I thought I was on top of the repair schedule for the house until I met with the electrician days before rewiring. Most of his questions were simple: where do we want outlets and what kind appliances go where.
It was his last request that caught me off guard.
“And I’ll need all your recessed fixtures and lighting plan before we start,” he said.
“Your lights and placement of any fixtures.”
I naively thought that all the lights would be put back the way they were before the storm, but layout changes and other upgrades made that impossible. Luckily, the electrician was well versed in dealing with clueless homeowners like myself and walked me through how to create a modern lighting plan.
making a plan
Turns out my experience isn’t uncommon. Lighting retailers say most homeowners think of lighting as a decorative afterthought rather than an integral part of a home’s layout and design.
“One of the biggest problems is that most customers come in with a list of fixtures [they need] rather than a set of plans,” says Michael Ber, owner of Lighting Inc. in New Orleans and Mandeville. “Most of the time we only get plans for new construction rather than a remodel.”
Installing a light bulb in a recessed can light.
Lighting Inc. and other retailers will design a full home lighting plan to complement rewiring many homeowners are having to do now. Vetting lighting with a professional helps avoid nasty surprises when your walls are back in your house and the light fixtures are ready for installation.
For example, one common mistake is to rely heavily on recessed lighting—a favorite among electricians. Too many recessed cans can wash out a space, making it look more like a showroom at a car dealership than a living room.
Cheap cans make it worse. Some electricians can get higher profit margins on contractor-grade recessed cans so they use them ubiquitously. Homeowners can request better fixtures or supply them for installation, Ber says.
Recessed can lighting
“I hate to say this because it will make people mad at me, but most electricians use the cheapest [recessed lighting] they can find,” Ber says. “It looks terrible because you can see the light source no matter where you are.”
Look for recessed fixtures with bulbs that are truly inside the casing instead of poking out of the trim kit, he says. “Most everything now is a combination of recessed and hanging fixtures. When recessed lighting is done right, you don’t see it as much. The problem is that when it’s done wrong and you see that bulb, your eye is drawn to that bright spot.”
He recommends spending more on recessed compact fluorescent fixtures, which are more efficient and spread light out more evenly. They are pricey, costing between $70 to $100 per fixture compared with less than $30 for common recessed fixtures.
Scott Lemoine, president of First Light in Harahan, says that there are more choices than ever in recessed lighting with the most expensive options running as high as $300 per fixture.
Compact fluorescent lighting
Because so many homeowners are starting from scratch after the storm, Lemoine says it’s a great opportunity to replace dated fixtures and completely revamp a home with newer lighting technology. Make sure each room doesn’t rely on only one light source. “It’s so much better to layer the lighting,” Lemoine says.
That means using recessed overhead in combination with other decorative fixtures or floor lamps so the light is varied and interesting. Many ranch houses around town have the 12-feet-by-12-feet bedrooms with ceiling fan lighting. The four-bulb fixtures flood light into the room. An easy update is to install small recessed cans as fill-in light and buy a fan without a light fixture. Another solution is to select a fan with uplighting on top that casts a soft glow onto the ceiling.
The kitchen is another area for varied task lighting. Some companies sell efficient LED undercabinet lighting in addition to standard fluorescent and halogen options. Ber says over the island pendant lighting is still very popular—hot sellers are glass cable-hung pendants.
Customers often spend the most on dining room chandeliers, but that is one of the few purchases that should wait to the end of your renovation or new construction. Size and placement should match the furniture with fixtures hanging roughly 30 to 40 inches from the table. The fixture should stay four to six inches inside the width of the table.
Sizing is a common problem with decorative fixtures, says Barry Schlaile, owner of Shades of Light in New Orleans.
Compact fluorescent lighting
“The biggest mistake is to get a fixture that is too big for a room,” he says.
A general rule of thumb is to take the width of a room in feet, multiply by two and that’s the general width—in inches—of the properly sized fixture for the room. Another common rule is that wall sconces should generally hang 65 inches from the floor.
Schlaile says to take those recommendations as general guidelines because, in the end, it comes down to individual preference.
A last rule of thumb is for the budget. Most builders allow a budget of 1 percent of the home’s appraised value for lighting. Lemoine thinks that’s too low.
“To do a much more functional lighting design, 2 percent of appraised value is a much better budget,” he says. “Lighting is an important component. If it’s not done properly, nothing else in the house looks good.”