Mother Earth Living

Lighting Design for the Bedroom: Save Energy and Set the Mood

Create a pleasant atmosphere in your bedroom with good lighting design.
By Todd Givler
November/December 2004
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Daylighting is an important lighting strategy to consider. Using natural light saves the most energy.
Photo Courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/jagwired/
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Although we come to the bedroom for a little shut-eye, much of our time in this room is spent reading, writing, dressing, and relaxing, so well-designed lighting helps create a pleasant atmosphere for those activities. By introducing daylight, carefully selecting room finishes, choosing which areas to light, and dividing the lighting system into controlled components, you can also significantly affect energy use. First, let’s get familiar with the basics of good lighting design.

Daylighting: The cheery, vibrant atmosphere created by daylight can’t be duplicated with electric light. Utilizing natural light is also the most important step in saving energy.

Brightness: The human eye doesn’t see illuminance, the amount of light falling onto a surface. Rather, we see the brightness of a surface that has been illuminated. Surface brightness depends on a material’s reflectance—the percentage of light that “bounces” off its surface. So, room finishes can impact lighting energy use as much as the light sources themselves. White plaster may have 70 to 80 percent reflectance, while stained wood may have only 5 to 20 percent. The same amount of light will create more brightness in a space that has high-reflectance surfaces such as light-colored, matte finishes.

Special Lighting: Thinking of light in terms of three “layers” provides flexibility, adds visual interest, and reduces overall energy use. Ambient light should provide just enough light for general tasks around the room. Task light increases the light level for a particular task—on the bedside table, a desk, or near a reading chair. Accent light creates contrast by highlighting artwork, furniture, or a colored accent wall or colorful quilt.

Lighting Strategies for the Bedroom

Skylights and light tubes

Skylights and light tubes bring cheery natural light into a bedroom. During even the cloudiest days, a skylight provides a lot of illumination. Introducing daylight high in a bedroom with clerestories, skylights, and light tubes increases its effectiveness. Controlling brightness with devices such as blinds, louvers, and curtains allows flexibility and minimizes glare. As you plan, consider the direction the skylight will face. Will it allow direct southern sunlight or more diffuse, northern light? A source of daylight in the center of the room may provide general ambient light. Located closer to a wall, it will help brighten that surface.

Cove lighting

Cove lighting is a way to use an energy-efficient fluorescent source to light the ceiling. Fluorescent lights can be dimmed to control the amount of light and change the room’s mood. Coves can be incorporated into a ceiling detail or integrated with built-in furniture. Such lighting works best when a minimum distance of ten to twelve inches is maintained between the light fixture and the ceiling. Consider adding lighting above an armoire to light the ceiling. This provides great ambient light with a concealed, no-glare source.

Wall sconces 

Wall sconces also provide ambient light. If they’re decorative or glowing, make sure the lamp wattage is not so high that it becomes a source of glare. Wall sconces can also provide an upward-shining light for the bedroom. This type of light fixture takes the place of popular floor torchères and achieves the same effect without the clutter of an additional piece of furniture.

Adjustable accent lights

Carefully select what you want to highlight in the bedroom—perhaps some artwork or a piece of furniture. Use either recessed or stem-mounted halogen light fixtures. A louver or shield will minimize glare from these intensely bright light sources. The lights should be adjustable so they can be aimed at the feature without causing glare. This is especially important when illuminating artwork over a bed.

Swing arm and table lamps

Swing arm and table lamps provide good task light exactly where needed. Swing arm lamps are easy to move out of the way and don’t clutter up a bedside table. 

A Smart Shopper’s Guide to Light

Light fixtures

• A list of Energy Star lighting manufacturers can be found on Energy Star's website.
• Ask if the fixture is available in compact fluorescent. Many stores and showrooms don’t stock the energy-saving versions, but they can order them.

Fluorescent lamps

• Color temperature” is how cool or warm a light source appears. A warm color temperature of 2700K or 3000K will have an incandescent-like color.
• Choose lamps with a high Color Rendering Index (CRI), a measure of how well the light from the lamp will render objects’ color. Anything in the eighties is good.
• Buy electronic instead of magnetic ballasts to eliminate the “hum” of traditional
fluorescent light fixtures.
• To dim fluorescent lamps, buy compatible electronic dimming ballasts and dimmers.

Halogen or incandescent lamps

• Buy compatible controls to dim these light sources. Dimming uses less energy
and extends lamp life.
• If available, buy 130-volt incandescent lamps. When they’re operated on the standard residential voltage of 120 volts, they produce a little less light but last much longer.


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