When lightbulbs were first invented, they were purely functional. They allowed humanity to exist past sundown, opening entire worlds of possibility outside of only candlelight.
Today, lightbulbs are still functional. They still allow us to lead lives at all hours of the day, but now, these lights are also used as pieces of decoration; they can add beauty, intrigue, and personality to any room. But before we can get to lighting design, we must first cover the lighting basics, starting with the bulbs.
WHAT TYPE OF BULB SHOULD I GET?
Picture a basic lightbulb. You know, the small one with the wires you can see that you’re used to sticking in your table lamps. That’s an incandescent lightbulb. Tried and true, it’s the base model of lightbulbs and provides the gold standard of light.
The American Lighting Association (ALA) names three additional types of lightbulbs to choose from:
• Halogen incandescent – This bulb is very similar to the traditional incandescent bulb, as it’s part of the same incandescent family, but is more efficient than its traditional counterpart, using up to 30 percent less energy.
• CFL (Compact Fluorescent) – The CFL bulb is more efficient still than the halogen incandescent, using up to 75 percent less energy than the traditional incandescent lightbulb, but its use is expected to decline due to the growing popularity of LEDs.
• LED – Today, the LED bulb is the most efficient, longest lasting, and often the most suitable type of bulb for home lighting. The new models look very similar to traditional bulbs. These bulbs tend to have a slightly higher upfront cost, given their energy efficiency, but that cost is mitigated by their very long life.
Now that we can identify the different bulbs, we can continue with other criteria to use in selecting the right bulb for you.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN A LIGHTBULB?
When you look at a box of lightbulbs, you will see a series of numbers along the bottom. Believe it or not, all these numbers actually mean something, and understanding them will greatly help you choose the right bulb!
The next time you pick up a pack of lightbulbs, check the box for the following:
• Lumens: How bright is the bulb?
• Color: Is the light from the bulb a warm 2700K or a cool 4000K?
• CRI: Does the bulb render colors beautifully? 80+ is good, 90+ is great!
• Dimmable: Can I use the bulb with a dimmer switch?
WHAT’S A LUMEN?
Traditionally, lightbulbs were measured using wattage, which measures the amount of energy a lightbulb uses. But this is not an entirely accurate unit of measurement now, especially since bulbs take up less energy than ever before. For example, an 80W lightbulb does not inherently mean double the amount of light as a 40W lightbulb.
Instead, we should use lumen, which measures a bulb’s brightness. For space lighting, anywhere from 450 to 1,600 lumens could do the trick, but for cozy, reading lighting, you would probably look for less brightness, and therefore, less lumens. It all depends on your space.
CRI: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
CRI, or the Color Rendering Index, describes how many colors a light lets you see. This index is measured on a scale of 0-100, with 0 meaning all colors look the same, and 100 meaning you can see the true colors of an object.
The general rule of thumb is, the higher the CRI, the better the color rendering capacity of a bulb. Of course, we want every bulb to score a 100, but try to aim for at least 80.
WHAT TYPE OF LIGHTING SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
According to the ALA, the most aesthetically pleasing and effective way to light a room is to light with three layers: overall, task and accent.
Overall lighting is the main light source in a room. This is typically the biggest, brightest light and tends to be higher up in order to give off the most light. This could include a ceiling light, recessed lighting, or multiple pendants.
Task lighting is the light needed for specific tasks, like reading, cooking, or applying make-up. Task lighting tends to be more versatile in size, as it only needs to be lighting for specific tasks.
Accent lighting includes every other type of lighting, like in-cabinet lighting, cove lighting, or small, portable lamps.
The best part about layered lighting is that it could include any type of lighting, depending on the space. The most important thing is to layer the lighting so that appropriate illumination is available for the activity taking place and can protect your eyes over time.
RESOURCES Kichler, Metropolitan and Z-Lite available at A&S Lighting Center and Premiere Lighting Gallery
LIGHTING FOR AGING EYES
Lighting becomes more and more important as people age. The ALA says that with each passing year, people require more light to see properly.
Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the ALA, says, “older eyes experience two important changes.”
The amount of light required to sustain visual performance increases with age. Research shows that a 60-year-old needs twice as much light as a 30-year-old.
Over time, human eyes also become more sensitive to glare. This can seem a bit backwards, as adding more light can often result in increased glare on objects. That is what makes the quality of light that much more important as you grow older.
Just a few simple lighting adjustments can make a huge difference when lighting your home with age considerations in mind:
• Turn on a table lamp or two while watching TV to reduce the contrast between your dark room and the bright screen.
• Have a task light that can be aimed, giving you direct light on the task at hand.
• Use a floor lamp for versatile room lighting. Aim to find a lamp that has a light at the top, for full room lighting, plus a separate light attached to the side than be used as additional task lighting.
Lighting is exciting! It can exist in so many ways, from floor lamps, to table lights, to even jaw-dropping chandeliers. Now that you understand the bulb basics, you can continue crafting your perfect space, with the right bulbs lighting your path forward.
Article by Sydne Santo
Article originally appeared in February 2023