The expert opinion

In this video: Where is the best place to use energy-saving lighting in your home? Learn what a lighting designer has to say and find out what options are available.

Lighting design basics

Take a look around your home, and you'll find a variety of lighting situations, each with its own special needs. Learning the basics of lighting design will help you put the right light in the right place.

General lighting

General lighting – also called “ambient” lighting by professionals – is the main overall light source for a room. It might be a simple overhead fixture, table or floor lamps, or track lighting.

In most cases, a 60-watt incandescent or 15-watt compact fluorescent bulb will provide enough general light for a typical bedroom, office or hallway. For larger rooms like kitchens and family rooms, a larger overhead fixture or multiple table lamps are usually necessary.

Accent lighting

If you like to display artwork, a collection or other objects around your home, accent lighting can add eye-catching interest. For the most dramatic effect, accent lighting should be at least three times brighter than the surrounding area.

Before installing accent lights, test a variety of bulbs and positions beforehand to find the desired effect. "Uplighting" a large plant or window treatment with a small canister lamp can create dramatic shadows. Diffuse "downlighting" is great for framed artwork.

Accent lighting is also used to focus attention on architectural elements like windows, fireplaces, molding, etc. Easy-to-install rope lighting is great for this purpose.

Task lighting

Task lighting is functional, localized light used for a specific activity, such as reading, cooking or studying. Task lighting should provide a bright glow, but without glares or shadows.

Lighting terminology

Wattage isn't the only feature to look for when buying light bulbs - understanding lighting terminology can help you choose the right bulbs for every room in your house.

  • Watts measure the amount of energy needed to power the bulb. LED bulbs use very few watts and are a very energy-efficient option.
  • A lumen measures how much light a bulb produces.
  • The efficacy, or energy efficiency, of a light bulb is measured by lumens per watt. Divide the lumens produced by the number of watts used; the higher the total, the more energy-efficient the bulb.
  • Each type of bulb has a color temperature based on its "coolness" (red, yellow, orange) or "warmness" (blue or green). Cool light produces higher contrasts, so it's good for specific tasks like reading or studying. Warm light is better for general lighting and taking photographs because it flatters skin tones and clothes.
  • Bulbs are also measured by their color rendering index, or how true colors appear compared to bright sunlight.

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