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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Benjamin Williamson
Q: What are “dark sky friendly” exterior fixtures?
A: Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Outdoor lamps are there to illuminate the darkness, helping us move around safely. But in so doing, many also allow light to escape into the night sky, a phenomenon known as light pollution that masks our view of the stars. In fact, an international group of scientists recently determined that the Milky Way is invisible to more than one-third of the world’s population, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans. Light pollution also contributes to energy waste, disrupts many ecological processes, particularly for nocturnal animals, and can have a negative impact on human health, interrupting sleep and causing headaches, stress, and anxiety.
In 2008, Bar Harbor — home to Acadia National Park, one of the most blissfully dark places on the eastern seaboard — passed an ordinance regulating outdoor lighting on all new construction in town. To comply, fixtures over 1,800 lumens must be “dark sky friendly” — i.e., have casings or canopies that shield the bulbs, preventing them from being seen from above. Other cities and towns, including Portland, have their own ordinance requirements for lighting; check with your municipality to find out what the rules are.
No matter where you live, I recommend choosing warm (no more than 3,000 Kelvin), dimmable LED downlights, like those described above, to curb light pollution, reduce glare, and create a soothing — versus blinding — outdoor environment. Remember also that you don’t need many fixtures to make an impact outside; learn about my less-is-more approach to landscape lighting here.
As for dark sky-compliant fixtures, these picks will adequately illuminate your home and yard and facilitate stargazing.
Cover Photo: On Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Peninsula, Down East’s director of photography, Benjamin Williamson, captured the Milky Way and bioluminescence in the water.
By Sanford Fogg
In a new monthly column, Sanford Fogg, of Fogg Lighting in Portland, offers his best advice on illuminating your home.
Q: What’s the most important thing to consider when planning lighting for a new home or remodel?
A: Bringing in a lighting designer at the start of a project is key. This is not a luxury reserved for people with big budgets. We will consult with any customer, free of charge, in our store. For a reasonable charge, we’ll also make a house call, but this is not typically necessary. Working with floor plans or drawings, we can determine how much light you need in a room, what types of fixtures will work best, and where they should go. Because lighting is one of the last things to be installed in a house, people often don’t contact us until the final weeks of a project. At this point, the wiring is done and it’s no longer possible to alter the lighting plan. We see kitchens that are drastically under-lit, with a grid of recessed lights in the center of the room instead of over the work surfaces. In living rooms, people frequently use recessed fixtures like klieg lights overhead, when they should be positioned around the room’s perimeter to create more comfortable, ambient illumination — to name just a couple of potential pitfalls.
Because contractors’ allowances are sometimes not enough to cover the type of lighting homeowners want or need, we also help clients devise a realistic budget up front so they are not hit with unexpected costs at the end of the process. You can spend a lot of time and money on your plans and architect, and choose the prettiest countertops, tile, and art, but if you don’t light it all properly, you can’t take full advantage of, or truly appreciate, the work you’ve done.
The amount of light needed varies by room, tasks, age and several other factors. Except for kitchens, laundry rooms, bathrooms and other areas where tasks are performed you do not need lots of light in the rest of the house. Filling a room with light is more important than having high levels of light. That is what layers of light do, they help fill a room with light. Social interaction is enhanced by comfortable lighting whereas tasks require higher levels of lighting.
|Comfortable Lighting for Dining|
Generally speaking the amount of light that is needed for most tasks like cooking and for reading is around 50-60 footcandles (f/c) That is the amount of light needed on the work surface. Sewing requires more light and grooming a little less light. Social spaces like living rooms are OK at 20-30 f/c. It is important to remember that older eyes need more light to do see the as young eyes. A 50 year old needs about twice as much light as a 20 year old to see the same.
Higher levels of light can be achieved without glare, but care must be taken to choose the correct fixture and to layer the lighting in a pleasing way. Do not rely on just recessed or just under cabinet lights. Use a combination along with good ambient lighting.