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Bright Ideas for Home Lighting

Lighting takes careful planning. You have to make sure that itís not too bright and not too dim. Only when you get it wrong will you notice that you feel uncomfortable. Itís easy to design lighting that is safe, attractive and pleasant to work in when you know the proper steps to take.

The two most common types of lighting found in the home are incandescent and fluorescent. Incandescent lights - the common light bulb - is produced by passing an electrical current through a small wire, called a filament. The friction of the current's passage heats the wire until it glows, and light is produced. Incandescent light is warm and yellow, and is preferred for most general task lighting. It can also be controlled by dimmer switches to allow better regulation of the amount of light from a given fixture. On the down side, incandescent light is one of the least energy efficient forms of lighting, and also produces a substantial amount of heat, which can restrict its use in certain applications.

Fluorescent light is created when electricity is applied to a glass tube that is coated on the inside and filled with gas. The electricity causes the coating to "fluoresces," or glow, producing light. Fluorescent light is soft and diffuses well over a larger area than incandescent, producing virtually shadow-free light. It is more economical to operate than incandescent light, producing three to five times as much light from the same wattage. Fluorescent light is naturally white, but tube coatings can be used to create a warmer, less harsh light. The tubes also produce virtually no heat during operation, but dimmer control is limited and comparatively expensive.

There are three basic levels of lighting, depending on the location and the desired use of the lighted area. Low level lighting, such as that for TV watching or general relaxing, should be in the 40-to-60-watt range for an incandescent light, or 16 to 22 watts for fluorescents. Moderate level lighting is common for short term use, or for easy-seeing applications like eating, exercising, and other general tasks. It is typically in the range of 120 to 150 watts (combined in one or more fixtures), or about 30 to 44 watts of fluorescent light. The third level is high, for prolonged use or tasks where seeing is difficult, such as reading fine print or doing intricate hobbies. This level calls for approximately 180 to 300 watts of incandescent light, or 45 watts and greater of fluorescent light.

When selecting lights for specific uses, here are some general rules of thumb:

Reading: Floor lamps should be placed slightly behind you and to the left or right of your shoulder, while table lamps should be set so the base is about at shoulder height and approximately 20 inches to either side of the reading material. Casual reading should be done under about 150 watts of light, or 200 to 250 for prolonged reading or studying.

Desk and work-table lights: Use a lamp that creates a uniform, glare- and shadow-free light on the desk. The more intricate or prolonged the work being done at the desk, the higher the wattage of light that's needed - typically a minimum of 200 watts of incandescent light or 40 watts of fluorescent. If you're right-handed, place the lamp on the left so that the light is not shadowed by your arm - do the opposite if you're left-handed.

Bathroom lighting: Bathroom lighting should be set up so as to eliminate shadows under your eyes, nose, cheeks and chin. Utilize one or more central lights for general use, plus fixtures set up so as to concentrate light around mirrors. You can use strip lights with a series of 25-watt bulbs for good lighting around mirrors. If you're using fluorescent lights, remember that soft-white tubes are the most flattering to your skin tone.

Kitchen: Simply placing a light on the ceiling is not nearly enough for the amount of concentrated work that occurs in the average kitchen; you need to concentrate light over specified work surfaces as well. Select fluorescent fixtures for under the upper cabinets to shed light on the counters - the light is uniform and shadow-free, and heat is not a problem. Use two 100

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