If you're building a new home or doing major renovation work, plan and cater for the lighting at the same time as the plumbing. Most of us have to work with fixtures that are already there, but with a little strategic thinking it's perfectly possible to get lighting that works for you.
Starting your plan
Begin by going round the house with a notepad and pen. In each room, ask yourself...
- What do I use this space for? Think about all its possible uses - your lounge might have to double up as a study, the children might need to do their homework or music practice in there, you might knit or sew or use part of the room as a studio. Do you tend to eat in the kitchen or on your lap in front of the television?
- What's on display in each room? Do you have a specific picture or plant you want to make a feature of? Note it all down, because this will determine your accent lighting.
- Who uses this room? A 60 year old uses 15 times more light for reading than a ten year old.
- At what times of day will people be in this room?
- Where does the natural light come in?
Making your plan
Now take a piece of graph paper and draw a plan of your room to help you work out the best places to put your lights. It's better if it's to scale but it doesn't have to be.
- Mark immoveable fixtures, such as fireplaces, alcoves, doors and windows
- Next, mark with arrows which way people are likely to be facing - towards the television, for example, at a desk for working or towards the window if they like reading in a particular chair.
- Mark the existing sockets. In many houses there aren't enough, which can result in dangerously overloaded plugs
- To determine your circuits, mark where the light switches should be. Work logically round the entry and exit points in your home - it's frustrating when you have to feel around in the dark for a switch that is either on the wrong side of the door or non-existent.
- Mark out where you'll place large pieces of furniture, such as sofas and beds.
- Think about practicalities such as how you're going to change the bulb. What if you live in a room with extra-high ceilings or in a loft-style apartment and the spotlights are 20ft high in the air?
Although you're treating each room as an individual space, you should also take the overall feel of your home into account. For example, it's dangerous to go straight from one brightly lit room into one that's completely. Use light to link rooms together.
Beware of making your plan too complicated. You can use a single light for several purposes by angling the beam in different directions.
Take this lighting plan with you when you go shopping for fixtures and fittings.
Do you want to turn all your lights on with a single switch or do you want to operate them individually? What about dimmers?
Ideally you should fit several circuits in each room, each with a dimmer switch and no more than two lights, which are controlled from a wall-mounted panel. Try not to place more than three switches on a panel or you'll never remember what they're all for.