Expert Tips for a Well-Lit Home

A good lighting plan can do wonders for your work and play spaces.

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Hire a Professional

white kitchen with dark stained wood island

Some lighting projects are perfect for the do-it-yourselfer, such as installing dimmer switches. But for bigger jobs, get customized advice from a trained lighting specialist, Certified Lighting Consultant, or lighting designer, who will create a plan based on your needs and budget. When you turn off the circuit breaker, tape over switches so they're not accidentally turned back on.

  • Get quotes for home lighting projects from local pros.
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Install Dimmers

Traditional White Sofa with Round Wood Side Table and Black Shaded Table Lamp

Installing dimmer switches on your light fixtures saves energy and allows you to tone down too-bright ambient lighting or create a more nuanced lighting scheme. Plus, a dimmer can extend the life of your bulbs and minimizes the times you must change hard-to-reach fixtures.

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Liven Up Recessed Lighting

bathroom with orange cabinets and dual mirrors
David Tsay

Decorative trims dress up common recessed can lights and are easy to install. Consider a light-diffusing baffle: a wall-washer shield that aims and intensifies light, a beveled glass shade, or an acrylic lens that adds a splash of color to a room.

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Spread Out Wattage

Respecting the Past

Don't try to illuminate your whole kitchen with one or two mega-bright ceiling fixtures. This is a recipe for shadows and glare. Instead, use a blend of ambient, task, and accent lighting. Put lower-wattage bulbs in each luminaire. For example, with 100 watts in undercabinet task lighting and 200 watts spread among several wall sconces, you can put a 20-watt bulb in each of your pendant lamps for ambient light that won't overwhelm.

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Choose High-Quality Fixtures

white and pastel colored sitting room

A well-made light fixture looks better, lasts longer, and gives clearer light, so inspect your fixture's construction the way you would a piece of furniture. Some questions to ask: Are the metals sturdy, not lightweight? Are the sockets high-quality porcelain, not plastic? Does the shade hide the bulbs? Do joints and connections look solid? Do parts screw together easily?

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Add Drama


Whether you want to highlight the fireplace, a painting, or your new French doors, use accent lights to focus attention on important elements. Find ways to incorporate uplighting, rather than downlighting, for a softer effect. To emphasize a wood-beam ceiling, add wall-mount sconces, hide spotlights behind furniture, or place rope lights on a ledge around the room's perimeter to create a warm, upward glow.

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Layers of Light


According to lighting designer Randall Whitehead, the recipe for a successful lighting design is to mix four types, or layers, of light in every room of the house. The first layer is ambient light, indirect light that evenly illuminates rooms. This type of light includes natural light, pendants, and overhead fixtures. Next, spotlight your work areas with task lighting, which includes reading lamps and undercounter lights. Highlight the room's architecture with accent lights, such as track lights or adjustable recessed lights. The final layer is decorative lights, such as chandeliers and lamps. These lights make large rooms feel smaller.

  • Get quotes for home lighting projects from local pros.
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Get the Most Bang

kitchen with white cabinets and blue ceiling

Low-voltage MR16 bulbs have a high color temperature that makes colors really pop. The bulbs provide perfect, low-cost accent lighting. You'll need a base designed to accommodate the bulb, but investing in a few MR16 picture lights to spotlight artwork can completely change the feel of your room.

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Optimize Daylight

breakfast nook

Warm and fresh, with better color rendering than even the best halogen bulbs, natural light is the ideal complement to an electric lighting scheme. Whether you're adding or widening a window, installing a skylight, or just rethinking the windows you have, make sure you consider how to keep daylight from getting too harsh and hot. A west-facing window may require a heavy-duty covering or a tinted screen.

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Use Energy-Efficient Bulbs

Living room

Save the earth and your money each time you turn on the lights by using dimmable light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. Some LED bulbs can last up to 12 years. Energy-efficient bulbs are available to replace almost any size incandescent bulb.

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Through the Wire

vintage contemporary kitchen globe pendant light white hanging
residential interior

Use corded ceiling or wall-mount fixtures to provide inexpensive lighting without hardwiring. These light fixtures are flexible, affordable, and don't require an electrician for installation. Just hang, plug into an outlet, and glow.

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Don't Fear Fluorescent

laundry room with yellow cabinets and large sliding doors 43f0c377

Long the bane of interior designers, fluorescent lights can now be a beautiful and energy-efficient way to brighten your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or basement says Stefan Graf, principal of Illuminart, a lighting design firm in Michigan. He recommends asking for bulbs with a high color-rendering index. The higher the bulb is rated on a scale of 1 to 100 the better its ability to show vivid, true-to-life color.

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