The Professional Approach to Bathroom Lighting

The bathroom is not just a room where you shower and get hurriedly dressed. Its usage and importance make it much more than a simply functional room. Now, more than ever, the bathroom has become a haven to which we retreat when we need some private quiet time.  It can be your masterpiece, with state-of-the-art finishes, a carefully positioned tub, spa-like shower and natural light seeping through the window.

You can pour through magazines, apply makeup, complete puzzles (Wordle anyone?) and even sip on a morning coffee or evening beverage in this space. So it would be quite a shame if the lighting could not support all this ambiance. What can you do about it? Figure out if you have been making any lighting mistakes and start correcting them now.  

Pay Attention to Safety Standards

Why pay so much attention to electrical fittings? Because there is water in every bathroom!  Think about it like this – there is electricity flowing through the fixtures, then there is water in the room, and you just happen to be a good conductor of electricity. See that equation?  You are in the middle of a bathroom renovation and are feeling excited about the prospects of the project. The cabinets, countertops, and even vanity mirrors have been chosen to adorn your bathroom and it is all coming together. Your lighting and electrical fixtures are more than just an addition to the space. 

So, what mistakes could you be making?

  • Not complying with the building regulations.
  • Relying on unregistered electricians to carry out electrical installations in your bathroom.
  • Locating sockets near the bath or shower (not observing a distance of at least 3 meters).
  • Hanging unenclosed lights over the bath or shower.
  • Using fixtures that are not wet-listed.
  • Using electric heaters near the bath or shower (central heating is the better option).
  • Not using a different circuit for your shower.

These are but some of the instances both obvious and less so that could pave the way for serious injuries or fatalities in the bathroom.

Following Bathroom Lighting Standards

Rather than take over some of these functional duties yourself, consult a professional. They will advise you on what your bathroom can or cannot safely handle.  It is more than just that decorative chandelier and its location.  It is the entire electrical plan and what is needed to create a proper, safe supply of electricity that meets code. And guess what? You can avoid all the above safety mistakes by getting professional help from the start!

Moreover, you should use wet-listed lighting fixtures. These are lighting fixtures that are suited for wet locations. That means they can come into contact with liquids without getting damaged or posing a risk to the people in the room. They are often used outdoors, but it’s also quite typical to find them in bathrooms.

Choose the Right Kelvin Temperatures

Have you ever heard of color temperatures? Color temperature comes down to the appearance of light from a light fixture. You may have noticed that the color of light changes – white, blue, yellow, orange, etc. The measure of this color temperature is what we refer to as the kelvin. Kelvins range from 1,000 to 10,000 on a degree of intensity. Thus, industrial settings typically average more than 5,000 kelvins, noted as degrees of kelvin. And residential settings, like your bathroom, range between the 3,000 to 5,000 scale.

So, how do you choose a color temperature? You think of the ambiance you want to create. A setting like the living room needs a cozy atmosphere and will do best with a warm white light. So, 3,000 kelvins would work the magic. But what of the bathroom? It also needs a warm ambiance like the kitchen.  However, more importantly, the bathroom requires greater visibility to ensure that its users remain safe.  A light higher on the Kelvin scale (4,000 to 4,500) creates bright white lighting to achieve that.  Go beyond that, and things can start taking on a bluish hue that no one is looking for.  If you do go bright white, you can always consider a dimmer so you can ease into that level.

Sticking with Ambient Lighting

Have you been stuck with basic lighting in your bathroom? The type of lighting that illuminates the space just enough for you to take a shower, groom, touch up your face, and head out.  In the past, that has been all we needed. But that has all changed. We now look forward to spending some time in the bathroom, so we need to incorporate other types of lighting to fully enjoy the space. Let’s break down the different kinds of light:

Ambient Lighting

This lighting is also known as general. It provides uniform lighting throughout the space. In some cases, you may only need this to light a bathroom for safety and movement reasons. Ambient lighting bounces off surfaces, allowing it to spread to almost every nook in the room. Examples include ceiling-mounted fixtures, track lights, and recessed lights. And because we have mentioned the chandelier so much, it is only fitting that we should include it in this category as well.

Accent Lighting

Is there a particular spot in the bathroom you would like to highlight? That is where accent lighting comes into play. It plays around with illumination, drawing attention to specific features. For example, you may want to highlight your vanity mirror or countertop. Direct almost three times the equivalent of the ambient light to the said feature, using such options as additional wall-mounted fixtures or recessed lights to supplement ambient lighting. 

Task Lighting

Whether it is doing your makeup in the bathroom or shaving, these types of activities require a bit more precision than taking a shower. Ambient lighting might not be sufficient to serve this role. So, as you may have already guessed, task lighting helps you perform said tasks and more. The purpose of task lighting is to be bright enough to keep you safe but dim enough to prevent eye strain – the perfect balance for those rushed mornings where every second counts.

Understand Color Rendering Index (CRI)

What is CRI? It is a measure of how well a light shows the true colors of an object. The measure runs from 0 to 100. At zero all colors look the same, but the colors change as you move up the index. 

For example, you might see your cabinetry as a dark brown in daylight. But in artificial lighting, this can change significantly. It could be darker or lighter based on the CRI of the light. A bathroom requires lighting with a CRI closer to daylight than to artificial lighting. 

Ideally, your bulbs should have CRIs in the 80 – 90 range, which is considered a good light range that typically reflects what you would see in daylight. Over 90 and the colors you see are similar to what you would see in outdoor daylight. Why is this important? Assume you are putting gel on your hair or applying makeup under a light with a CRI of 70. You would probably look in the mirror and think you had done a good job. It would only be when you were stuck in traffic that you would notice just how different the gel or makeup looks. So, a good CRI is important.

You should note however that CRI and color temperatures (Kelvin) are different. You could find a bulb with a 4,500-kelvin measure with a CRI of 80, yet another with 4,500 kelvins has a measure of 90. So, you must choose the two independently. Find a bulb with a good Kelvin temperature and a high CRI, and you should be good to go.

How Can You Find Good Lighting?

With Kelvin temperatures and CRI indexes in tow, you must also consider one final, crucial element – the lumens. In the past, people measured the efficiency of bulbs using watts. Traditionally, if a bulb had a higher watt value, it shone brighter than its counterparts. But that changed with LED lights. Now, it’s more important to look at the lumens, which indicate the light output. Watts reflect the energy consumed, e.g., 100 watts. But lumens show you how bright the light will be. So, a bulb can have a high number of watts yet has a lower output than one with a smaller number of watts.

Focusing on One Point

How many light points will your bathroom have? Ideally, you should have several regardless of the size of the space.. Start with ambient lighting, then layer in accent and or task lights as needed to ensure your bathroom is well-lit. It is not just about the safety lighting provides but the decorative aspects as well. You can have one light above the shower or bathtub, with wall-mounted lights around the whole bathroom to provide enough ambient lighting. Add some accent or task lights over the cabinetry and around the vanity mirror, and another light over the functional area. You can use all of them when grooming or switch some off for some quiet time. Do not forget to add dimmable lights for those nights when you want to have some quiet time.

When choosing any lighting fixtures for your bathroom, always ensure they are wet-listed. While they might not be in direct contact with water, they will be in a humid space. And that could damage the fixtures and add unnecessary risk.  Do you need some help deciding what lighting goes with your current bathroom renovation plan? Contact us, and let’s see what combination of lighting will bring out the best in your space.

Considering the Whole Bathroom

While we all look at the bathroom vanity as the most obvious place where lighting is needed in the bathroom, you must consider all of the areas in your bathroom and what type of lighting will be needed. Areas such as showers or water closets/toilet areas can be more well-defined (and/or used) with the right accent or task lighting. The American Lighting Association (ALA) recommends this lighting provides at least 3x as much light on the focal point as the general lighting surrounding it. What other things should know when lighting your bathroom? Here are 5 tips:

  • For lighting around smaller mirrors, the ALA recommends fixtures be mounted at least 28” apart and 60” of the floor for best results and the shadow free facial illumination necessary for daily grooming tasks. With larger mirrors, a horizontal strip of lights can be mounted above the mirror, typically at 78” from the floor.
  • Toe kick lighting provides added safety for middle of the night bathroom trips and can be especially helpful for those who are visually challenged.
  • In the shower/tub area, recessed down lights with shielded fixtures will provide appropriate illumination and minimize glare.
  • Adding dimmer switches can provide ambiance and offer comfort to the differing light sensitivities of multiple users.
  • Experiment with bulb colors and their impact on how light works with the rest of the design.

Adding Multiple Layers of Lighting

With bathroom lighting it is always key to have multiple layers of light. But where people need it most is at the vanity. According to Denise Pons, Designer and Lighting Specialist for Reico Kitchen & Bath in Williamsburg, VA, setting lights roughly 80” from the floor is an ideal height to accentuate the person standing at the vanity. Pons also recommends that Wall Sconces, very popular right now, should be at about 66” from the floor and approximately 3’ apart as they tend to be more for ambiance in the bathroom.

Another idea to consider is adding recessed lights over the vanity. “Placement is critical when considering adding recessed lights over the vanity”, say Pons. “You want to create the most optimal use of light for getting ready in the mirror and must be very careful to not create a “shadow effect” over the head of the user.” She typically recommends two 4” recessed lights over a vanity sink but that can always vary based on the available space and design of the bathroom.

3 Reasons to Use Dimmers in Your Bathroom

Last, but not least, don’t forget to add dimmers! Here are 3 reasons Pons recommends:

  • they save energy, and you spend less on lighting costs
  • they add ambiance, and can be a great night light for kids
  • they can function as both task and ambient lighting depending on your needs at that time

Have you seen the light? Consider all of these bath ideas for lighting as you look to remodel any bathroom in your home.

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