Good lighting in a home is something that everyone appreciates, but few of us put much thought into.

As long as we’re not sitting in the dark, we rarely think about the quality of the lighting.

But good lighting design is more than just chasing away the shadows. Effective lighting can transform spaces and make them multifunctional.

If you’re remodeling, building a new home or just wondering why you’re struggling to read the newspaper, you’ll want to learn more about making your home’s lighting design more effective. Read on to learn more about the types of lighting and how to effectively implement them.

The Different Types of Lighting

Lighting is broken down into different functional categories based on its intended use. Effective lighting is all about matching the potential uses of a room with the kind of lighting that will best illuminate and/or highlight those functions. Lighting professionals often refer to this concept of different types of lighting as “layers” of lighting.

There are several different types or categories of lighting:

• Ambient
• Task
• Accent
• Decorative

Ambient lighting refers to the overall general light that fills a space. It doesn’t have any specific purpose other than to allow us to see and function in whatever room or space we’re in.

Task lighting is used to illuminate specific areas for the purpose of performing certain functions, like reading or food preparation. It’s usually a focused form of lighting and its location is usually specific to the place where you do the task.

Accent lighting highlights features, architectural elements or art that might adorn a room. It provides an interesting visual effect to features in a room or highlights and draws attention to characteristics within the space.

Decorative lighting turns the focus onto the light fixtures themselves. This form of lighting is intended to be the focal point rather than a source of illumination, though it might still serve as a form of ambient, task or accent lighting. Visual and artistic elements of the light fixture and how it casts the light are primary to how effectively it illuminates the space.

One thing to keep in mind is that these different layers of light can serve more than one function. Overhead recessed lighting in a kitchen, for example, can serve the role of general ambient light as well as task lighting, depending on its location and focus. Artistic pendant lights might serve as both decorative lights and task lights over a kitchen island.

Using more than one type or “layer” of light is what makes your home’s spaces more functional and the lighting more effective.

The Importance of Quantity, Location and Controls

Good lighting design obviously means having the right kind of lighting, but it’s more than that. The location of the lights, how many you use and their controls are equally important in achieving good lighting.

Choosing the right quantity of lights is essential for making any room live up to its potential. The concept of a single ceiling light for an entire kitchen (or any room for that matter) is antiquated and inefficient from an illumination point of view. Sufficient light fixtures are necessary to ensure there will be enough light for the room. An electrician can help you determine the quantity of fixtures you’ll need for your space if you’re unsure.

The location of light switches is also important. Placing them at convenient spots relative to the normal traffic flow pattern will make for more convenient use of the space. If you’re planning a remodeled space, think about the convenient spots for the light switches. This is particularly important in larger spaces where there are several points of entry. Qualified electricians and lighting designers can help you with this aspect of lighting design.

Get Involved in your Home’s Lighting Design

Finally, realize that you don’t have to be a lighting designer to make sure your home has good lighting. While the help of qualified lighting designers and electricians are certainly valuable, don’t just abdicate all responsibility to them.

Get involved with the design. Tell them how you use your space and what you plan on doing there. Review the plans for a remodel or new home and ask questions so you’ll understand where the lights and their controls will be. Ask yourself if the plan makes sense and gives you the light you’ll need.

Think green, too. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) are more efficient than incandescent bulbs. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are even more efficient than CFLs. Choosing lights that are more efficient helps the environment, lowers your home’s electrical bill and reduces it’s overall cost of ownership because you’ll replace bulbs less frequently.

The more knowledgeable you are about the principles of good lighting, including the kinds of fixtures that are available and the roles they’re suited for, the better you’ll be at effectively lighting your home. You’ll also be more informed when working with lighting professionals.

Regardless of whether you do it yourself or get some help, your home’s lighting will be better because you did your homework.

Robert Levesque is publisher of, a home design resource for helping you choose products and services when remodeling or building a new home.

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