Creating a Lighting Plan

Rick Thomas
Written by Rick Thomas
Updated August 1, 2016
Proper lighting can transform your home into an inviting retreat for both you and guests. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Sebring)

Lighting is welcoming. When we approach a home and the lights are on, it’s inviting. It feels warm and cozy, even from the outside. Lighting is a key part of your home’s ambiance, as well as its functionality.

Create a lighting plan

When planning your new home or renovation - whether it’s your kitchen, bathroom, family room or garage – you should include a detailed lighting plan. Your contractor should address this during the planning stages. It’s much more cost effective to do it at the outset than it is to retrofit.

A good lighting plan takes into consideration all of the ways you’ll be using the room, as well as the way the room itself will evolve. For example, if you have trees around your home, they will grow and mature, offering shade but also darkening your rooms. Plan accordingly. Or, if you add a screened porch or deck to your home, it will make the adjoining rooms much darker.

Always plan for more lighting than you think you’ll need. Don’t fully rely on natural light in a room, either – even a sunroom has dreary days. 

Here are a few general guidelines based on the location of your remodeling project:


You’ll not only be cooking here, requiring lots of light for various tasks, but you’ll also be entertaining, which calls for a different type of lighting. Start with the task lighting. Must-have areas include the sink, the center island and the hood over your stove. Task lighting directs the light on the task at hand. Recessed lighting or pin-spots are good for task lighting, and using multiple lights in one area can add depth and design elements.

Next, consider adding under-counter lighting to your kitchen. This can serve a dual purpose – it will add extra task lighting but it can also be used alone when softer lighting is needed. These lights come in energy-efficient LED strips, which provide two to three times the lifespan of regular lighting. In addition, consider dimmable overhead lights for setting the mood when entertaining or simply when you finish cooking and are sitting down to enjoy your meal.


This room requires plenty of task lighting for make-up application or shaving near the sink. Include overall bright lighting and soft lighting for middle-of-the-night trips. Don’t forget to put a light in the shower and over any tubs. You can also include wall sconces or decorative lights in your bathroom.


An oft-forgotten place for lighting is a closet. It’s obvious if the closet is a walk-in, but even smaller closets need a light. These can be installed to turn on and off automatically when opening or closing the closet door. A surface-mounted light is preferable, because it will spread light around a bigger area, as opposed to recessed lights, which are for direct focus.

Family rooms

Again, consider how you’ll use the room. While it’s easy to purchase floor-standing lamps or table lamps for this room to improve your lighting, you should still allow for ample illumination without these accessories. Lights can be on dimmers for more versatility.


The nature of this space simply requires a lot of light. Whether it’s a walkout or fully underground basement, it will get very little natural light. A combination of recessed and surface-mounted lighting will do the trick. In addition, be sure the stairs are well lit. 


The variety of lighting you choose for your home’s exterior depends on both your home’s location and the degree to which you want your home to be noticed. Spotlights placed strategically in the front yard illuminate your home aesthetically, but floodlights and path lighting are more functional. Floodlights near the entry areas of your home are good safety measures.

While the use of motion sensors on outdoor lighting is declining, even being able to flip a bright light on with a switch will give you some security. Consider floodlights for your garage and back door areas that don’t face the street.

Path lights can blend into your landscaping seamlessly and emit just enough light to provide guidance on walkways and paths. Porch lights or front door lights should be bright enough for you to identify anyone who comes to the door. 

Finally, don’t forget that as we age, we also need more light. That’s why planning for more light than you think you’ll need is important. Plan for some lighting when you move through your home in the dark. Put good lighting in stairwells and any areas where the flooring changes from tile to wood or carpet. Use brighter lights for task areas.

Plan your lighting to enhance your new rooms and you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy spending time in them.

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