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5 Types of Primary Lighting

There are five primary types of lighting that homes utilize: recessed, wall-mounted, pendant, ceiling-mounted, and track. Each has its own primary and secondary uses, and a space may require one or all of these types in order to perform a specific task or set a desired mood.

Recessed — Also referred to as down lights, cans, or eyeballs, these consist of two parts, the recessed housing (installed prior to the drywall) and the trim (the part that is visible in a finished home). These are standard fare for new construction, primarily because they’re an easy way of supplying the minimum amount of light required by many codes without getting into issues of style since the standard trim is white and flush with the ceiling. But don’t underestimate this category; although providing ambient light is what recessed lights do best, in work areas like kitchens and baths they can provide excellent task lighting for counters and islands.

One drawback to this type is that since the light is downcast, it leaves the ceiling as a black hole. Keep in mind that the housings are installed early in the construction process and should be laid out prior to the start of construction, and homeowners without the following hobbies: Photometrics, Isolux Diagrams, and Illuminance Calculations should consult a lighting specialist in order to determine the correct quantity and spacing of fixtures that may be necessary.

Wall-Mounted — The primary type in this category is sconces (wall-hung pieces that resemble illuminated brackets). They’re designed to reflect light off of walls, ceilings, or both. Because their primary function is setting mood, they’re nearly always linked to a dimmer switch, however, when fully lit in small spaces, they provide adequate indirect lighting that’s preferable to the direct lighting of cans. Because these are decorative, there is a dizzying array of choices, but regardless of taste, attention should be paid to each style’s cutoff angle; it determines the spread of the beam and figures into shielding the viewer from direct rays.

Pendant — A light that freely dangles from its housing by any medium: chain, chord, rope, taffy — these are almost always purely decorative and are available in styles ranging from minimalist to ostentatious. Primary uses are in dining rooms, in two-story entry halls, and above breakfast bars. A current trend showing up in model homes and style magazines is to have chandeliers dangling from every ceiling in the house including the bathroom.

Ceiling Mounted — Houses built prior to 1985 have one of these in the center of nearly every room. These lack subtlety and make people uncomfortable. They supply ample light but offer nothing to mood. In today’s houses they’re best left to service spaces, and even then little time is spent there.

Track — Because these are surface-mounted, they’re still the best option when remodeling. Use them to highlight art and family photos. Better still, redirect the beam at the ceiling for adjustable indirect lighting.

Tim Gehman is the Assistant Director of Design for Toll Brothers, Inc. and holds a bachelor of architecture degree from Boston Architectural College.

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