Lighting is the forgotten hero of home design - when done well it can make us feel good, and make our homes safer and easy to navigate. Lighting can also be energy hungry.
But how can you make clever lighting choices that look great and use less energy?
Lighting accounts for an average of 6 per cent of residential energy use and between 8 to 15 per cent of the overall household budget. There are clearly efficiency and budgetary gains to be made when designing and specifying lighting solutions. Despite this, home lighting choices are often chosen an after-thought, missing the opportunity to maximise efficiency and to access the potential health, functionality and aesthetic benefits of good lighting design.
Each area of a home has different lighting requirements and each light fitting need only provide enough directional light for its purpose. The earlier lighting is addressed in the design and build process, the more likely sustainable and appropriate choices will be made before time, patience, and budget run out.
Above - Dreamweaver pendant by Pop and Scott.
DAYLIGHT AND PEOPLE
The most important source of light to consider is daylight, not only because it is a free resource, but also because it positively affects our health and happiness. Ideally a home has enough windows that supplementary lighting is rarely needed during daylight hours, as this causes the least disturbance to human circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the biological, behavioural and cognitive changes that occur in the body over a 24-hour period in response to environmental signals such as light and darkness. Natural light can assist in reducing fatigue and improve sleeping patterns, alertness and mood.
Appropriately sized and oriented windows will allow light gain according to the direction and timing of sunlight. For example, east-facing windows can be lovely in bedrooms and kitchens to help you start the day, and larger windows are needed in daytime use areas such as kitchens and living areas than in bedrooms and utility spaces. Though of course, window sizing and orientation for daylight should be considered within passive solar design requirements to balance against undesired heat gain or loss.
In a dimly-lit environment, the placement of new windows, skylights or solar tubes can have multiple benefits. When there is overshadowing from a neighbouring property, boundary wall or vegetation, a clerestory or highlight window can dramatically improve an interior space. Alternatively, quality skylights with seals, double-glazing and a capacity for summer shading can be used. Solar tubes effectively access natural light with a small glazed surface area, preventing the heat gain and losses associated with skylights.
Other inexpensive tactics include painting skylight shafts a light colour to bounce light into the interior, or using light paint and reflective surfaces on south-side exterior fences or walls to bounce light back through south-facing windows. For apartments or other spaces with no roof or wall access to daylight, LED skylights that mimic the outdoor light levels could be a good option.
A considered approach when thinking about lighting solutions begins with working out what tasks are likely to be done in a particular space, and the amount of lighting required to comfortably complete them. This means considering the ways householders use each room; if people sometimes work at the dining table, then an option for bright light is a good idea. Even better, place a window or skylight above daytime work areas to boost productivity.
Lighting throughout a house can be provided by a combination of ceiling lights, wall lights, downlights and pendants. Some areas of the home, such as utility areas and passageways, have fixed layouts but bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms have movable elements, so a degree of lighting flexibility should be incorporated, including the use of standard and table lamps. In open-plan designs, a flexible range of lighting solutions is needed in order to define zones from one another and adjust the light for differing moods and activities.
Task lighting is needed in utility areas such as kitchens, laundries, bathrooms and offices. Lighting here can be directed where it is needed most by being zoned over the key elements of the layout, such as the sinks, stovetop and food preparation areas, ensuring a person’s head will not cast a shadow when bent over a task. LED strip lights and recessed downlights under cabinets are ideal for these purposes. These should be specified before cabinets are built and installed so that recessed tracks, cutouts and transformers can be integrated into the design.
Outdoor lighting is important for safety and amenity. Floodlighting is useful for security and large area illumination; however, ensure directional lighting doesn’t face a neighbour’s window or entranceway. Floodlights can use up to 500 watts per light and can easily accidentally be left on during the day, so using an LED equivalent will save around 80 per cent of energy use. Wall-mounted lights, solar lighting and porch lights are a welcoming safety feature around access areas. Outdoor living and dining spaces can also benefit from ambient lighting, such as a pendant or solar powered fairy lights strung over pergolas or fences. Various landscape, deck and pathway lighting can be used for safety and effect but don’t overdo it: pick a couple of key areas to highlight rather than the whole space.
HOW MUCH LIGHT?
To assess the quantity of light needed in an area you need to consider both quantity of light emitted (lumens) and the beam angle (eg. 60-180 degrees). Lux is the measurement of light intensity, based on lumens, distance from the light source and the beam angle of the light. This measurement is used to ascertain how many of each type of light is needed in a particular area of your home. Typically for general use 200-300lLux is sufficient, with 350-800 in task areas and 150 lux for soft light. Free software such as Relux can be used to calculate how many light fittings are needed in each space- or lighting designers and some suppliers will be able to provide an accurate plan.
Above - Dusty green ‘ambit’ pendant by Muuto.
LIGHT TEMPERATURE AND COLOUR
Colour temperature is a way of defining the colour characteristics of light, ranging from cool, bluish tones to warmer, yellow and red ones. Task areas are often best served with a ‘white’ light at the cool end of the spectrum, as cooler LED lights tend to have slightly higher lumen outputs per watt of electricity used. Studies have shown that blue light can have a stimulating effect on people due to its similarity to early morning light. Spaces for relaxation may benefit from warmer light sources for the opposite reason. Avoid placing very warm and cool lights next to each other as they can clash. Some fittings and bulbs have both warm and cool LEDs and smart control systems, allowing the flexibility to select the colour temperature desired using a remote control or mobile phone app.
Above left and right - various vintage 20th century pendants.
Home automation uses technology to control homes with the push of a button, voice command or our presence in a room. At a basic level it is a sensor light that switches on with human activity. More sophisticated systems allow lighting and appliances to be controlled via smartphones or tablets. These products allow users to schedule appliance and lighting use and get alerts when something has been left on. Home automation is best approached by starting small and understanding the technology fully before investing.
Above - Original metal sun disk wall pendants from home - re-wired and re-anodised.
TYPES OF LIGHTS
PENDANT LIGHTS AND LAMPS
Decorative pendant lamps look best in open spaces with high ceilings or hung low over areas that are not walked under such as dining tables or the corners of rooms. Scale is important with a pendant lampshade or chandelier as the width and height of the fitting should appear balanced within the scale of the room and its furnishings. Pendant lights with solid sides will only cast light downwards in a relatively narrow beam, and are better suited over a table rather than as a central light. Exposed bulbs, translucent and clear shades will cast light in multiple directions while coloured and perforated shades will create hues and patterns in the light they throw. Pendant lamps and shades are one of the easiest ways to use locally made, handmade, vintage and recycled lighting. Metal, ceramic, glass, plastic, paper, felt and cloth light shades come in an appealing array of shapes and sizes that can add character and interest to a room. Coloured, milk, etched, holophane, depression, frosted and hand painted glass shades will create softening, diffusing and toning effects. Vintage light fittings may need to be restored and re-wired by a qualified electrician or lighting restorer, so consider the cost of this when purchasing them; multi–globed fittings such as chandeliers are likely to be quite expensive, but still comparable overall with the cost of high quality new decorative fittings. However, they can be energy-intensive if not lamped appropriately, so look for low-wattage bulbs for your fittings eg. a five-lamp fitting might have 3W lamps so would only be 15W in total.
Wall lights are excellent for mood lighting as opposed to task lighting because they conceal the light fittings and can direct light up and/or down, creating a consistent wash of diffused light. Generally wall lights are used in groups or with a combination of other lighting to provide adequate lux levels in a space. Wall lighting is useful for when ceiling fans are placed in a central light position. Feature wall lights and lamps can be used to highlight objects and draw people to an area. Consider the placement of all wall-mounted elements when deciding on the height and location of lights.
Downlights are small directional lights generally recessed into the ceiling. Traditionally used with inefficient halogen bulbs, downlights have been a well-documented cause of energy wastage and high power bills, with interruption to ceiling insulation leading to unwanted heat loss/gain. Thankfully there are now LED replacements and less seal-disruptive options available. Surface mounted downlights are an alternative option for task areas, and avoid the ceiling penetrations and the associated energy loss of regular downlights. LED options are common and don’t generate the levels of heat that makes halogen downlights a fire hazard. A reputable lighting supplier will be able to calculate how many will be needed. Flat disk LED downlights are a useful option where ceilings are low, or where a surface mounted light fitting could look too busy, also avoiding ceiling penetration. They typically have a 180 degree beam spread. Unlike many recessed downlights they are a sealed unit and insulation can be installed up to the edges. Some fittings may be rated to be insulated over, but as all LEDs produce heat and would be more likely to overheat with insulation, they will run cooler and brighter and last longer without.
BATTEN FIX AND CEILING MOUNTED
These are an economical choice for low ceilings and anywhere a ceiling light is desired and a feature light is not required, such as laundries, bathrooms, hallways and entries.
DON’T FORGET THE SWITCHING
The homeowner should carefully study electrical plans as they know best how they are likely to use their home. Any room with two entrances should have switches at both for convenience and switches should be grouped together where possible. However, some task lighting switches might be better placed at the location they are used. Ensure the heights and locations or switches are specified in plans or you may find switch plates in the middle of your beautiful tile splash back. Dimmer switches allow lights to be softened or made brighter for mood and convenience. Typically this is useful for bedroom, living, dining areas or anywhere some control over ambience is desired. Compatible globes and light fittings must be used with dimmer switches.
TYPES OF GLOBES
Light emitting diodes are solid-state semiconductors that convert electrical energy into light. LEDs have many advantages over other options, including very low energy use, long life (up to 50,000 hours), instant full light, and very little deterioration over time. LED replacements should now be available for all lighting types, but some halogen globe replacements for downlight fittings can leak more air than halogens as they have cooling fins around the perimeter, which could offset any energy efficiency gains. This is one reason to opt for full fitting replacements instead of bulb retrofits. Like all technologies, quality between LED globes varies greatly and high quality units are desirable. As the price of LEDs falls and life expectancy and savings over time are factored in, they provide a good return on initial investment.
CFLs use about 70 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs, but do have significant issues in both efficacy and environmental impact. These lights have warm up periods for full brightness so are not suitable for the instant light that may be needed in hallways, bathrooms or as sensor lights. CFLs also contain mercury so must be disposed of through recycling programs to avoid contaminating landfill, and are potentially hazardous if broken inside the home.
Fluorescents are typical office lights that come in cool, warm and daylight varieties. However, often the much cheaper phosphor-based tubes are selected; these emit a flat and cool light and are more prone to flickering, and have been associated with reported health problems. Now, energy savings are made in workspace design by using LED equivalents and lighting specific areas only
Halogens produce a white light that makes colours appear more vivid. Halogens became very popular with the widespread use of downlights and many consumers were confused with the term low-voltage lighting- thinking it meant less energy use. In fact, a single halogen downlight consumes nearly as much electricity as a traditional 60 watt incandescent. Astronomical power bills ensued for homes containing sometimes hundreds of downlights.
Thank you to Graeme Ambrose from Eco Decisions for assistance with this article.
This article was originally published in Sanctuary Magazine, issue 33.
All photographs by Emma Byrnes.