Getting to Know You: Lighting Basics
Light is one of those things: when it’s right, you may not even notice its brilliance, but when it’s wrong, there’s little else you can focus on (literally). By knowing the basics, you can always choose the right light.
There are three basic types of light—task, ambient, and accent.
Task lighting is what you’ll use in work areas like the kitchen and bathroom, where seeing every detail without straining your eyes is important. Pieces offering task lighting include pendants, under-cabinet lighting, and recessed down lights.
Accent lighting is used to draw your eye to the good stuff—your artwork, your mantle, those beautiful exposed beams. Pieces offering accent lighting include sconces, washers, and track lighting.
Ambient—or general—light illuminates an entire room. It is the light that replaces sunlight in the evening, and is essential in any home. Pieces offering ambient lighting include pendant lights, chandeliers, and track lights.
As you consider your design plan, decide what activities will be taking place in each room to determine what light you’ll need most. Then, add other elements of light. For example, a pendant offering ambient light in your living room provides a relaxing atmosphere, but a floor light next to your favorite chair offers direct light to read the next bestseller by.
Watt Are You Talking About: A Guide to Light Bulbs
The light bulb has long been known as a great idea—in fact, we even use its image to symbolize… wait for it… a great idea. Innovations in energy efficiency, lifespan, and design have only served to make this great idea even better. So what bulb is best? Let’s explore the options.
Incandescent bulbs are your most basic, traditional bulbs. They offer comfortable, ambient lighting thanks to their warm color (and a color rendering index of about 100). The drawbacks of these basic bulbs are simple: they’re less energy efficient than other options, they don’t last as long, and they’re fragile. And, they give off heat, so any AC systems will have to work harder to cool your space.
Halogen lights are based on the science of incandescent bulbs, but they include a filament that makes their light crisper. Halogens are more energy efficient than their predecessors, but they’re outclassed by LED. For example, a 60W incandescent can be replaced with a 50W halogen, but the LED equivalent only consumes 10W. When working with halogens, handle with care: the oil from your hands can shorten the lifespan of a halogen bulb, so wear gloves during installation.
Fluorescent bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs (on average, they consume about 75% less power), but historically they have not been as aesthetically pleasing, offering a poor color rendering of between 60 and 80 (100 being the best). Recent innovations in fluorescent bulbs have made them warmer, with CRI values of nearly 90. Available in new, smaller sizes, they are great options for under cabinet lighting in task areas.
LED lights—or, formally, Light Emitting Diodes, are finding more and more of a unique place in the home. They’re great for green—both the environment and your wallet, since they last significantly longer than any other bulb choice. Thanks to their sturdy construction, they are durable and perfect for under cabinet lighting in your kitchen—as well as many other places where task lighting is needed. Plus, new innovations in coloring mean that LED light can better mimic the warm glow of incandescent. They’re often considered the “smartest” type of lighting, because they achieve synergy with automatic controls while offering color adjustment and dimming. And, something to look forward to: The next generation of LED bulbs will even deliver Internet connectivity.
Xenon bulbs are more efficient than halogen lamps, but less than fluorescent and LED. They’re generally more durable than halogen, and last five times as long. They have a CRI of 100--the same as incandescent and halogen lamps. But take care- they get very hot and shouldn’t be touched until they have cooled.
Metal Halide That’s so metal: This lamp produces its lighting output by stimulating vaporized metal halide compounds. You’ll find these lamps in outdoor and industrial settings. Ceramic Metal Halide is a subtype of this lamp that uses a ceramic material instead of quartz glass, which improves the color rendering index.
Fixture Upper: Types of Lighting Fixtures
Blow minds at your next dinner party with your encyclopedic knowledge of different lighting fixture styles.
Architectural lighting refers to lighting systems that are integrated into our homes and strategically designed to fill a need. There are three basic types of architectural lighting—cove, soffit, and valance.
Cove: Located on a ledge, shelf, or recess located high on a wall, directing light upward and allowing it to bounce off of the ceiling or upper wall.
Soffit: Located in a soffit (surprise!) or cornice near the ceiling, allowing light to radiate downward, illuminating the wall.
Valance: A valance is a horizontal shield, so it stands to reason that this type of lighting includes a light source within the valance. It allows the light to radiate upwards and downwards.
Recessed lighting is installed above the ceiling, so that the opening of the light source is flush with the ceiling. Providing a straight line of light, it’s ideal as task, ambient, or accent lighting.
Track lighting is generally installed on a “track” that’s mounted on a wall or ceiling. The lamp heads are adjustable, making this ideal for accent or task lighting.
Undercabinet lighting makes life easier in the kitchen. This popular task lighting generally uses LED tubes and is installed under cabinets, offering additional light to work by.
Pendant lights are suspended from the ceiling, and you’ll usually find them casting down light over tables, kitchen islands, and anywhere that has both ambient and task lighting needs.
Chandeliers are also suspended from the ceiling, generally over tables. However, unlike pendant lights, chandeliers cast their light upwards, providing an ambient glow.
Ceiling fixtures are mounted directly onto the ceiling, offering ambient light through a covering lens or shade.
Wall sconces are smaller fixtures that are mounted to the surface of a wall and covered with shades. They offer ambient or accent lighting.
Desk, Floor, and Table Lamps are mobile, versatile light sources that can go where you need them, offering direct down light that’s perfect for task or general lighting.
Your couch is plush, your bed is soft, your kitchen counters are the perfect height—when it comes to ergonomics, we often think about the things we visually touch, but we’re missing out on something important: visual comfort. Ergonomic lighting means light so right you don’t even need to think about it. Here’s how to get it.
Know Your Place: You have different lighting needs for different areas, so first decide what works best in each space—ambient/general, task, or accent lighting. Knowing what you’ll do will help you light the space in a way that works.
Find the Middle Ground: Bright light will make you squint, dim light will make you strain. Opt for a middle ground.
Adjust Your Perspective: A dimmer switch makes your light source more versatile—adjust it throughout the day as your needs change, in order to optimize your experience.
Be On Top of Bulbs: Replace dimming/dead bulbs as often as you need to. (Tip: LED bulbs have a longer life cycle than their incandescent counterparts.) Avoid products that don’t offer a warranty. If you invest in an LED fixture and you’re not covered by a warranty, you’ve lost everything you would have saved-- and then some!
Clear Your Conscience (And Your Fixtures): Clean fixtures offer the best light, so start check your FLOS manual for instructions on cleaning your piece.
Let There Be (More) Light: Add light where you need it—several sources, with a mix of downlighting and uplighting is best. Focus on distribution, and make sure light is evenly placed in an area.
Go Pro: Hiring a lighting designer is a great way to ensure that optimal light levels are achieved throughout interior spaces.
Get Mellow Yellow: In general, a yellow toned light hue is easier on eyes.
Take Your Temperature: Check out our guide to CRI here
Get Rid of Glare:Glare is a visual impairment that occurs when an intense and concentrated light source is directly visible. Its effects can be distracting, like when a lamp’s reflection is on your computer screen, or downright dangerous, like when the sun interferes with your ability to drive.
Control Freak: How to Control Your Lighting
There are plenty of good reasons to have more control over your lighting. It’s energy efficient, it’s cost saving, it’s user-friendly, and it ensures you’re using the lighting that’s most comfortable at any moment. Even better, there are different ways to do it, ranging from the easy to the more complicated.
Timer Primer: Outlet timers are an easy, cheap way to turn your lights on and off when you’re not home. Available at most hardware stores, try one the next time you go out of town to give the illusion that there’s someone in the house.
Dimmer Winner: Dimmer switches allow you to adjust light output from 0%-100%, so that you can use as much (or as little) as you need based on the task at hand or the time of day.
Daylight Harvesting: Another bright idea: Combine dimmers with daylight sensors to automatically dim the lights in response to natural lighting.
Up Your App-titude: Smart devices in the home can make it easy to control your lights (and everything else) right from your phone. Simply pull up the app and have your electronic assistant do the dimming or try smart bulbs that are compatible with your FLOS product.
Be Sensor-tive: Installed by a professional, light sensors can activate your light sources based on the time of day, or as you enter or leave the room. It’s also safer, since you don’t have to stumble in the dark for a switch.
Control Panels:Specially installed panels allow you to adjust light from one point in your home (or via phone), and the more innovative of these will learn your patterns and adjust lights accordingly.
Efficiency Expert: Benefits of Energy Saving Lights
The latest innovations in lighting have made it easier than ever to save energy and, by proxy, money. Here’s what you need to know:
- LED (light emitting diode) bulbs use electronic components called diodes to produce light directly, whereas other bulbs use heat to create light indirectly, which takes more energy.
- The lifespan of an LED light is more than 25,000 hours for a bulb (50,000 for a tube, and 50,000-100,000 hours for integral LED fixtures), as opposed to the 1,000 hour lifespan of a traditional incandescent bulb.
- The electricity used over a lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself (probably 20 times or more in a state with expensive electricity, such as New York).
- LED lights use 84% less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional bulbs.
- Innovations in the marketplace have offered LED lights that can mimic the warm, daylight glow of an incandescent bulb.
- LED lighting saves even more energy in air-conditioned or refrigerated spaces - the light bulb itself consumes less energy, and there is also less unwanted heat to remove from the room.
- Many state governments and utility companies offer cash rebates for home and business owners who upgrade their lighting to LED, making the investment even more attractive.
Not the Brightest Bulb: Wattage vs. Lumens
It seems simple enough: You want brighter light, you buy a higher wattage bulb, right? Wrong. It’s time for a lesson on watts vs. lumens
Watts are the measurement units of power consumption. (And, since they determine the rate of energy consumption, they’re an indication of the running cost of a lighting system.) For example, a traditional incandescent bulb requires a higher wattage for brighter light—because it takes more energy to create it. Often, you’ll see notes on an LED fixture indicating the equivalent incandescent wattage. Because LED lights take less energy to make more light, you may find a 10-watt LED bulb that delivers the same lighting output as a 60-watt incandescent bulb.Hello, Lumen
Lumens are the measurement units of total lighting output—or, simply put, the brightness of the bulb. When you want a brighter light, you opt for more lumens. Just one note: Light bulbs don’t always radiate lumens uniformly in all directions, so they may appear brighter from some angles than from others. Before purchasing a lamp or fixture, ask a FLOS expert to make sure you get the desired lighting distribution.Luminous Efficacy
Luminous efficacy is the ratio of lumen output to watts consumed. Think of it like the miles per gallon measurement in a car: a higher MPG value makes a car more economical, just like a higher lumens per watts value makes a lighting fixture more efficient.
Most LED lights exceed 100 lm/W, while incandescent lights are typically in the range of 10-20 lm/W.
Flip Your Switch: Choosing Dimmers vs. Switches
When it comes to controlling light flow, you’ve got options—and both have benefits that are worth considering.
Dimmer switches allow you to control how much light output you experience, giving you the chance to increase the flow as daylight wanes or decrease it to set a more relaxing mood. Instead of just “on” or “off,” you’ve got options. You’ll save energy—and money—so, dimmers all the way! It seems like a no-brainer, right? Of course there’s a catch. If you’re using “smart” bulbs, you’ll need a smart dimmer. In addition, you want to be sure you don’t use a dimmer with anything that has a motor, like a ceiling fan. Even some fluorescent lights shouldn’t be used with dimmer switches, because of the way in which they draw current.
A budgetary note: Dimmers are more expensive than regular switches, so to cut costs, don’t use them in areas that don’t require lighting adjustment. And, as with anything, check your FLOS manual before installing an external dimmer to a light source.
Your LED IQ: How to Avoid Mistakes When Buying LED Lights
You’ve bought light bulbs before—is it really so different when you’re buying LED lights? Yes, obviously. Why else would we bring it up? Here’s what you need to know about buying LED.It’s all about lumens, not watts.
In the past, you’ve probably focused on wattage when you’re figuring out the right brightness for a bulb. As we discussed previously, wattage actually refers to how much electric power the bulb uses. With LED, though, you’ll want to look at the lumens, because the watts won’t really tell you much about how bright the bulb will get. The lumen is the measurement unit for a bulb’s brightness. Example: An LED bulb with 2600lm has an output equivalent to that of a 150W incandescent bulb. Also worth noting, the 2,600-lumen LED bulb only consumes 26W, delivering 83% energy savings compared to a 150W bulb-- while matching its lumen output.
Innovations in the industry have made it possible to pick an LED bulb in almost any color. If you love the warm, golden glow of an incandescent bulb but want a more environmentally- and cost-friendly bulb, choose a yellow-hued LED. Some LED bulbs even allow for color adjustment-- so you could transition from the warm yellow to a neutral white, or even the blue tone of fluorescent lighting.Be Penny Wise
LED lights cost more, but they also last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. Not all LED bulbs are created equal, though; so don’t fall into the trap of picking the cheapest because of sticker shock—you could end up with a bulb that dies as quickly as incandescent. Do your research and opt for reliable brands, and expect to pay a little more. Over the life of the bulb, the cost will even out. An important note: Make sure your bulb has a UL label. This certification from the Underwriters Laboratory ensures it has been thoroughly tested for safety.Be Dim- or Don’t
Not all LED lights are compatible with dimmer switches, so if you plan to use one make sure to check labels on your bulb’s packages. Even if an LED bulb is dimmable, make sure your dimmer is also LED compatible, as some dimmer switches only work with older types of lighting. For example, there are incandescent dimmers that have a minimum wattage, and since LED bulbs are so efficient, they fall below that value.Figure Out Your Fixture
Not all light fixtures are compatible with LED bulbs, which will make them burn out quickly. And forget “trial-and-error”: Some LED lamps may also suffer irreparable damage if connected to the wrong type of fixture. And, in case that’s not complicated enough, some lamps are compatible but, from a technical standpoint, create a beam that is unsuitable for the fixture. The solution? Check the manufacturer’s guide on your FLOS piece for information, or call our customer service line.Ask the Experts
If you’re feeling lost or confused about choosing an LED, FLOS customer service can help you via chat or phone to figure out what’s best for your particular FLOS design. Don’t feel like chatting? Check the manufacturer’s instructions on your lamp.
For Your Consideration: What to Consider Before Buying Designer Lights
Buying a designer light is no small decision: It’s a financial investment, and it impacts the look and experience of your home. Here are a few things to consider before you make the leap.Your Electrical Installation
When was the last time your home’s electrical work was updated? Before you install a beautiful pendant chandelier, make sure you’re working with the best electrical foundation, or you’ll have to deal with incompatibility headaches and blown fuses (including your own!) Even worse: the insulation on old wiring tends to harden over time, and it may crack and fall off during installation of the new lighting fixture. Wiring without insulation is a fire hazard and can cause electric shock--so it’s very important to check the condition and rewire the circuit if necessary.
It’s easy to fall in love with a design (at FLOS, it happens every day for us) but before you make the purchase, consider the size and design of your home. Will this piece fit in—literally—based on measurements? Check the proportions of the space you see the lamp living. Does it match the décor or will you need to redesign around it? Also make sure the lighting color and beam shape are suitable for the intended location.Your Type
Which type of design is best for your home? Consider the space you’ll be lighting, and your options for it, including pendant lights, canister lights, sconces, and more. Consider the lamp’s purpose—what will you be using it for?Other Lamps
What does the lighting look like around the space where this lamp will live? Will it be cohesive, or will it require a rework?Designers
Are you into the avantgarde work of Phillipe Starke or the whimsy of Marcel Wanders? Take some time to click through each designer’s pages to get to know their incredible work.
Hang On: 5 Things You Should Know Before Hanging a Pendant Light
Pendant lights are one of our favorites: They create a pleasant ambience, they provide task lighting—basically, they’re always right. Here’s what you should know before you install yours.
Its Job: What will this light be doing? Is it purely decorative or will it be used in your work? Knowing what you need will help you choose the best location for the light, such as over a table, and determine if you should hang a solo pendant or a group. And, a lamp’s intended purpose affects product selection. In general, you may need brighter light sources for task lighting than accent lighting.
Its environment:To choose the right proportion, you have to have a solid idea of your space. A small pendant on a high ceiling won’t offer much illumination, so make sure you’re choosing the right light for each space.
Its surroundings:Consider the elements around your light. Will it be in a kitchen, near grease, smoke, and oil? Knowing what will come into contact with your light will help determine the right height to keep it safest. A lamp’s surroundings will also influence the lighting color selection. For example: Warm white works well in bedrooms, and cool white is perfect for prep areas.
Its partners: What other light sources are in the environment? Do you have uplighting, canister lights, or LED under the counters? All of this will determine how you experience the light from your pendant. It’s important to use caution when mixing color temperatures. Some blend well, others clash. Your best bet is always to connect with a lighting designer who can help create a design plan for your home.
Its accessibility: Will you be able to clean your pendant and replace bulbs easily? It sounds simple, but it’s a consideration you want to make when you’re planning to hang your light, instead of when you’re struggling in the dark.
LED 101: Facts About LED Lights
What do you need to know about LEDs? Everything. LED lights—or Light Emitting Diodes—are innovative light sources that use electronic components called diodes to produce light directly. Other bulbs use heat to create light indirectly, which takes more energy. The use of diodes makes LED a more environmentally sound light source.
The lifespan of an LED light is more than 25,000 hours for a bulb (50,000 for a tube, and 50,000-100,000 hours for integral LED fixtures), as opposed to the 1,000-hour lifespan of a traditional incandescent bulb.
The electricity used over a lifetime of a single incandescent bulb costs 5 to 10 times the original purchase price of the bulb itself (probably 20 times or more in a state with expensive electricity, such as New York). LED lights use 84% less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional bulbs.
So what about color? LEDs are not naturally white light sources. They emit a light that’s nearly monochromatic, but recent innovations in LED technology make it easier to achieve a desirable “golden glow” that mimics an incandescent bulb. And, they are easily found in any color that you—or your interior designer—can imagine.
That said, not all LED lights are made equal, so avoid the “cheaper” options in the market. And, make sure your LED lights are compatible with any fixtures in your home before using them—otherwise, their lifespan will be short, making your investment moot.
Light-Headed: How Your Light Affects Your Moods
Sure, candlelight is romantic—but the true effect of light on our emotions and moods goes far deeper than you may expect. Here’s how light affects our emotions:
It’s Food for Moods: Ever notice you feel calm and relaxed when there’s natural light flooding through your windows? Or maybe you’ve found yourself prone to depression on days when you’re in the dark. You’re not imagining it: Exposure to light affects our serotonin levels, so more is better. (That’s why you usually feel better after a walk outdoors!)
It’s Fit for Focus:There’s no dim lighting at the gym—or at school, or in your office. In environments where concentration is necessary, light is always bright—that’s because bright light stimulates the brain. Neutral white (color temperature around 4000 K) is recommended for tasks requiring long-term concentration, like taking a class or reading.
Daylight white (color temperature of 5000 K or more) is suggested for high-energy activities (example: gym or tennis court)
It Knows It’s Bedtime: Our circadian rhythms are set by daylight—our bodies literally set their internal clocks based on exposure to light. To keep your body “on time,” avoid bright lights in the evening, which can prolong your day and make it harder to get to sleep. Also avoid clear white or cool white light, and opt instead for warm light (color temperature below 3000K) or light with warm color and low brightness.
It Enlightens Us: There’s some evidence that says that people experience emotions more intensely under bright lights. That’s why you’ll often see characters in movies under harsh lighting as they make startling realizations.
Tough Choice: How to Choose LED vs Halogen Lights
You’ve found the perfect lamp—so, do you put an LED or Halogen bulb in it? Here’s what you need to know.
- Halogen bulbs last up to 2,000 hours, which is twice as much as incandescent bulbs but not as long as LED bulbs.
- Halogen bulbs produce infrared light, which can be damaging to artwork and fabrics
- Halogen lights are sensitive to your skin’s oils, so you need to wear gloves when putting them in your lamps
- Halogen bulbs get incredibly hot with use, and should not be touched until they have been allowed to cool (Another byproduct of their heat: they require air condition equipment to work harder).
- Halogen bulbs are fragile--particularly when they’re close to rotating equipment like fans or compressors. Because of their delicate filament, vibration can shorten their lifespan.
- LED bulbs can last up to 25,000 hours, while LED tubes are normally rated for 50,000 hours.
- LED bulbs can use as much as 80% percent less energy than halogen bulbs.
- LED bulbs are more expensive, but make up their cost over time by saving energy and preventing frequent lamp replacements.
- LED bulbs are generally shatterproof.
- LED bulbs are cooler to the touch after use (care is still advised!)
- LED bulbs are available in various colors and color temperatures.
- LEDs are free of any harmful chemicals or gases.
So, LEDs are best, right? Trick question. You should always refer to your lamp’s manual—and talk to a FLOS expert if necessary—when finding the bulb that is compatible to your device.
CRI: What is the Color Rendering Index?
The CRI—or Color Rendering Index—is a measure of how well a light reveals the true colors of the objects it illuminates, especially in comparison to the way a natural light source would. In plain language, does a light make an object look orange when it’s generally red? The CRI would be low.
The index ranges from 0-100 and indicates a more “true” rendering the higher the number will be. Natural light, for example, would be 100 CRI. Shopping for light? CRI values are often listed as CIE Ra values on commercially available lighting products.
Safety Dance: What’s a UL Certification
A UL Certification or the UL Listing Mark, usually denoted by a red circle with the letters “UL” inside of it, indicates that a product has been tested and that it meets the UL’s requirements and standards of safety.
So what’s the UL, you ask? Great question. UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, an organization that is considered the world leader in product safety testing and certification. So, in short, the UL Certification is a good sign on any product.
Light It Up: Light and Safety
From your porch light to the pendant over your kitchen counter, lights lend to the overall safety within and around your home.
Porch Light: A porch light enables safe passage across steps and walkways to your front door, allows you to see anyone standing outside, and indicates to passersby that you are home. And, it’s easier to find your keys when the light is on.
Kitchen Lighting: When you’re working with knives, you better have light. Pendant lights and under-cabinet lighting are a popular choice in kitchens because they look great and also facilitate work with food prep.
Exterior Lighting: Illuminating the outside of your home doesn’t just make it look picture-perfect—it provides an important measure of safety. Lighted pathways and sensor lights make it easier to find your way at night, and help prevent injuries.
Garage/Work Space: Properly lighting your workspace when using tools is essential to preventing injury. Direct lighting—from lamps to floodlights—should be incorporated into your toolbox.
Light Safety 101: How to Stay Safe When Working with Light
- Be wary of overloading outlets and using too many surge protectors.
- When moving into a new home, have lights and outlets inspected and tested.
- Make sure your wiring is up to date and able to accommodate your light fixtures.
- Check switch plates periodically. If they feel hot to the touch, consult a professional.
- Have a professional install lights that include interior wiring.
- Always use the proper bulb size for your light fixtures.
Act Natural: How to Integrate Natural Light into Your Space
The use of natural light in building conception doesn’t just create a beautiful result—it’s smart and a step towards sustainability, since illuminating interiors naturally can reduce lighting electricity consumption significantly. Known as “daylighting,” it’s the controlled admission of natural daylight, direct sunlight, and diffused skylight into a space. Architects and builders work more and more to allow for free-flowing daylight in new construction, and to add light to existing spaces in a few key ways:
- Use of larger windows
- Incorporation of skylights
- Raising ceilings
- Strategic use of mirrors
- Opting for glass surfaces (reflective) instead of wood or brick, which can absorb light