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Bathroom Lighting Tips

Bathroom Lighting Tips

The Beginner’s Guide to Lighting Up Any Bathroom 

Bathroom Lighting Tips

Your bathroom is a special place—of refuge and retreat, luxury and self-care. So why is your bathroom lighting so dull? Whether you’re planning a major remodel or a modest upgrade, here are some tips and strategies to light up your bathroom world.

1. Dream Big(ger)

Good lighting can create magic, transforming an ordinary bathroom into an experience. Begin your lighting quest by opening up your imagination and daring to dream big.

Ask yourself: What do I want to feel when I walk in the bathroom? Warm and welcomed? Dazzled by elegance? Hip and urban, or down-home and country? Write down the feeling you want to evoke and keep it posted nearby, so that all of your lighting decisions support that feeling and make it come alive.

2. Get Real

Now return to reality and look at your bathroom as it is right now.

  •  What do you like in terms of colors, textures, furniture and fixtures?
  • How would you describe the overall style of the things you like—modern or classical? Warm or cool? Is there a specific design style or historic era at play (Art Deco, etc.)?
  • What do you NOT like about your current bathroom?

Your lighting choices, and the specific fixtures you choose, must align with and enhance the existing design elements you already love. Many lighting fixtures are works of art themselves, but they must work with and not against the rest of your bathroom décor.

Meanwhile, knowing what you don’t like creates opportunities to use light creatively to hide, minimize or correct perceived design “flaws” in your bathroom

3. Safety First

Oil and water don’t mix, and neither do electricity and water. You want a bathroom to die for—but not literally! Here are some recommended safety precautions:

  • Make sure there is adequate ambient lighting—no dark spots—to avoid slips and falls.
  • Do an internet search to learn the specific building codes and safety regulations for bathrooms in your area. (Most home accidents happen in the bathroom.)
  • Learn about UL Wet-Rated and Damp-Rated lighting fixtures—use wet-rated fixtures in a shower enclosure, and damp-rated fixtures to handle indirect condensation and moisture over the tub.
  • Always consult a certified electrician before tackling even the simplest lighting project.

At Lamp Expo, all of our bath light fixtures are either UL Damp-Rated or Wet-Rated for maximum durability and safety in damp environments.

4. Think in Layers

In the interior design world, one size doesn’t fit all. Smart lighting plans involve a multi-layered approach—usually three types of lighting fixtures, known as lighting “layers”—each playing a different role:

  • Ambient: The base layer that illuminates the whole space; usually ceiling lights.
  • Task: Focused illumination for specific tasks, like shaving or putting on makeup.
  • Accent: Supplementary lighting that highlights particular elements you want to show off.

No single layer of light can stand alone. Ambient light by itself is visually flat and “cloudy,” lacking depth and contrast. Accent lighting without ambient light creates a cold, impersonal “museum” effect.

Your bathroom is multi-functional, and your lighting should be too. Take a look at your existing bathroom lights—what types of lighting layers are currently at work, and how can they be improved? How might you enhance the overall space by adding a different lighting layer?

5. Ambient Lighting

Your bath should be bright and clean, so ample overhead lighting is key. One of the best ways to accomplish this is with recessed ceiling lights with white opal diffusers. They give off a soft, gentle light that fills the room evenly, and isn’t overly directional. Tubs and showers often need this kind of general light. Wall sconces and cove lighting can direct light up and out so that it bounces off the ceiling, illuminating the whole room.

As an alternative to surface-mounted ceiling lights or recessed lamps, you might also consider a flush mountsemi-flush mount, pendant ,or chandelier, to eliminate dark areas while creating dramatic ambient lighting, especially for larger bathrooms.

6. Task Lighting: Vanity, Vanity!

One of the most important bathroom “tasks” is grooming: shaving, putting on makeup, styling hair. For vanity mirrors, you want evenly diffused cross-lighting with minimal glare to be able to see yourself clearly. The best way to do this is to place wall sconces on either side of the mirror, with the center of each fixture roughly at eye level, about 66 inches from the floor and 36 to 40 inches apart.

A common bathroom lighting mistake is to put recessed ceiling fixtures directly over the vanity mirror. Waking up is hard to do, especially when overhead “cans” cast harsh, scary shadows across your face. To eliminate shadows under the chin, eyes, and cheeks, fixtures should be mounted on either side of the mirror—or on the mirror surface itself, for larger mirrors.

If your space is too cramped to accommodate sconces, a bath bar (horizontal bar with multiple lights) can give you the light you need. Many bath bars can also be installed vertically as sconces to meet the dimensions of a large vanity. If you must place lights above the mirror, choose a fixture that's at least 24 inches long so that the light will wash evenly over your hair and face. The fixture should be placed 75 to 80 inches above the floor and, like all vanity lighting, contain at least 150 watts.

7. Accent Lighting

To create even greater visual interest and depth, try highlighting unique features in your bathroom such as plants, artwork or a beautiful glass bowl sink. A small recessed spotlight directed at a piece of decorative art creates another layer of light in the bathroom, a delightful “pop” of light. Sometimes a recessed shower fixture can be angled during installation—tilted up to 35 degrees—to highlight unique tile work or to make the fixtures sparkle

Apart from the shower and tub areas, a well-ventilated bathroom can sometimes be considered a “dry” environment—which allows you can expand your lighting horizons by including a wide array of decorative counter-top lamps and fixtures that are not wet- or damp-rated.

8. Set the Mood with Dimmers

Your bathroom serves different purposes throughout the day—from pre-coffee morning grooming to midday pit stop to luxurious evening spa. One simple way to adjust the “mood” is by installing dimmers for each of the bathroom’s lighting layers. Dimmers give you the flexibility to match the mood of the bathroom to your current mood—and to save money and conserve energy in the process! (A light dimmed just 10% will last twice as long as a bulb at full brightness.)

Meanwhile, dimmable vanity fixtures in a small powder room can provide an all-in-one lighting solution, providing task, ambient and accent lighting.

You’ll need different dimmers for each kind of light source. A 120-volt incandescent or halogen light will need an incandescent dimmer, while low-voltage and fluorescent fixtures require their own compatible dimmers. If a dimmed bulb buzzes (due to the filament vibrating), try switching to a lower-watt bulb (which has a smaller filament) to reduce or eliminate the noise.

9. Watts Up!

As you build the perfect bathroom, remember that your choices go beyond fixtures (which can be works of art themselves) to include a wide selection of energy-efficient, and dimmable, bulbs in an array of colors, tones and styles. LED lights are opening up the lighting horizon, allowing you to indulge all your lighting fantasies and use LESS energy in the process (plus, you don’t have to change the “bulbs” for years). LED lighting “color” ranges from 5000 kelvin “daylight” to 2700-3000K, which produces a warm yellow tint that can be matched to existing colors, fabrics and finishes and blended with incandescent bulbs.

A crisp white light tends to render skin tones most accurately, and for this halogen bulbs are best. They cost more than a standard incandescent, but often last three times as long. Many feature screw-in bases that allow them to fit most standard fixtures. The newest CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) also offer great color rendering and are up to 10 times more efficient than regular incandescent bulbs.

Final Lighting Tips: When shopping for fixtures, always check the wattage that each supports, in order to guarantee sufficient light output. For single-light sconces, look for fixtures designed to hold 75- to 100-watt bulbs. The equivalent wattage is approximately 18-22 watts for fluorescent bulbs and 9-13 watts for LED bulbs. Look for Energy Star bulbs with a CRI (color rendering index) of 80 or higher, and avoid clear bulbs with filaments, which tend to cast unflattering shadows. You’ll be happier with opaque or frosted bulbs instead, especially if the bulb is exposed

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