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.
Line-voltage systems attach directly to the power source on a ceiling, wall, or beam.
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.
Cable systems have a delicate, floating look.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: What’s the appropriate size and height for fixtures that will hang over tables and countertops?
A: The size of your room and your personal taste are the primary factors that determine fixture size. Some lights that are minimalist and small might look lost in a large, cathedral-ceilinged space, while those that have a strong presence may appear overbearing in a compact room with standard eight-foot-high (or lower) ceilings. Often your best strategy is to have a companion hold a fixture, or a cardboard mockup of one, over the surface, then stand back and see how the pairing looks to you. The following recommendations are to help you along the way.
Typically, kitchen and dining room fixtures should be adjusted so that their bottom edges hover 30 to 36 inches above the countertop or table. The taller the ceiling, the higher they can hang. Make sure the fixtures are high enough so that you can see under them and won’t bump your head on them. The size of your kitchen island will determine the number and size of pendants to use. Odd numbers look more balanced than even numbers, but a small island might only need two pendants. In a dining room, opt for a fixture that’s about one-half to three-quarters the width of the table.
The best lighting for a bathroom is a pair (or row) of sconces mounted at about head height beside the mirror(s) — generally 68 to 70 inches above the floor. The next best choice is a sconce above the mirror. Your goal is to illuminate the face and minimize shadows under the eyes and chin.
Keep in mind the result you want to achieve when selecting your lights. Minimal glare is always desirable. You can also supplement decorative fixtures with task or accent lighting. Layers of light produce even illumination in a space, while providing lighting for essential tasks.
Here’s a sampling of some of our favorite fixtures for lighting tables and counter tops:
Q: It used to be easy to replace a light bulb; now there are so many options, I don’t know what to choose. What do you recommend?
A: It’s hard to imagine a household commodity that has changed more in the last five years than the light bulb. The incandescent bulbs we all grew up with wasted a lot of energy and have been phased out. Government mandates ushered in the brief reign of the more efficient, but widely despised, compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, which emit terrible-quality light and are difficult to dispose of because of their mercury content. The public’s loathing of CFLs accelerated the development of light-emitting-diode bulbs known as LEDs, which now rule the lighting world. These use up to 80 percent less energy than the old incandescents and can last for decades. LEDs are improving all the time and their prices are coming down. However, the quality of light they produce varies significantly, so it’s helpful to understand some lighting nomenclature before you buy.
Most LED bulb boxes have a Lighting Facts label that indicates brightness (measured in lumens), color temperature (labeled K for Kelvin temperature), energy use, estimated energy costs, and expected life. Since most packages also specify the type of incandescent bulb the LED replaces, you don’t need to pay much attention to the brightness measure. Instead, zero in on color temperature: 3,000K is my recommendation for a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast. Another good measure is the Color Rendering Index, or CRI, which tells you how accurately the bulb renders colors compared to an incandescent bulb, which has a CRI of 100. For LEDs, a CRI of 80 or higher is best.
To ensure an LED will fit in your fixture, bring your old bulb with you to the store and compare the bases. The splayed fins that LEDs have to dissipate heat make them larger than other bulbs. Make sure the bulb is dimmable (you may need to replace your dimmer switches with LED-friendly ones to avoid annoying flickering or buzzing). And if you plan to use the bulb outdoors and/or in an enclosed fixture (some LEDs require more airflow than these lights provide), check that these applications are noted on the box.
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to embrace this new technology — unlike previous innovations, this one is here to stay.
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.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world is getting brighter, but scientists say that may not be a good thing.
Researchers said on Wednesday satellite data showed that Earth’s artificially lit outdoor surface at night grew by about 2 percent annually in brightness and area from 2012 to 2016, underscoring concerns about the ecological effects of light pollution on people and animals. (more…)
“Cat Faeries” blog contains a very interesting article about the results of improper lighting on the health of cats. To quote from that post “… And what if our artificial lights at night are causing the four most common diseases in cats? Much research and documentation is to be found about the positive healthful and even curative effects of melatonin on the four most common diseases which affect our cats.”¹