The Importance of Lighting

So I have been tasked with writing a blog.

 About what I asked?

 Anything I was told.  Anything that pertains to our industry.

I’m not sure how this goes.  I usually write technical documents, scopes of work, planning and strategy documents.  A blog is supposed to be personable and have feelings.  Not easy for an engineer.  I have such disdain for the ridiculous, unfeasible and short sidedness of this feat.  Releasing my feelings could be dangerous.  I struggled for days while trying to choose a topic. While on a job site yesterday I looked up at the ceiling and immediately I knew what I had to write about.

We see many high end residences in the 2+ million dollar market.  It seems these homeowners are always pressed for time and let other people make decisions for them.  Everyone wants to make sure the home looks good.  But it seems very few people take the time to make the house functional or practical.  I know that 52,000 square feet for 2 people isn’t exactly practical but let’s just accept the fact it happens.  Even those homes can be functional and designed in a logical way.  So this is where I start my topic – Functionality and Practicality in a new residence.  Let’s start with a topic near and dear to my heart, lighting.

I can’t tell you how many homes I walk into while under construction, like I did yesterday, and see an enormous great room with an expansive sea of ceiling in excess of 24 feet in the air.  Then I see the ceiling dotted with recessed lighting fixtures in a nice symmetrical pattern.  Start with the hard fact that lighting and electrical work is a commodity.  You will see the same electricians on a 1500 square foot home as you do on a 15,000 square foot home.  Why not?  Electricity is electricity.  You need to get power from the service to all the lights and receptacles in your home.  Same principle exists for calculating wattage and power and following the NEC. So it is easy to understand why the lighting layout in a small home is essentially the same (and equally as undesirable) as a much larger home.

You spend time selecting the right granite, designer plumbing fixtures and custom cabinets. But you spend maybe an hour selecting locations for lights or types of lights or maybe you just have the builder, electrician or designer do it.  It really doesn’t matter that much, right? Light is light and power is power.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth is, nothing in your house has the power to make your home more comfortable, more beautiful, or more enjoyable than lighting. Step back to that 24 foot ceiling with recessed cans. The typical incandescent or halogen lamp has a life span of 2000 to 4000 hours depending on its usage.  That means most lamps will need to be replaced about once a year. How are you going to change those lamps? Most likely, you’ll call someone that has a lift to change your lamps.  That means they have to get it in your house, move your furniture, be on your carpet, scare the dog..., you get the picture.  Those $5 lamps ending up costing you $50 each to reinstall when it’s all said and done.  That doesn’t take into account the inconvenience of someone having to be home to have the service performed.  So the first thing you need to think about is maintenance.  Everything you put in your home will break down or need to be replaced or taken care of periodically to look its best.  Everything. Even the granite needs a special cleaner and a sealer. When you are thinking of some really cool idea to add to your home make sure you have a maintenance plan or you are prepared to pay for the maintenance.

Now that we’ve opened the door on one problem let’s talk about some solutions. LED lights are a very smart option for your home.  They save power (almost 80%), generate much less heat and last up to 50,000 hours. Well, most of them...right now there are more varieties of LED on the market than any other product I have ever seen.  You almost need a class to be educated on Color (Kelvin temperature) CRI, R value, beam spread and lumens.  All LEDs do not look the same or do the same thing and you do get what you pay for. The range is anywhere from $1 to more than $70.  I’m sure they will come down in the future, proliferation has a way of doing that, but that’s where they are now.

With LEDs come endless options. Pick the wrong color temperature and your room will be stark and cold, or your office will be uncomfortable and make your eyes tired. Have art? LED is perfect because of the lack of UV emissions but the wrong CRI and R will make that expensive painting look horrible. Life span?  Most LED lamps aren’t designed to be installed in contractor grade recessed can fixtures and lose up to 20% of their life.  Still, 40,000 hours is still better than 4000 hours

Are you overwhelmed yet? 


Good!  Let’s look at light placement.  Why is the light for the kitchen sink always behind the person at the sink?  I don’t know about you but I hate shadows over the area I am working.  When I am working in the kitchen cooking I like light and plenty of it. I want to see what I’m doing. When I entertain, (and the kitchen is always an entertainment area) I want softer lighting that shows off my rare, hand selected, searched for hours, granite and my expensive custom cabinets, my exquisite tile back splash and my beautiful appliances. Guests should be comfortable and able to focus on the important things, the food, the wine and the company.  Can you do all that with just a few lights in the ceiling?  Maybe to a degree, but you will never fully get the effect you are looking for. It usually takes more than 1 circuit to offer multiple scenes in a room. There are three classifications of lighting:

                General – the room is lit and you can see everything.

                Task – you need light to focus on the job at hand, your kitchen, office desk, hobby table

Accent - things you want to show off – art work, wine collection, tiled barrel ceiling, hand painted groin vault ceiling, any crafted detail in your home that you would like to highlight.

Yes, that’s a lot of light, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or cumbersome.  Just well thought out and placed correctly. There are dimmer switches and lighting control systems to adjust all your lights right where you want them with the push of a single button. Pretty cool and practical too.  The key here is planning.  Yes, it takes a little of your time.  You can even work with someone knowledgeable (and practical) and let them make a plan for you.  Why not?  You spend time and money carefully adding features, furniture and art to your house to make it your home. Don’t you want to see and enjoy what you paid for? That is where an experienced technology company can make your life easier.

So let’s move on to another topic that’s near to my heart – Wine Cellars.  For those of you that have a room called a wine cellar because it was too small to be anything else and you’re just storing some booze you purchased at the grocery store – just go ahead and skip this section.  For the true wine aficionado, please read on.  Moving to Florida was a bit of a culture shock.  One of my first experiences was a wine cellar on an exterior wall with a westerly facing window. I figured it was just one of those rooms that was labeled wine cellar and was designed more as an art feature. Then I saw the cases of $100 per bottle Napa cab. Oh My!  A quick visual inspection revealed vents, at least there was temperature control.  I asked the homeowner what type of cooling system he had.  After all, an ideal wine cellar is kept at 55 degrees and at 70% relative humidity.  He had a puzzled look on his face and said Trane, I think.  Hmm.  I didn’t know Trane made temp control for wine cellars.  He pointed to the thermostat and I realized he meant the AC system for the house was just vented into the Wine Cellar.  He said he had a hard time getting it below 65.  Well, I’m sure that window doesn’t help with heat, let alone all the UV that’s coming in. I guess I shouldn’t have brought that up – I saw a light bulb go on over his head.  Of course being the engineer I just had to say – you know that in the winter (if we have one) that vent that supplies cold air in the summer will be supplying hot air in the winter.  Another light bulb went on followed by a few expletives I was told I can’t put in a blog (I’m not sure – it was pretty colorful).  Anyway, I’m out of space and time. 

Look, I have been involved with some very substantial projects. The number of decisions a homeowner has to make is daunting. There is a point that you just get overwhelmed and frustrated.  I get that. Try to remember, after the newness wears off you are left with maintenance and practicality.  Take the time to think of this when you are making your other decisions because maintenance equals money and practicality equals enjoyment.  If you’re not sure or you brain shuts down, find an advocate or a professional you trust to help you navigate. 


-Rob Jones
Senior Engineer, Millennium Systems Design