Lighting Basics

Lighting a room - any room - involves a combination of general, task and accent lighting to create a comfortable and convenient place to live.

By Gene And Katie Hamilton

Lighting Basics

Indoor light fixtures don't have to be boring. They can add ambiance, as well as light, to a room. Your house needs a combination of general, task and accent lighting so you can easily perform daily chores and enjoy feeling comfortable and safe. General overall lighting creates a low level of light throughout a room and provides diffused background illumination for moving around. Task or local lighting is needed wherever there's activity like preparing food, personal grooming, paying bills, or studying. Accent lighting calls attention to an area and creates a mood and works with general and task lighting to complete a comfortable and appealing atmosphere.

General lighting is provided by built-in ceiling and wall fixtures, which are controlled by wall switches. In bedrooms and hallways the fixture hugs the ceiling, while in a dining room it's often a chandelier or pendant that hangs in the center from a cord or chain. Wall sconces, also called wall lights, are often found in hallways and stairways to provide safe footing. A built-in recessed fixture over a kitchen sink provides task lighting for food preparation. A fixture over the bathroom tub assures a safe light level when bathing and showering; over a bed it provides light for reading.

You'll find a bewildering selection and price range of built-in fixtures sold at lighting and home centers and hardware stores. A plain Jane bedroom ceiling fixture can cost as little as $25, but a better quality one costs upwards of $70. A stylish chandelier sells for $100 and more. To have one installed you can hire an electrician, do it yourself or choose the installation service offered by the retailer where you buy the fixture; you'll see two tags, one with its price tag, the other with the labor cost for its installation.

A table lamp or floor light is a decorating accessory that combines function with fashion and provides task and accent lighting. The variety of designs and styles is endless and the investment can be as little as $50 to hundreds more. A new lamp or floor light can be an almost instant update to a room and provide much needed illumination for reading, sewing, or any work requiring good lighting. A wall light with a movable swing-arm and shade is a fixture that is hung on a wall with a cover to conceal the cord dangling down the wall.

Accent lighting can also be a spot light mounted on a wall or in the ceiling and used to showcase art. Miniature track lights concealed inside a cabinet can be used to highlight its contents. To cast light on a picture, add a cordless (batteries required) or plug-in style picture light that clips onto the top of the frame and casts an even light across the art.

A combination of fixtures that are built into the walls and ceilings and stand alone lamps and floor lights creates the best lighting effect in a house. To control these levels add dimmer switches to set the lighting to various ambiences such as subtle for dining, or more intense for entertaining.

The Lightbulb Finder, a free app for Android smartphones, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch recommends energy-saving bulbs. Based on a few simple inputs about fixtures and current incandescent bulb styles, the app suggests energy-saving bulbs with the right style, light quality and performance. To learn more go to

Don't want to get involved with an electrical job yourself? Click Home Advisor, a free referral services that matches homeowners with local prescreened contractors.