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Effective Lighting Design

How to Design The Lighting In Your House

Design of lighting systems is not difficult, it can be important for ambience and to make a place attractive, but it also is important that work areas have good lighting or for security reasons so we need to take care.

In this article we look at the design of lighting systems for security, functional and aesthetic purposes, what we need to consider and how we go about it.

effective lighting design

Good lighting is easy, low cost but very effective

It is quite amazing what you can do with a good dose of well placed lighting.

A dilapidated hovel that, in daylight, looks like the lair of a collector of used cigarette ends may, under the cover of darkness, be transformed into a wondrous glittering palace.

No I am not talking about stringing up a few winking (I did say winking) pink LEDs to make your failing restaurant look like the owner is either desperately trying to attract the attention of some poor unsuspecting customer or that it is already August and he is simply too lazy to take down the Christmas lights.

I am talking about the ability to totally define a space, to give it ambience and to infuse whatever feeling you wish be it grandeur, sophistication, mystery, tranquility, excitement, confusion, hysteria, depression. Lighting gives you the opportunity to set a scene and to instil within your visitors a feeling, a mood no less. Mind you care is needed, this is a two edged sword and, crudely executed, you may end up with the Barbie doll or, even worse, the bordello look.

Like a blank page darkness provides a canvas on which almost anything can be painted.

Have a look around, you will note that many places are pretty badly lit. With only a little effort you can probably do a lot better. Lighting provides lots of possibilities and most people, with just a few well placed lights and a bit of creative imagination can have a go themselves and, who knows, they may even find it fun.

So how do we go about it? Well let us first consider what we are trying to achieve. Lighting has three distinct purposes and each of these purposes needs to be considered when deciding where and how we will provide light.

1. Functional lighting

First we need to be able to see what we are doing. Pretty basic really and common sense to us all but I'll state the obvious anyway just as a checklist.

If we are doing something like working in a kitchen, reading a book or clipping our nasal hairs in a mirror we need suitable lighting to be able to carry out the task. In many work situations good lighting is essential to avoid mistakes. Poor lighting can be particularly dangerous if we are working with dangerous machinery such as lathes or other machine tools.

The light must be bright enough to see clearly what we are doing but not so bright that our eyes get tired from the glare. In most situations we will probably also want to avoid shadows or harsh changes of brightness so we will probably need to strategically place more than one light. Indirect lighting can be used to great effect to distribute the light evenly.

If your eyes are not too good and if you have trouble focussing bright lighting can increase the contrast between the letters and the page and make it easier to read.

If you are an artist you will also need to pay attention to using the right colour of lighting. Did you know that Pablo Picasso's blue period ended in 1904 when his wife, fed up with everything in the house being blue, bought him a nice new table lamp.

2. Security lighting

When we start thinking about security a whole set of different parameters comes into play. We need bright lights with good coverage in the area we are lighting in order to achieve two aims, firstly to allow us to see anyone who enters the property and secondly to deter or scare people away.

Avoiding shadows is of particular importance, intruders tend to hide in dark areas and the shadows of trees or other things may provide the cover they need.

Until fairly recently large spotlights or flood lights would use a lot of power and could run up large electricity bills however, with the availability of very bright LED flood lights, we can use much less power and it is now far more affordable to provide good security lighting around your home.

Good security lighting can have a powerful deterrent effect on intruders. Why climb into a brightly light garden when the one next door is in darkness? Security lights do, however, tend to kill aesthetics and so you may wish to switch them on only when needed.

Motion sensor lights can be a particularly effective way of scaring intruders away and these can be placed around your perimeter to warn of the intruder's presence long before they get into your house or anywhere near you. The motion sensors themselves can usually be adjusted for sensitivity to avoid cats and dogs triggering them.

It is also a good idea to think carefully about where you put the light switches for security lights, they need to be in the most convenient places should something untoward happen. If you hear a sound in your living room you may wish to be able to switch on a light from the bedroom.

3. Aesthetic lighting

This is where lighting really comes into its own.

When I was young lighting was pretty simple. Houses had a single lamp hanging from the ceiling in the centre of each room. Gardens were seldom lit. It had about as much aesthetic appeal as a hyena with boils.

We have come a long way since then and these days we demand far more aesthetic quality in our lighting. With the advent of LED lights in many different forms, configurations and colours, the possibilities are endless.

Experiment and make adjustments

Experiment, try something and if it doesn't work you can change it. Have a look around and find things that work and copy the ideas. Try using features such as paintings or trees that you spotlight. As a general rule avoid direct vision of the light itself, what is being illuminated is the important factor. Use pools of light (very easy with modern LED mini spotlights) to selectively illuminate.

Take care - lighting can kill atmosphere just as easily as it can create or enhance it, you know the feeling. I remember being invited to parties in Australia only to arrive and find the party was being held in the garage illuminated by glaring white florescent tubes, the only thing missing was a slab with a body on it.

Use warm lighting

Use warm lighting. There is something in our psyche that attracts us to the warmth of a naked flame (candles, campfires, etc) a colour reproduced in the glow of incandescent light bulbs. Modern lights can be produced in all sorts of colours and lighting manufacturers have put a lot of effort into reproducing natural warm hues.

Do not overdo it, a single well placed light can have a far more dramatic effect than a clamour of many lights.

It goes without saying that these three purposes of lighting can, and at times will need to be, combined. This is where things can get more challenging. For example in a restaurant we need to strike a balance between function and aesthetics. We need to light tables so that people can see what they are eating without destroying the ambience. There is nothing worse than reaching out for your true love's hand only to end up holding a piece of wet lettuce.

As a final comment please remember that, in Indonesia, all the time people are dying and buildings are burning as a result of faulty electrical circuits installed by former purveyors of skin embellishments, aerators of satay grills and gatherers of polymer drinking vessels who, whilest contemplating their umbilicus mysteriously believe that they have acquired magical skills in the art of electrical installation. Find a properly trained electrician to install ALL your electrical circuits.

Copyright © Phil Wilson May 2016
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