Ask the Architect

Should we go with recessed lighting?

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Q. Planning our home has gotten to be expensive, and we don’t like the look of high-hats in the ceiling. The contractor tells us we have to have a lot of them to light the room. Isn’t there another way? Also, we wanted to save energy, and the bulbs are going to use a lot of electricity. What would you do?

A.Lighting is as sensitive a subject as heating and cooling, since these senses are most affected in a new home, or any room you’re in. High-hat, or recessed, lighting isn’t the only choice, but probably the most popular. What it provides is down lighting, or, if adjustable, directional lighting from the ceiling.

There are many good reasons to use recessed lighting, and some negatives. For example, high-hats are hidden from view when you look across the ceiling, so being less noticeable or obtrusive, they make the space feel more open. Hanging lights add an element to the space, and aren’t as “clean”-looking, if that’s your preference. Modern-style homes are flooded with light from high-hats to preserve that clean, continuous-plane ceiling.

The one major problem with recessed lighting is that it lights the floor and anything in between the ceiling and floor, but if you look at the lit room, the ceiling is left in shadow. The shadow effect makes the ceiling appear lower and more ominous, depending on its actual height. By employing other types of lighting, such as standing lamps, known as torchieres, or wall-mounted lights, called sconces, you change the light location and bounce light off more surfaces, giving the room a more balanced, even glow. Table lamps are another alternative, but may also fall into the category of “task”-oriented lighting, which, as the name implies, is more focused on a particular area and is better suited to reading than to overall room illumination.

The best lighting I’ve found for uniform lighting from a single source is the first one I mentioned, the standing, adjustable, multidirectional torchiere. I’ve also found them to be the most economical, since you can light a whole room with a single light. If you plan to get torchieres, you may want to consider one with more than one light. This way, you can direct light in different directions, including down for a reading space, up to the ceiling for overall illumination, and focused on a wall for highlighting a picture or your favorite knickknack, tchotchke, souvenir, conversation piece, garage sale treasure, or other piece of heirloom referred to as “stuff.”

As for bulbs to use, these days, light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, aren’t really bulbs, and save the expense we used to have with fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. With an LED, you can control the lighting color and intensity using a dimmer switch that makes the mood of the room much more flexible, regardless of the type of fixtures you use. Enjoy your new home!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.