Jun 2019

Back on Track

By Lori Powell
Photographs courtesy of Tech Lighting

In a monthly column, Lori Powell, of Fogg Lighting in Portland, offers her expert tips on illuminating your home.

Q: When does track lighting make sense — and can it be attractive?

Track lighting has come a long way since the giant can-like fixtures affixed to ceiling-mounted tracks that were popular in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Now we have fixtures with smaller, sleeker heads and more delicate, decorative styling. Today’s track lighting offers a versatile way to add task, ambient, or accent lighting to your home.

Tracks are ideal for spaces that are hard to wire, or where you need more light, but have only one electrical connection. Use them in lieu of recessed lighting when beams, ductwork, or concrete ceilings make rewiring or demo impossible. In a post-and-beam home, you can mount a track on a beam and position some heads downward and others upward to accentuate the architecture and add soft, ambient light to the room.

Another major benefit tracks offer is flexibility. A single light source can illuminate a kitchen sink, island, and stove, for example, or multiple pieces of art in a living room. When you renovate or redecorate, you can change the lighting scheme by simply adjusting the position and angle of the track heads. Avoid making tracks the only lighting in a room, however, as they can cause glare and discomfort.


Low-voltage track lighting systems can be mounted near the track, or remotely. 

There are two types of track systems. Line-voltage systems typically use 120-volt fixtures, which are the most common household current. They attach directly to the power source on a ceiling, wall, or beam. Low-voltage systems, which tend to be smaller, typically use 12-volt fixtures and require a transformer to work effectively. Transformers can be mounted near the track, or remotely — say, on top of a beam where they’re hidden from sight.
Tracks come in several different designs: Standard systems attach directly to walls and ceilings, whereas “monorails” consist of rails suspended from the ceiling or walls with rods. Cable systems — which have a delicate, floating look — are tracks that hangs from the ceiling by a cable and typically run the length of the ceiling.

A lighting designer can help you understand the dynamics of the space you want to light, how much and what type of light you need, the realities of installation, and which track system will best meet your needs.

Jun 2019

Earth-Friendly Lighting

                                            Photograph by Jeff Roberts; interior design by Leandra Fremont-Smith Interiors; architecture by William Hanley of WMH Architects
By Lori Powell

In a monthly column, Lori Powell, of Fogg Lighting in Portland, offers her expert tips on illuminating your home.

In an average household, lighting accounts for about 10 percent of energy costs. (Heating, cooling, and appliances like clothes dryers are the biggest consumers.) But as we brace ourselves for winter “nights” that begin in the late afternoon, requiring us to supplement with more artificial light, and spiking utility bills, every bit of energy savings counts. Here are some steps you can take to make achieving the cozy glow we all crave more affordable and efficient this season.



Switch to LEDs. These are the most versatile and efficient lighting technologies on the market. Light-emitting-diode bulbs, or LEDs, use up to 70 percent less energy than conventional incandescents, and can last 100 times longer. If you’re working with a standard on-off switch, swapping incandescents for LEDs is fairly straightforward. Just bring your old bulb to the store so you can compare bases and make sure the LED will fit in your fixture. If you have dimmers, more planning may be involved. Even if the label on the LED bulb says it should work with an incandescent dimmer, in many cases the LED cannot draw enough power to function properly and will require an LED-specific dimmer. Consult with a lighting professional, who can help you plan, and troubleshoot, your LED changeover.

Consider the alternatives. Warm-toned LEDs will suit most folks, but if you find them chilly, consider the new generation of “eco-halogen” or “eco-incandescent” bulbs. These are 30 percent more efficient than conventional incandescents, with a comparable (or even brighter) quality of light and lifespan — about 1,000 hours. Eco-halogens fit in any type of fixture and work with traditional incandescent dimmers. As for compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs — these are more efficient than incandescents, but most manufacturers are phasing them out because of the environmental impact of making them (they contain mercury) and difficulty of disposing of them.

earth-friendly lighting, LED
Photograph by Randolph Ashey; interior design by Jeanne Handy Designs; architecture by Kevin Moquin


Look at labels. Bulbs that carry Energy Star logos have been certified by the federal government to use at least 70 percent less energy and last 15 times longer than the incandescent bulbs they replace. But don’t discount logo-less bulbs. Some may actually be more efficient than those bearing the Energy Star name — the manufacturers simply have not applied for the rating (or are waiting for approval). Instead, check the Lighting Facts label on the packaging, which details the bulb’s estimated energy costs and expected life. For maximum efficiency, look for bulbs that offer the highest lumen output (or brightness) for the wattage — a 9-watt bulb that offers 800w lumens, for example, versus one that produces only 750w lumens.

Try dimmers and sensors. These can help save energy by allowing you to turn lights down to the level you need and by letting you off the hook for forgetting to switch them off when they’re not needed. Many people put dimmers on every fixture in the house. Outside, they’re helpful for illuminating spaces like patios. For entryways, consider occupancy sensors, which automatically flip on when you enter a room. Vacancy sensors, which turn off when they detect an empty space, are useful in areas where people are constantly forgetting to switch off the lights. For lampposts and path lighting, consider photo sensors, which operate by detecting ambient light. Some people also like motion sensors outside for an added measure of security — just be aware that passing cars and nocturnal creatures can set them off.

efficient lighting, LED lighting
Photograph by Randolph Ashey; interior design by Jeanne Handy Designs; architecture by Kevin Moquin


Turn off the lights. This may seem obvious, but people often ask whether they’re using more energy by keeping lights on all the time, or by constantly turning them on and off. Here’s the bottom line: If a bulb is lit, it’s burning energy — more than is consumed by flipping switches. So turn off lights when you’re not using them. If you want to leave a lamp on at night to prevent having to fumble around in the dark, make sure it’s fitted with an LED, or the lowest-wattage bulb you can find.

Jun 2019

Kitchen Wisdom

By Lori Powell

In a monthly column, Lori Powell of Fogg Lighting in Portland offers her expert tips on illuminating your home.

In most homes, the kitchen tends to be the center of gravity. And yet for all the time we spend there — chopping, cooking, noshing, cleaning, helping with homework, lingering over leftovers — kitchens are often drastically under-lit, with a single ceiling fixture in the center of the room that creates irritating shadows in the areas we most need to illuminate. Here are some steps you can take to brighten up your cookspace.

white and gray kitchen
Photography courtesy of LEDI Led Inspirations featuring Hubbarton Forge

First, get on task. Your time in the kitchen is task-oriented, so your lighting should be too. If you’re standing at a counter and the light is behind you, your body will cast a shadow over the surface, making it harder to see what you’re doing — not ideal, especially if you’re working with sharp utensils. To brighten up work areas, place recessed, track, and/or under-cabinet lighting over countertops, tables, islands, sinks, and other surfaces you use frequently.

cream colored kitchen


cream colored dining area

Then, think layers. Because of the wide variety of tasks you do in the kitchen, one light will never provide all the illumination you need. Layering the light — adding different sources around the room — will give you the flexibility to customize the lighting to suit your changing needs. If you’re hosting a dinner party, for example, you can dim the overhead lights to create ambiance, and keep under-cabinet lighting on to illuminate the areas where you’re serving and preparing food.

dark gray kitchen and island


kitchen sink with task lighting

Find the right fixtures. Adding fixtures on walls, in glass cabinets, and over sinks and islands will brighten and warm the room, while providing decorative accents that can enhance the look. Consider adding pendants over sinks and islands — allow 30 to 36 inches between the countertop and the bottom of the fixture for optimum illumination. Above sinks, pendants should be hung higher, so that people don’t bang their heads against them while doing dishes.