Kitchen Lighting

The kitchen is far more than just a place where you prepare and cook food; it is the most varied and widely used room in your house. For some people, the kitchen is a home office, a homework area for children and a gathering area for friends and family. Good lighting control is very important since it needs to accommodate a broad range of situations where lighting becomes both functional and aesthetic. Because of that, you need to take ample time to understand and define your lighting needs in relation to your user needs. The kitchen must be well lit but not overly so and it must accommodate varying moods. Proper lighting draws people into the kitchen. Fortunately, good kitchen lighting design is relatively easy because it is objective and there is a broad range of products to choose from that suit almost every need with new technologies emerging every day.

One of the most common mistakes many people make is trying to light an entire kitchen space with only one fixture centered in the ceiling. A single lighting source will visually overpower everything in the space leaving some spaces poorly lit. A much better approach is to use layered lighting that provides several different types of lighting woven together to get a controllable mood-influenced texture of illumination. There are basically 4 different types of lighting: task, ambient, accent and decorative. You may see them called other things but the purpose is the same.

Task Lighting
Task lighting is spot lighting that is focused on specific work areas. In the kitchen, that will most often be provided by fluorescent lighting under cabinets, down lighting from recessed cans in the ceiling, track lighting or hanging lights also usually attached to the ceiling. Often, the type of fixtures and styling are dictated by the general decorating style. Task light is usually close to the work areas they highlight but can also be tightly focused, high-intensity lights like halogen track lights. Dimmers help moderate track lighting when they are not being used for task lighting to provide.

Ambient Lighting
Ambient light is the general, overall light that fills in shadows, reduces contrast and lights vertical surfaces to give a brighter overall feel. It enhances the casual feel of the area because it creates a much softer and calmer look and feel in the environment which is ideal for creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. If the kitchen has light colored surfaces and lots of windows there will be plenty of natural ambient light during the day. For nighttime use, fluorescents are the standard method of providing ambient light. They provide broad, even illumination and their efficiency makes it possible to fill large areas with light without using a lot of power or generating too much heat. Good ambient lighting helps make people look younger because it softens the facial lines. Ironically, it is the one type of lighting that is most often overlooked.

Choose a color temperature of 3500K for a warmer, more inviting appearance. You can put the tubes in a central fixture or on top of the upper cabinets to indirectly reflect off a light colored ceiling. This method works best if you have at least 12 inches of open space above the upper cabinets to the ceiling and is an inexpensive way to brighten up a kitchen. Generally, ambient light is best generated indirectly by reflecting it off the ceiling and other light colored surfaces.

Accent Lighting
Accent lighting is about lighting only what you want to see. It purpose is to direct attention. Use lenses to soften the light and make the light source invisible. Accent lighting should have dimmers to tune the light to the object that is the center of attention. Accent light can be tract lights, lamps, down light or spots from other sources. Tract lights offers the most versatility but completely hidden accents light are the most effective. There is a big difference between the real light temperature that fluorescent and incandescent lights give off. With accent lighting the old adage less is more holds especially true.

Decorative Lighting
Decorative lighting is for accent and is not intended to be used for anything other than affects lighting and mood. Wall sconces, light art and other decorative lights are examples of this form of lighting.

Since we live in California, our discussion of lighting should begin with acknowledgement of the state’s Title 24 Energy Conservation Requirement that significantly impacts lighting in new and remodeled homes. The previous link give you an in-depth explanation of the requirements for energy efficient lighting and controls. Typically, you will let your designer and/or contractor know what your lighting needs are and he will ensure that all the rules and regulations required to get the inspector to sign off on your plan are satisfied. This is very straight-forward and rarely a problem. Generally the following issues need to be addressed.

  • Cannot be fixed in a permanent “on” state
  • Should be on dimmers
  • Occupancy Sensors are advised
  • Must be certified Title 24 compliant
  • Must be manual-on/automatic-off but can also be turned off manually
  • Must turn off automatically in 30 minutes
  • High efficacy lights - fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) or high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps Fluorescent, CFL, and HID lights must not have a medium screw base socket Lamps rated 13 watts or greater must have an electronic ballast
  • The current code mandates that at least 50% of the installed wattage (power use) must be from fluorescent, CFL or HID lights (13 watts or greater require an electronic ballast) and up to 50% of installed wattage may be incandescent lighting if switched separately
When both fluorescent and incandescent lighting are used in the kitchen, the plans must specify make, model number and wattage for each fixture. Many designers are starting to use all fluorescent lighting to negate this requirement. Before you decide how you want to use fluorescent lighting, review common health concerns associated with fluorescent lighting.
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