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Lighting Basics


If you are in the dark about how to brighten your home, here are a few basics about lighting

Proper room-to-room illumination goes well beyond a basic bulb or overhead light. To create both a cozy atmosphere and comfortable, well-lit space, three basic lighting types are needed.

General Lighting
Open up your overall space with general lighting. It may be in the form of a ceiling light, chandelier, or track lighting; a front porch light also falls under general lighting as long as it is not a bright, invasive security spot.

General lighting should allow you to see all parts of the room, but may not be focused enough to perform some chores. Because this lighting is generally directed from a ceiling, shadows will occur.

The terms ambient and general lighting are interchangeable. Ambient lighting adds an even softer glow, but still provides overall lighting from an indirect position. Sconces and cove lights that are directed upward are good examples. They set a mood without the harsh downcast shadowing of a ceiling light. Dimmer switches can be installed for many fixtures that will create a range from general to ambient effects.

Task Lighting
This is the workhorse that gets down to specifics such as reading, chopping, sewing, and studying. It, too, can be in the form of track lighting, but generally include lamps and brighter focused fixtures that are closer to the work surface. These can be undercabinet fluorescents in the kitchen and vanity lights in the bathroom. A workbench in the garage generally requires additional lighting.

Task lighting will require higher wattage incandescent bulbs or halogen lighting, which will also mean an increase in heat emission.

The simplest way to add task lighting in bedrooms or workrooms is with lamps. These can be standing or tabletop styles and are practical because they can be moved around as needed. In a bedroom, the light may also need to be ambient and directional so as not to disturb a spouse or partner. Movable lighting is also essential in small spaces to prevent a cluttered look.

Accent Lighting
This type adds drama and emotion. It, too, is highly focused but is not used for specific tasks. Rather, it is designed to highlight the features in your home, such as sculptures, paintings, and other stationary objects. Track lighting is also included in the category.

Use accent lighting in any spot where you want to draw attention. China or curio cabinets and even photo collections lining a hallway would benefit from accent lights.

When you are planning a lighting layout, remember that layering using the above basic styles is critical to a harmonious space. Begin with your accent lighting, then task, and then scope the general placements. Combine where possible and always consider energy efficiency and the cost of replacement bulbs.

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