How to plan your lighting

How to design your lighting 
Proper lighting design can make a vast difference to how comfortable and safe your house is.

Whether building a new home or renovating an existing one, it’s very easy to get carried away with figuring out the colour of the walls, the location of furniture and, dare we say it, the unrealistic desires we all have.

Something that often gets forgotten about, and which can have a profound effect on the look and feel of a home, is lighting. Strategically placed and different coloured lights, lighting 'scenes' and landscape lighting can drastically alter the way you feel about your home, how you interact with your home, and according to some, even your mood and health.

It's also worth knowing that in recent years regulations have come into effect under the Building Code of Australia (BCA) that are designed to significantly limit the amount of energy that lighting uses in new houses.

While there are a few exemptions and measures you can take to allow a little more, as a rule of thumb these days you're only allowed to install 5 watts of lighting per square metre of floor space indoors. When you consider that most halogen downlights consume 50 watts of power each, you begin to see why sensible lighting design is something to be taken pretty seriously these days!


Basic lighting and lighting design

How do you plan your lighting? The shortest and safest answer to this, of course, is to employ a lighting designer. A lot of people don't realise it, but proper lighting design is very much an art, and one which involves consideration and skill.

When you build a new home, often an electrician will map out a very basic lighting plan that only includes the barest minimum required. Don’t necessarily expect to see dimmers or control systems; rather, you should expect a network of downlights (possibly LEDs) and where they can’t go, a few compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Downlights and CFLs undoubtedly have a role to play in the modern lighting design. But a properly designed lighting scheme will make your house more useful, better for the environment, and in the long run, better for your hip pocket.


Lighting for a task

Lighting design is considered by some to be a bit of a ‘dark art’ (no pun intended); it’s easy to get it wrong but when it’s right, it can completely change the dynamic of a room. A professional lighting designer treats lighting design almost as a science. They will figure out how much functional lighting is required for specific tasks (‘task lighting’) and how much energy your lighting system will consume (and reduce it if necessary), and then they will tie it all back to the interior design.


Perhaps the most important thing to consider when designing your lighting system is the exact purpose of the room. What will you be doing in it? This is where the term ‘task lighting’ comes from. Determining the sort of tasks an area will be used for will go a long way in ensuring the right lighting is installed from the beginning.

For example:

  • Bathrooms generally benefit from lighting that allows you to see wet spots on the floor, and which minimises shadows (especially on your face).
  • Outdoor areas generally feature a floodlight with a motion sensor fitted for security. They may also have special lighting for alfresco dining, or a spotlight on the barbecue.


Factors in lighting design

Whether you're planning your own lighting scheme or employing a lighting engineer, familiarising yourself with the sorts of things that are likely to affect your lighting is a great idea. Being informed about how lighting works will also help with the most fundamental parts of the way your house is designed.

Below is a list of some of the things that need to be taken into account when planning your lighting design:

  • Purpose – The activities that are carried out in specific areas of the house will determine what sort of lighting should be implemented.
  • Size – The size of the room dictates how many fittings will be required (or how much daylight is required) to light the room sufficiently for the purposes it's required for.
  • Positioning – Where lights are placed, whether they're directional or diffuse, how they're arranged and how they're spaced all makes a difference to the light in your home.
  • Type – Different types of light globes perform very differently, and not all globes are ideal for all situations.
  • Surfaces – Walls, furniture, carpet, ceilings and mirrors all reflect light in different ways.
  • Decoration – Lighting is pivotal to the way objects and aspects of an area are emphasised and portrayed.
  • Efficiency – A carefully planned and efficient lighting system can save you a small fortune in the long run - and is more or less a necessity with the new lighting restrictions in place! LED globes and CFLs are far more efficient than the halogens and incandescent globes of yesteryear - but it's important to understand that they don't always give off the same light either.

While it’s tempting, simply choosing to put halogen downlights everywhere isn’t the answer anymore. A proper lighting plan can be a critical feature of your home, and doesn't need to be expensive – you just need to be aware of your options.


Lighting guides