GE Lighting Tip Sheet 2

Layering Light
Notes from GE Lighting Specialist Kathy Presciano 

Bringing light to your life

Rooms that welcome guests always begin with carefully chosen light and intelligently placed lighting fixtures. And the concept of layering light can provide the ultimate in design flexibility. In fact, every room should have three basic layers of light:

1. General or ambient lighting
2. Task lighting
3. Accent lighting

1. General lighting

The first layer of light is general — or ambient — light. It is a general wash of light that allows you to see and walk safely throughout your home. Lighting can have a subtle, quiet presence—such as light provided by recessed lamps — or it can make a statement—such as lighting provided by chandeliers.

Overhead fixtures 101: When selecting an overhead fixture, you might wonder — how high, how far apart, how large? These guidelines will help you.

With chandeliers, size matters: A chandelier that's too big will overpower the room; one that's too small will seem out of proportion with the space. The minimum diameter of the chandelier for most dining rooms is 20 inches and should be no greater than the length of the table minus 12 inches. Measure the width of the room in feet, double that figure, and you will get the diameter of your ideal chandelier in inches. For example, a 12-foot-wide room should have a chandelier no wider than 24 inches in diameter. Another tip: Choose a chandelier with a design that echoes the patterns in the room's wallpaper or curtains.

Height of hanging fixtures: The bottom of a hanging fixture should generally be seven feet above the floor.

Lowering light from the ceiling makes light more efficient: Lowering light means the light travels a shorter distance. Try to choose hanging fixtures when you have a very high ceiling. Exposed trusses and beams also offer other mounting opportunities.

If the fixture hangs over a dining table: The bottom of the fixture should hang about 30 inches above the table in a room with an eight-foot ceiling. For every additional foot of ceiling height, raise the fixture an extra one to three inches.

Extra-tall ceilings present special challenges: Buy additional matching chains or a longer rod when buying your light fixture. Have an electrician extend the wiring.

For cathedral ceilings: In a cathedral ceiling application, you'll want to incorporate beam patterns from spotlights and floodlights. The recessed fixtures closest to the peak of the ceiling should include spotlights, and the lower fixtures should have floodlights.

Light from recessed fixtures spreads out in a cone-shaped pattern: The farther away the light is, the more it spreads out. Change from a floodlight bulb to a spotlight bulb for more intensity or more even light distribution, or change the light's path by installing differently shaped trim.

Most recessed fixtures are installed in a grid: It's preferable to place recessed fixtures closer together in a grid so the patterns of light overlap (in fact, this will help you get the most light for your money). A basic recessed fixture with standard reflector trim throws light downward in a cone shape, producing a circle of light as wide as the room is high. In a room with eight-foot ceilings, place the fixtures in a grid from six to eight feet apart — or one per every 20-25 square feet — so the light slightly overlaps.

Best use of fluorescents: Fluorescents mounted in fixtures provide great shadowless light, and two 48-inch lamps will light a 120-square-foot area. This type of lighting is best used in kitchens or work areas for even light. It can also be used for architectural accent lighting, such as cove lighting, in other rooms.

2. Task lighting

The second essential layer of light is task lighting, which provides intense light to help you see things you're concentrating on — like reading or sewing. It can be as simple as a table lamp or floor lamp or as elaborate as systems of fixtures that spotlight work surfaces. It can be built-in, like fluorescents under a cabinet to provide light for food preparation in the kitchen, or it can be exposed, like bulbs in a bathroom used for grooming.

Task lighting requires a higher level of light that's specifically directed. Try using 150 watts of incandescent light or 25 to 30 watts of fluorescent light (Note: 150 watts of incandescent has the lumen output of a 42-watt CFL, and a 100-watt incandescent has lumen output equivalent to a 26-watt CFL). As a general rule of thumb, task lighting should be about three times as bright as your general, or ambient, light. A proper balance of light is necessary to prevent eye fatigue.

Once you know the amount of light you want, position light to prevent unwanted shadows. Shades and shields help eliminate glare. And remember, a light hung three feet above a counter provides four times as much light on a surface as light that's six feet away.

Tip: People have diverse abilities, meaning that lighting needs may very well vary based on a person's individual needs. A good way to address a multitude of needs with lighting design is to install three-way lamps, which provide great flexibility.

3. Accent lighting

The third layer of light is accent, or mood, lighting. Accent lights provide the touch that gives rooms their sparkle. You can use accent lighting as a theatrical tool to draw attention to the pleasing architectural features of a room or to draw eyes away from the not-so-appealing parts. In general, accent light should cast at least five times more light on a target than the general light of the room and should be aimed in such a way to prevent unwanted reflections on a surface or area.

In rooms with vaulted ceilings, try positioning cove lights or a series of uplights near the ceiling line. Or, if you have a room that lacks architectural details, you can actually create shapes with light. You can also try:

Mounting picture lights above paintings. Picture lights that illuminate artwork have slim bulbs hidden behind a metal housing and can be mounted on the wall or attached directly to a picture frame. For best illumination, use fixtures that are half the width of the frame.

Using track fixtures to spotlight galleries of artwork. Try using halogen bulbs, like GE Edison™ halogen products, which produce white light and do not distort the artist's colors. Track lighting is a great way to illuminate specific objects because the fixtures are adjustable.

Using recessed fixtures to accent sculptures. These fixtures can also be used to emphasize surface texture on a wall, or make long hallways more interesting by casting pools of light onto the wall, floor and ceiling.

Several fixtures aiming from different angles create dramatic effect. Do this with special three-dimensional objects for a museum-like appearance.

Installing wall sconces for a decorative touch. Use sconces — small glowing fixtures affixed to the wall — to frame mantels, flank doorways, line hallways, or adorn the sides of your bed to free up space on the nightstand. In general, sconces should be placed above eye level, or about 66 inches from the floor.

Setting mood with a dimmer. Dimmers allow you to adjust light levels in rooms where mood is critical. Dimmers should be used in all chandeliers or any time there is a bare light source.

Adding a lamp to almost any surface. These are great for accent and task lighting (see below).

Creating architectural accents with fluorescent lights: Fluorescents can be used in valence, cornice and cove lighting applications for dramatic effects (see below).

Lamps used for accent and task lighting
More flexible than other types of lighting, table and floor lamps require no installation. All you do is plug them in. Some things you might consider are: height, type of bulb and style. Here are some tips:

Position the bottom of the lamp shade at eye level (in most cases). This helps maximize light and minimize glare.

• For a sit-down vanity: try two table lamps on each side of the vanity with the center of the lamp shade measuring approximately 15 inches off the surface of the vanity and with bulbs placed about 36 inches apart (depending on width of the top).

• For a bureau that you might use to get ready standing up, try two lamps that measure 36 inches apart, bulb-to-bulb, and that are tall enough so that the center of the shade is about 22 inches from the surface of the bureau.

• For bedside lamps, it's best for the base of the shade to measure about 20 inches vertically from the top of your mattress on either side of the bed—or, your reading side if you only have one nightstand.

• For desk lamps, try having the base of the shade measure 15 inches from the top of the desk. If the desk lamp is wall-mounted, the base of the lamp (or lamps) should also be 15 inches from the top of the desk.

• For floor lamps next to a reading chair, the base of the lampshade should measure approximately 40-42 inches from the floor.

Tips for creating special effects with fluorescents
For dramatic effects using fluorescents try:

Valance lighting: This is lighting from light sources on a wall typically above eye level, shielded by horizontal panels. The light may be upward and/or downward directed. By shining light upward and downward, you can highlight ceilings and walls simultaneously. Another thing you might try is creating a nice lighted display shelf by placing a piece of translucent plastic above the channel holding the light source.

Cornice lighting: This is a type of valence lighting that shines light downward. Dramatize draperies or shine soft light downward by mounting fluorescent bulbs under a cornice. Install tubes six inches from the wall and mount the cornice with large angle brackets.

Cove lighting: This is a type of valence lighting that shines light upward. Use it for highlighting a ceiling, outlining a room, or accenting a special architectural design element.

Creating an accent with different bulb types:

To make colors pop: Try GE Reveal® products, which filter dull yellow rays. Great for use around artwork or tablecloths and tapestries with interesting patterns.

For bright white light: Try GE Edison™ halogen products, which produce bright white light. Also great for use around artwork to display the artists' colors in the best light.

For energy savings: Try GE Energy Smart™ Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs, which are about 70-75 percent more energy efficient than standard incandescent lamps and last up to 10 times longer.