When I was 14 years old, I salvaged a couple old sets of track lighting from my parents' business. At the time I didn't know what I'd do with them I just knew they were cool, and somehow I'd get them installed in my bedroom.
I put my imagination to work and soon had the tracks anchored to my room's ceiling. On one track, I popped colored bulbs in each light canister. At night, I could transform my room into a whole other world with blue, red and green hues painting a magical glow around the corners of my room.
The other track was more functional. It hung above my bed and work desk, lighting where I did homework and read books like a stage. Those lights became a special part of my room through the years (they even made it to my college dorm room!). The moods and the supreme utility they provided conjure up many fond memories even today.
So what's YOUR favorite kind of home lighting? While overhead "can" lighting is still my favorite, there is a HUGE variety of ways you can light your home and create your special space.
Today, my family's home has just about everything beyond standard ceiling and floor lamps. We've added lights in our home practically everywhere, from under cabinets and inside cabinets to behind furniture and on top of artwork.
Home lighting options span about as much as the light spectrum itself. I'll help you decide which types can give your home lighting a face lift or save money on your electrical bill. We'll look at ways to fix up old lights or add new ones that you can install yourself.
Here's what we'll cover in this section:
- A list of the most popular home lighting types and their uses
- How to maintain and fix common home lighting problems
- Helpful hints for selecting the best lighting for your home
- How to install common fixtures and light kits
List of Home Lighting Types
Can I get a light? Sure...which kind would you like? When it comes to a light list, it's not a lite list necessarily.
To help keep things simple, let's just take a look at the basic options you can use to light your home. Then, we can see what types of fixtures and bulbs you can use with each.
We can break down options into three layers: Generall (Ambient) Lighting, Task Lighting, and Accent Lighting.
Another layer worth mentioning is our good friend sunlight. Let's face it, sunlight accounts for a lot of the brightness in our home. But we'll save
1. General Lighting
This is the most common interior house light. Duh, right? These lights are often perched up on ceilings or tables, and are used to create ambient light, lighting as much of a room or general area as possible.
The brightness levels are good, but can often be basic, leaving "darks" areas in places.
The one-size-fits-all glow does nothing to spice up the architecture in a room. Shall we say 'functional, but boring'?
General lighting is made by just about any kind of light source. Fixtures can be surface mounted, suspended (hung by chain or rod), tracked, and "lamped" (free standing).
Anything goes as far as bulbs, such as the classic incandescent, yucky old fluorescent tubes, warm halogen or the energy-nice compact fluorescents (CFL).
2. Task Lighting
This is light with a purpose. You need it, and without it you can't do a specific activity like reading, cooking, crafting, or even shaving. Ever tried to put on make-up with just the overhead bedroom light on?
Most common of these are floor or table lamps next to reading areas, desk lamps, secondary kitchen lights like undercabinet or above counter pendants, and vanity lights in bathrooms.
Regular bulbs (incandescent/CFL) Halogen and LED bulbs are great since they can be more intense and fit into smaller fixtures such as compact desk lights.
3. Accent Lighting
These types of lights place a highlight on a feature or specific spot of the room. While they also give you some general light, their job usually limits them to spotlighting only the accessories, decor, and architecture of your room. Think "move set", the stuff that's nicely lit behind or next to the action.
There are many flavors of accent, or "decorative lighting". Ceiling directed spots and picture frame lights put focus on artwork. Rope lighting can frame book cases or provide lumination inside cabinet shelves. Canister floor up-lights provide excellent ways to cast light behind furniture, plants or even the family dog.
Placement options are endless. The rule is, if you can think it, you can do it. For bulbs, the warmer tone of incandescent or halogen bulbs have always been more appealing. Today, LED accent lighting is gaining in popularity for both their efficiency and looks.
4. Natural Lighting
Light from the outdoors can provide ample brightness in many situations, and while you can't always control it, it's 100% free. Yippee! In fact, in some places of the world like Sweden, where darkness prevails in the wintertime, natural light from candles is the preferred choice for brightening up a living space.
Unfortunately natural light from windows or skylights is not always the most energy efficient as sun rays can heat up your home unwantedly.
How much you can take advantage of outdoor light all depends on factors you usually can't change, such as the amount and location of windows - let's stick to things you can change ...like a lightbulb.
Repairing Light Fixture Problems
Want to know the secret to fixing a light? ...change the light bulb!
Okay, it's not always that easy. Truth be told, most lamp and light fixtures that quit "working" are in fact due to a bad bulb. But there are a few other things that can cause a specific light or lamp not to light up when turned on, such as wiring, switches and sockets.
Wiring issues arise when wires become old, damaged or just plain loose. To rule out this problem check wiring and its connections in three places: at the wall switch, the "run" from breaker box to light fixture, and inside the fixture itself.
To do this, you'll want to buy a neon electric circuit tester. You can also use a multimeter, which can test for voltage, resistance, and amperage. Both of these handy little gadgets help you test for live electricity safely.
For fixing lamp wiring, you'll need to take a part the lamp; unless your uncle has already done that for you when he sent it flying to the floor!
Problems with switches can occur either at the wall or inside the fixture itself, i.e. pull-chain types. If you suspect this, turn off the power and replace the switch, one of the cheapest components of a light!
Faulty light sockets aren't that uncommon either. Over time, sockets can wear out or be affected by moisture and grime. If you like to push the envelope of bulb wattage, the socket may become damaged by using bulbs with a higher rating than what the fixture can handle. Sadly, you'll have to replace the socket or entire fixture.
Repairing Special Light Fixtures
Recessed lighting issues usually occur because of excessive heat. The bulbs are often tightly enclosed in small spaces (metal canisters), and as they heat up insulation and wiring can actually melt. It's a good idea to replace these with newer types that will automatically shut off if too much heat builds up.
Chandeliers are a special case mainly because of their intricate and/or bulky design. Pretty doesn't always translate to easy. Wiring gets threaded through chains or other channeling, often leading to multiple sockets.
When troubleshooting, check wire coloring and labeling closely. Most often, a marked wire is neutral and should be connected to a white circuit wire. The non-marked fixture wire is "hot" and goes to house black.
Track lighting can give you grief when track connectors become loose, dirty or inserted ever so incorrectly.
To tighten things up, pry track contacts carefully back into place as needed. To clean, you can use really fine sandpaper to go over the metal connections on the light and track.
Helpful Hints for Selecting Home Lighting
- Think in terms of how you want to use your whole space instead of just putting in one big light to cover everything.
- Each room can have a combination of light fixtures to give you the most functionality, but also create the kind of space you want:
- Fluorescent bulbs give you "clean and clinical"
- CFLs (natural color temperature kind) loaded in recessed lights can give you "bright and cheery"
- Halogens and incandescents give you "warm and inviting"
- LEDs can give you...well, any and all of the above
- A general rule of thumb says that you can use "10 lumens per square foot" - a 60-watt bulb gives you around 900 lumens
How to Install Lighting
There's something you can know. As a regular, handy homer, there will be some types of lighting you can install and some you simply can't (or shouldn't!).
Lamps, easy. Replacing light fixtures or installing track lighting, you can do. And with the right head, you can even manage installing a ceiling fan or under cabinet task lighting by golly.
But when it comes to recessed lighting, it's best to hire a contractor. In most cases, this project crosses the line of moderation and into complication.
You could do this with the right tools and patience, but under the premise of improving your home without taking ten steps backward for your mental health, I'm casting my vote for the typical homeowner to save up for a pro; or, find get creative with other types of lighting (track lighting, anyone?) to accomplish the same goal.
Home Lighting Guides
Here are some more of our how-to guides for your home's lighting:
- Ceiling Fan Works but Not the Lights
Here's how to troubleshoot when one half of your fan light kit (the lights!) aren't lighting up as they're supposed to.