Q. As darker days approach, how can we adjust our lighting to keep our home comfortable and well-lit?
Light fixtures and bulbs can have a huge impact on your mood, productivity, and the coziness of your living space. This is true all year long. But during the transition from summer to fall, lighting issues are particularly noticeable. Walkways and interiors can suddenly feel dramatically dimmer. And you may feel like you’re constantly chasing the illumination you need to cook, work, help with homework, or put on makeup. With some smart changes, however, you can brighten your home — and your outlook.
Start Outside. Adjust any timers on your exterior lights to accommodate the changes in daylight. If your walkways feel tough to navigate even when porch lights and lamp posts are on, consider incorporating path lighting — either 18-inch-tall posts or fixtures recessed into the pathway or its environs — to help you get safely in and out of the house. Remember that a little light goes a long way outdoors; 40-watt-equivalent bulbs typically work best. Anything brighter can actually make it harder to see.
Layer your light. A room needs a mix of light sources at different levels to create a warm glow and ensure you can see what you’re doing. These layers include ambient illumination from decorative fixtures such as a chandelier, pendants, or flush-mounts, as well as accent and task lighting — typically some combination of recessed or track fixtures, sconces, under-cabinet units, cove lights, and table or floor lamps. At this time of year, you may need to beef up your task lighting, bringing in an extra reading lamp or adding a fixture in a spot where you sew or do puzzles. When only one light source is used, as is sometimes the case with recessed fixtures, you get pockets of light and darkness that make the area difficult to navigate — and impossible to read in.
Assess lampshades. Consider swapping dark fabric shades, or older white ones that have yellowed, for crisp new ivory or white shades to bring more ambient illumination into your rooms. If you favor colored-glass shades, you may want to supplement with an extra fixture to brighten up your space. Clear-glass shades, meantime, can allow too much light to escape, causing glare and making a room feel shadowy, if not paired with proper bulbs — no more than 40-watt-equivalents on a dimmer are best.
Turn up the temp. Light bulb boxes indicate a color temperature, labeled K for Kelvin temperature. In general, but particularly at this time of year, opt for bulbs with a 2700K or 3,000K rating, which provide a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast that can make your home feel as chilly as a feebly lit landscape on a winter’s day.
Q: As I get older, I’m finding it harder to see when I read or do other simple tasks in my home, even with my glasses on. Can you suggest some lighting improvements that might help?
A: When I was a teenager, I used to kid my father because he could not read menus in dimly lit restaurants. Now that I’m in my 70s, I realize how insensitive that was! As we age, our pupils actually get smaller, so less light makes it to the back of the eye. Many people start noticing changes in their vision around age 50 and, by the time you’re my age, you need about three times as much light as a 25-year-old does to read and perform fine-motor tasks. In addition to more wattage, older adults need glare-free illumination that is consistent from room to room, since moving from a low-light space to a bright one can be disorienting.
At Fogg Lighting, one of the things we try to educate people about is the concept of layers of light. Basically, you need a mix of light sources at different levels to create a properly lit space. We generally establish a first layer of ambient illumination in a room using decorative fixtures such as a chandelier, pendants, or semi-flush or flush-mount units. Accent and task lighting — typically some combination of well-placed recessed or track fixtures, sconces, under-cabinet units, cove lights, and table and floor lamps — fills in the shadows and helps you see what you’re doing. Contrast this scenario with one in which recessed fixtures are the only light source, as is sometimes the case in hallways. Used on their own, these units create pockets of light and darkness that make the area difficult for seniors (and toddlers!) to navigate.
For reading and other activities, it’s important to have a dedicated fixture that can accommodate the equivalent of a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Choose an opaque shade to reduce glare and an articulated arm if you want the option of shining the light onto a book. Here are a few of my favorite products.
A: I suggest following a less is more approach. You don’t want your yard to be lit up like a theme park, and I promise your neighbors don’t either. Too much exterior light can be blinding, uses unnecessary electricity, and contributes to the brightening of the night sky, making it difficult to see stars and disrupting animal habitats. Instead, focus on installing fixtures where you need them — near a patio or path, for example — and accentuating a few special features in the landscape. In addition to making your yard feel inviting when you’re outdoors, these pockets of illumination give you something to gaze out at (other than a black window) when you’re inside your home at night.
I recommend down lighting, also known as moonlighting, as an environmentally friendly means of landscape lighting. You can place downlights, which have a cylindrical casing around the bulb to eliminate glare, high up on tree trunks and aim them at a walkway, seating area, or the tree’s own foliage for a moonlit effect. Path lights — typically 18- to 24-inch posts topped with canopies that direct light downward — are a good choice for highlighting plantings in a garden. Modern versions, such as those shown above, are also available. Place path fixtures about 20 feet apart to create glowing areas that draw the eye from one plant to the next versus a single blast of illumination. Avoid stationing these lights at regular intervals along a path, which conjures a landing strip, and using them on lawns, where they are vulnerable to lawnmowers and weed wackers.
Opt for solid brass or copper fixtures, which hold up well in Maine weather and can withstand the occasional ding from a power tool, and use 20-watt equivalent LED bulbs. These last up to 20 years in a landscape setting (compared with six months to a year for halogen bulbs), a lifespan you’ll be especially thankful for if your fixtures are in a tree.
A: While the most critical need is adequate lighting at the vanity, I recommend incorporating additional layers of ambient and task lighting in a large space. In a master bathroom, these might consist of a centrally located ceiling fixture, a recessed light over the toilet, and recessed light(s) in the shower. In a powder room, vanity lighting alone might be sufficient (although I always recommend a recessed fixture over a toilet). Every situation and budget is different. But if you spend $10,000 to tile your walk-in shower, you should allocate $200 more to light it properly! For those on a smaller budget (i.e., most people), installing an exhaust fan with a light over the tub/shower is also a fine solution.
Sconces mounted beside the mirror at approximately head height, 65 to 70 inches above the floor, provide the best vanity lighting. These produce even illumination across the face. A sconce or bath bar installed above the mirror provides the next-best lighting. Most lighting designers advise against having recessed fixtures over a vanity as they create shadows under the eyes, nose, and chin, making tasks like shaving and applying makeup more difficult.
Opt for sconces with opal versus clear-glass shades, as the latter tends to produce glare. When choosing fixtures, I recommend ones that accept a minimum of 60-watt light bulbs, or the equivalent in an LED, per sconce. Like all lights, these fixtures should be on a dimmer that you can crank up when you’re getting ready in the morning, and down when you want to relax in the bath.
By Sanford Fogg
Photo Courtesy of Hubbardton Forge
Q: What should I consider when selecting fixtures for the exterior of my house?
A: The first step is determining the type of fixture, or fixtures, that best suit your house. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste. A flush-mount fixture works well on porches with low ceilings, while a pendant can be a good match for higher ceilings, depending on wind. Sconces on one or both sides of the door are a classic choice and can be combined with a ceiling fixture if you have a portico. If you have a tight space with no covering overhead, mount a single sconce near the door on the handle side. Whatever style you choose, invest in a quality material, such as copper, brass, or powder-coated forged steel. These metals come in multiple finishes and hold up well in Maine weather.
Choosing exterior fixtures that are too small is a common mistake people make. Lanterns that look large in a crowded showroom often get lost on the broad façade of a house. And when you stand back 50 feet, they appear about half their size. As a general rule, select models that are roughly ¼ to ⅓ the overall height of the door. Before making a purchase, cut cardboard to the size and shape of the light and affix it to your house, then stand on the street and see how it looks. Lamppost fixtures should match those in the entry and be approximately the same size. Garage fixtures are usually a little smaller and can be a different style if they are not visible from the front of the house.
Glare is another issue with a lot of exterior lights. A prime example is the motion-sensor flood lighting many people have on their garages. Instead of helping you see, these fixtures actually blind you! When it’s dark out, a little light goes a long way. One frosted, 40-watt-equivalent LED bulb per fixture is usually just right. To truly minimize glare, and light pollution in your community, opt for a “dark sky” fixture, which has a shade that shields the bulb and directs the beam downward — your neighbors will thank you!