Get the Right Fixtures and a Lighting Plan
Especially in a multipurpose, highly trafficked room like the kitchen, lighting should be an integral part of the project, not an afterthought. Proper lighting improves the function, appearance and energy efficiency of your home and is also important to your comfort, health and safety. Yet homeowners and contractors alike often place more emphasis on decorative aspects or wiring considerations than efficiency and function.
Follow these strategies to ensure your lighting is as practical and energy-efficient as possible:
Develop a Lighting Plan
A lighting plan should include both the location and the type of fixtures and controls. Along with the ambient lighting required by building codes, the plan should address decorative, task, focal, and safety lighting.
Choose Energy Star Fixtures
Instead of traditional incandescent lighting fixtures, opt for fluorescent fixtures that are Energy Star-qualified. Look for lamps with a higher Color Rendering Index (CRI)—at least 70 or 80—to avoid a glow and get a light closer to true natural light.
Recessed lights (aka "can" lights) that penetrate the ceiling should be IC-rated (insulation contact) so that they are resistant to fire and also prevent air leakage and energy loss. Other similar lighting fixtures should be caulked around the edge or gasketed to prevent air infiltration.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. EPA's Energy Star program
Use Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Where you can't (or choose not to) replace existing incandescent fixtures with fluorescent fixtures, try using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). A 60-watt incandescent bulb can be replaced with an 11- to 15-watt CFL. Although CFLs cost more than regular light bulbs, they last 6 to 10 times longer, and each one saves $25 to $30 over its lifetime. To maximize their benefit, use CFLs in high-use areas.
LED (light-emitting diode) technology uses 90 percent less electricity than incandescents. Because of LEDs' long life and additional up-front cost, they are suggested for difficult-to-service indoor and outdoor applications, and heavily used indoor areas. They can also be used in a variety of creative lighting layouts because of their size—roughly that of small Christmas lights.
Dimmer switches allow one fixture to serve several functions—task lighting when at full illumination, and decorative or safety lighting at lower settings. Dimming increases lamp life and saves energy because less electrical wattage is used.
Adding motion sensors to outdoor lights can increase home safety. They turn the light on when they detect movement, and automatically switch off after a set amount of time. Because they limit the time that the lights are on, they can reduce energy use by up to 90 percent.
Occupancy sensors can also be used indoors in rooms that are used for short periods of time, such as hallways, powder rooms, workrooms and closets.
Copyright 2006, The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), www.pathnet.org. Adapted with permission.