The Language of Lighting
Lighting can get really technical, really quickly. This post will get you started on the basics of residential lighting, so you’ll be ready to talk to a designer, electrician, or lighting retailer about your project.
Colour Temperature (Kelvin)
Colour temperature is a way of talking about the colour of the light, measured in Kelvin. Lower K values are a warmer red-yellow colour, and higher K values are more blue. If you want to learn more technical details, Lowel EDU has a great article that shows the Kelvin range in relation to familiar lighting settings.
Colour temperature is especially important when choosing LED lighting. Early LED lighting was set at a higher K, giving it a blue cold feeling that many people disliked. But LED has come a long way, and you can now get much warmer colours and natural feeling light from them.
We’re all familiar with the basic on-off toggle or dimmer. The most basic switch, which turns a light on or off from one location, is more technically called a “one way switch”, which means that electricity goes from the switch to the light source.
Two Way Switch
Switches that can turn lights on or off from two locations are called two way switches. Common examples are when you can turn a light on at the top of the stairs and off at the bottom (or vice versa), or similarly on and off at the entry of a bedroom and at the bedside.
Three Way Switches or more
Having switches in more than two locations is not common, but it can be done. For each additional switch location, the number of “ways” will increase by one.
Dimmers lower the amount of light that the bulb produces, which allows you to adjust according to context, and is also a way to save energy. Dimmers are easy to add to existing lights without a renovation or wall repair/repaint. The main consideration when installing dimmers is to ensure your lightbulbs are dimmable.
You can also buy dimmers that plug into an electrical outlet in order to make a table or floor lamp dimmable. Lenore recently bought a Lutron plug in lamp dimmer (from Verve who were featured in last week‘s post) that is programmed to a remote control, so that dimming the lamp doesn’t require fishing around for the cord, and the lamp didn’t require rewiring.
Wall sconces are lights that are mounted on a wall. The light can be pointed up, down, or forward, or any combination of those. Sconces are either hardwired, so that there is no cord, or hung near an outlet and plugged in. A hardwired sconce requires an electrician (and some wall repair, if you aren’t doing it before finishing the wall). A plug-in sconce is an easy DIY option.
Puck lights are small circular lights. They can be either hard wired and inset, or mounted against a surface. For example, Carmen has a battery-operated, door activated puck light in her entryway closet.
Some ways that people use puck lights are to put them in the stringers (along the side) of stairways, in bookshelves, and in the toe-kicks of a bathroom vanity for low-level night lighting.
The most common reasons to use pucklighting are either to guide a path or to put a little extra light in an area that tends towards shadow.
Strip lighting is very similar to puck lighting, and should be used instead of puck lighting for areas that need continuous light. As mentioned in our last post, strip lighting is especially good for under cabinets in kitchens, because puck lighting creates pools of light and shadow. Strip lighting can also be integrated into book cases, stairs, or any kind of cabinetry.
We’ve noticed some great uses of strip lighting lately, for example under a stair case railing, or integrated into sculptural wall art in a way that bridges lighting and decoration. If you choose the right Kelvin, you will get beautiful light appropriate to the intended use.
Talking like a Designer
A designer isn’t going to mind if you don’t know these terms… but knowing them can make it easier to communicate, and also easier to imagine the possibilities. Let us know if there are any other subjects you’d like to learn more terminology for, either in the comments below, or on our facebook page!
And if you want to see lots of examples of the lighting we talk about, check out our pinterest board.