Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations

Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations

I’ve spent the better part of last week designing a lighting plan for the Sunrise Farm. It’s equally one of the most and least exciting parts of a full-house renovation. On the one hand, you get to envision every room finished, imagine how it’ll get used, how you want the space to feel, what piece of furniture will go where, etc. – and that’s exciting, of course. On the other hand, how in the world am I supposed to make major decisions based on made-up furniture that doesn’t even exist?!

Funny story: I remember one of the first full-house renovations we tackled. The electrician arrived to pull wiring. I was feeling proud of myself, having researched and come prepared with a list of all lighting fixtures, their sizes, and exact locations where they would go – until he asked, “So where do you want the light switches to go?”

Wait, what? I have to decide where the switches go?!

That was a reality check for me. A lighting plan is so much more than choosing pretty sconces and beautiful chandeliers. Technically, your electrician will also want a map of every electrical outlet you want moved or added, every fire alarm or carbon monoxide detector – but we’ll save that headache for another day, ha! Today we’re concentrating on creating a lighting plan.

The lighting walkthrough with the electrician takes place in the rough-in stage, after framing is complete but before the drywall is up. I highly recommend creating a lighting plan before the walkthrough, though. That way you’re not feeling rushed to make decisions on the fly. Instead, you’ll have a detailed, well-thought-out plan of what sort of lighting you want where.

Today, I’m using our Sunrise Farm project to share tips, tricks, and considerations to keep in mind when creating a lighting plan for your home. I’m sharing these tips in list form for easier digestion. Now, you may not be tackling an entire house, but this guide applies even if you’re simply changing one room. So, let’s get to it!

Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations

General Lighting Tips

  1. Before making a single lighting decision, you’ll want a general furniture layout plan for your home. Consider where you’ll have sofas, beds, tables, chairs, cabinets, built-ins, and other furniture. If you know the locations of these items ahead of time, it’ll make it so much easier to mark on your floorplan where you want lighting fixtures.I like to use Floorplanner for both floorplans and to think through possible furniture layouts. It’s a free program with a fairly small learning curve. I wrote more about it in this post, if you’re interested.
    Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations
  2. My general rule of thumb is to have 3 light sources in every room: general lighting, task lighting, and mood lighting.Take the Sunrise Farm living room as an example. The chandelier serves as general lighting. Task lighting is the floor lamp next to the sofa for reading. Sconces on the opposite wall of the sofa serve as mood lighting.Sometimes wiring three lighting options in each room is not an option. In that case, table or floor lamps are great alternatives.
    Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations
  3. Most people tend to put far too many recessed lights in a room. The rule of thumb is that 4-inch cans should be spaced about 4 feet apart, and 6-inch cans should be spaced about 6 feet apart in a standard-height room. Bedrooms, family rooms, dining rooms, and some living rooms are better with less harsh overhead lighting. But be generous with lighting in bathrooms and kitchens.At Sunrise Farm, we originally planned to add recessed lighting to the vaulted ceiling, along with chandeliers and sconces. After careful consideration, I opted out of adding recessed lighting.
  4. Don’t forget exterior lighting, whether that’s pendants on the front porch, sconces around the front door or garage, landscape lighting, path lighting, motion sensor lights, etc. Even if you don’t have the budget to add certain lighting features right now, you’ll want the electrician to go ahead and run the wires to the areas where you have future plans.
  5. Don’t forget to account for ceiling beams and other architectural and structural features when creating a lighting plan. We are considering adding faux beams to the Sunrise Farm sunroom. As a result, we had to carefully consider lighting placement to leave necessary room for the future beams.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask the electrician for feedback and suggestions to make your lighting plan more functional or more economical.

Room-Specific Lighting Tips

  1. If your budget allows, motion activated lights are great for closets, pantries, attics, etc.
  2. Sconces are far more flattering in bathrooms than overhead lighting, because the latter casts unattractive shadows on your face whereas the former illuminates your face. A sconce on either side of the mirror is the best case scenario.
    Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations
  3. Dining room light should hang centered on the dining table, even if it’s not the center of the room. As a result, you’ll want to plan ahead exactly where your dining table will go.
  4. Consider hanging pendants, small chandeliers or – my favorite – wall sconces as your bedside lighting, so you don’t have to crowd your nightstands with table lamps. If wiring electrical is not an option, there are so many beautiful plug-in sconces on the market.
    Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations

Tips for Light Switches

  1. After you have a general furniture layout for your home, walk from room to room to decide the best place to put light switches. Ideally, you want a light switch at every entrance to a room. For example, in the Sunrise Farm the front door opens directly into the living room. So we need a light switch for the living room chandelier immediately upon entering. Then, we’re adding another light switch for the living room chandelier as soon as you’ve left the kitchen and entered the main living area. This way you’re able to turn on the light for any given room without having to fumble your way through a dark room to the light switch at the other end of the room.
  2. Place a light switch at every exterior exit. Those light switches should control both interior and exterior lights.
  3. Assign different light switches to different types of light in each room. For example, the recessed lighting in the Sunrise Farm kitchen is controlled by one switch. The pendants by another. The sconces are controlled by a third switch.
  4. Speaking of light switches, place the one that controls general lighting first. Then, arrange them in order of importance. For example, in the Sunrise Farm kitchen, the first switch controls general lighting, the second – pendants, the third – sconces.
  5. Consider where you’ll want to hang pictures, art, and floating shelves; avoid placing light switches in those places. Alternatively, consider adding a library sconce, gallery light or a wall sconce to those areas. An example of this is the planned coffee station at the Sunrise Farm.
    Creating a Lighting Plan: Tips, Tricks and Considerations
  6. Adding dimmers can sometimes eliminate the need for multiple sources of light in certain rooms, because a dimmer gives you control over the amount of light you want for different times of the day, different occasions, or different tasks.

Goodness, that was quite the list! I know if you’re remodeling or building, you’ll find these tips helpful. Be sure you pin this post for future reference! Soon, I’ll share our actual lighting choices, along with tips on choosing the right bulbs for your lighting fixtures – because that’s important, too.

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