7 Home Lighting Mistakes to Avoid

Written by Jeff Sheats of Jeff Sheats Designs
Updated September 26, 2013
living room lighting
Light your home properly by avoiding seven key mistakes. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Sheats Designs)

Knowing what to avoid can make you look like a lighting pro.

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There are common mistakes when striking lighting in our homes that waste energy and do not get the light where it's needed. We see these errors repeated in new construction and remodels because most people are not sure how to light spaces.

Here are residential lighting mistakes to avoid:

1. Forgetting to deploy ambient, accent and task lighting

Professional interior designers address three major aspects of lighting: ambient, accent and task.

Ambient lighting is easily defined as something like the path lighting to light your foot path as you move about a space which can include landscape lighting as well. Accent lighting is just that – lighting that accents certain features such as lighting on a piece of artwork or lighting that washes some special built-in cabinetry to “show it off”. Task lighting creates light on a work plane so the user may finish a specific task at hand, such as lighting on a desk to do paperwork without eye strain, or under cabinet lighting in a kitchen to promote perfect vision while prepping and cooking food for the family. Combining all three types of lighting gives you greater functionality, visual interest and the likelihood you will have sufficient lighting.

2. Installing recessed or can lights everywhere

This common light is very inexpensive and many people just lay them out in a grid everywhere. The optics of these lights wastes energy by allowing only slightly more than half the lumen output to escape. They do not spread sufficient light on vertical surfaces where the eye perceives light. Not only do recessed cans not light homes well, they are a “me too” product that adds no design value to a space.

3. Using recessed or can lights over a vanity without other lighting

Remember holding a flashlight under your chin and seeing shadows? This works in the opposite direction. Standing directly under a downward facing recessed light creates unflattering shadows. Using a can light over a sink in a bathroom is fine to highlight the modern, polished chrome lavatory faucets you’ve just installed, but it’s not proper lighting for shaving, tweezing or applying makeup. For this you’ll need lights at eye level preferably installed on the mirror to prevent shadowing. Decorative sconces will do the trick nicely.

4. Using lighting sources without dimming

While the world is evolving in finding ways to retrofit our existing fixtures with lower energy, longer lasting sources of light versus incandescent, it is critical we also consider dimmability of the light sources. Dimming decreases energy used, heat output, lengthens the life of the light bulb and provides pleasant and efficient levels of light as our requirements change throughout the day and night. But dimming takes thought and should control different types of light separately.

5. Neglecting to control different types of light separately

Remember we need ambient, accent and task lighting for our spaces as appropriate? For maximum efficiency and flexibility, each type of light should be controlled independently. Controlling multiple sources of light can be as easy as putting each source on a separate dimming switch.

6. Forgetting to include portable lighting fixtures in the design plan

A great interior lighting plan also always includes portable lighting such as table, desk or floor lamps. Portable lighting can be enhanced by specifying floor receptacles so the fixtures float in the room instead of dangerously running cords across path spaces. Portable lighting can also be specified to operate from switched receptacles so dimmers are used to control these fixtures and add drama to the room.

7. Decorating with light

Simply decorating with fixtures based alone on how they look rather than their performance often results in wasted energy and less than optimal light output. Consider hiring a creative designer who takes great pride in their ability to specify beautiful and proper fixtures, and then prepare detailed construction documentation for proper lighting implementation by the builder or remodeler as well. Great lighting documentation includes detailed drawings of the spaces with existing and new lighting plans, and can save money on remodeling by specifying to reuse existing wiring wherever practical.

This is my best-kept interior designer lighting secret: We always space plan furniture, artwork and built-in millwork plans first, and then create the lighting plan accordingly. This will achieve the very best architectural lighting plans for you and your family to enjoy for years.

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About this Experts Contributor: Jeff Sheats, Allied ASID, RID and principal interior designer, has been designing from his studio, Jeff Sheats Designs, for more than nineteen years. The Indianapolis firm provides full service residential and light commercial interior design firm services to Indy residents and businesses. Jeff’s work has been published repeatedly in Indianapolis Monthly and Indianapolis Woman magazines and has been a regular contributing writer to the Indianapolis Business Journal At Home Magazine.

As of September 26, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angi. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angi for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angi.

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