Whether you’re designing your home’s lighting plan from scratch, or simply updating one or two fixtures, it helps to have a firm grasp of how lighting functions. Part of this entails understanding the “language” of lighting, or the common terms used to describe its key aspects.
Being familiar with these terms will allow you to make educated decisions about the lighting you install in your home, yielding the best possible results. In this quick glossary, we’ll walk you through the 3 most critical terms in the lighting lexicon.
A lumen is a unit for measuring a light’s brightness. The brighter the light, the more lumens it has.
It’s important not to take a one-size-fits all approach when it comes to choosing lumen levels for different types of lighting, especially the ambient lighting in different rooms. The various areas of the home facilitate different tasks and purposes. For this reason, each has its own ideal lumen level. To figure out the amount of total lumens you need, you’ll need to look at the sum of the space’s ideal ambient lighting and any necessary task lighting.
Kitchen - 5000-10000 total lumens, and 450 lumens per task area. Kitchens require the most lumens because they usually host the most activity, and some of that activity needs to be especially well-lit for safety (ingredient chopping, cooking on the stovetop, etc.).
Dining room - 3000-6000 total lumens. Dining rooms need a moderate level of lumens, balancing enough brightness to illuminate the table during mealtimes, and enough dimness to create an intimate and relaxing atmosphere. Task areas are rarely a factor in these spaces.
Living Room -1500-3000 total lumens, and 400 lumens per task area. Living rooms should have softer lighting to keep things cozy, but still have bright enough task lighting to accommodate leisure activities like reading or playing games.
Bedroom - 2000-4000 total lumens, and 400-500 lumens per task area. Bedroom lighting needs to be subdued enough for unwinding, yet bright enough for activities such as reading or getting dressed.
Bathroom - 4000-8000 total lumens, and 1700 lumens per task area. Since bathrooms are where we perform delicate grooming tasks, such as shaving, showering, or applying makeup, these rooms need to be fairly bright, especially at the mirror(s).
Office - 3000-6000 total lumens, and 1200 per task area. Lighting in offices must be bright enough for reading, writing, and performing other work tasks, but it also shouldn’t be so bright that it creates glares or strains the eyes over time.
Stairs / Entry - 1200-4000 total lumens. These transitional spaces should be lit well enough to allow for safe passage. For this reason, stairwells often require more lumens than one-level spaces. Task lighting is rarely needed in these areas.
Lumen levels can also have a dramatic impact on the atmosphere of a room. Depending on how you select and combine lights of different lumen levels, you can end up with very different results in terms of feel.
For example, low-lumen ambient lighting combined with significantly brighter accent lighting can create sharp contrasts that set a moody ambience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, high-lumen ambient lighting combined with similar levels of accent and task lighting can make a space feel uplifting and cheerful.
2. Kelvin Scale
The kelvin scale measures the color spectrum of light. The different places on the spectrum, from warm to cool, are known as color temperature. Lighting that is lower on the kelvin scale has a warmer color temperature, while lighting that is higher is cooler.
Color temperature has a significant effect on our bodies. Hormonal reactions evolved in response to the changing tones of natural sunlight throughout the day. Cool-toned daylight signals that it’s time for our bodies to wake up and be alert, while warm-toned light like that of sunsets triggers our bodies to calm down and rest.
Using the wrong color temperature at the wrong time of day can disrupt your circadian rhythm - your natural sleep-wake cycle. That’s why it’s critical that you choose color temperatures that are appropriate for the way you use your rooms, and when you use them.
Most living spaces within residences use lighting that’s low on the kelvin scale, between 2700K and 3000K. This makes the home a generally comfortable and relaxing place. In kitchens and bathrooms, where more alertness is necessary, lighting tends to be 3500K. Areas we typically use for work, such as home offices and garages, require 3500K-4100K.
Watts measure a lightbulb’s rate of energy consumption per hour. A few decades ago, it was common to also associate a lightbulb’s watt rating with its output, or level of brightness. For example, a bulb of 60W could be counted on to produce a brightness of 650 to 850 lumens.
However, the advent of LED bulbs has changed this completely. LED bulbs are able to emit high levels of brightness without consuming nearly as many watts of energy. This is why, for reference, some LED lightbulb packaging will list the brightness equivalence in traditional watt measurements. Today, a 7-10W bulb is capable of emitting as many lumens as an old 60W bulb.
The typical home energy bill measures electricity consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh). One kilowatt hour is equal to 1000 watts used in an hour.
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If you have questions about lighting, the Lucent Lightshop is here to help. Explore our blog to learn more about achieving the best design results for your interior, or reach out to us directly to get expert advice on your project. We’re happy to help you find practical yet beautiful solutions for even your steepest lighting challenges.