms having natural eastern light. Sometimes this can be achieved however with varying roof heights and clerestory windows.
West. Western windows are beautiful in sitting rooms for watching sunsets and the developing dusk as night comes on. However, in some regions in the warmer months, you may want to design these western windows carefully so that you do not drastically heat the house up as the afternoon sun hangs in the western sky. In general you can avoid most solar gain in your home during mid-day when the sun is high overhead by having adequately sized eaves over your windows.
South. South facing windows will let in the most natural light for your home (or north facing if you live in the southern hemisphere). They can also provide a lot of solar gain in the winter months providing you live somewhere that gets plenty of winter sunshine.
Artificial lighting can be divided into three categories:
Area lighting provides general overall lighting in a room. Usually in home lighting design we use area lighting to replace the natural light once the sun has gone down. Or to increase the light level in a room lacking adequate natural light.
Task lighting is used to illuminate the task at hand. This could be a floor lamp beside your favorite reading chair, the light on the kitchen vent hood over your stove top or the lamp on the retractable arm over your woodworking bench.
Accent lighting is generally used to create a mood or to accent a particular object or area.
Home Lighting Design with Artificial Light
When designing your home lighting consider all three of the lighting categories (area, task and accent) and how you will combine them to create layers of light throughout your home. If you have gone through our designing your own home tutorial, take a quick look again at the home needs page and reconsider each room and the functions for which it will be used. Then make more detailed notes about the lighting requirements for that room.
As an example of layers of light, consider the following example for a dining room. You could have general lighting in the form of recessed ceiling lights for times that you are using the dining table as a work surface for any of your family projects (childrens’ homework, art projects, etc.). For dining, you may want a hanging light fixture centered over the table. Wall sconces could provide background lighting for mood or to create soft lighting on the walls. Wall sconces will also help avoid the feeling in your dining room of a single light hanging over a poker card game (or maybe that is the effect you are looking for!).
While you are entertaining in the dining room, you may want to have low level accent lights on in adjacent rooms or simply have any general lighting fixtures in adjacent rooms dimmed by dimmer switches.
For each room in your home, consider the three categories of light and which will be required. In each room also consider the light that will come in from adjacent rooms and how you can utilize and control the level of those lights.
Other Home Lighting Design Resources
For more information on lighting design principles and examples see this home lighting design guide.
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