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If these walls could talk


LIGHTING YOUR HOME Part Three: Local Task Lighting



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05/01/2008 - Last month, I described how to provide the various rooms of your home with general background light. In addition to the general light in one's home, there is also a need for local task lights. These are lights that provide illumination for specific occupations such as reading, sewing, cooking etc. The following guidelines should help in choosing task lights.

Reading For best reading light, place the fixture to one side of the reading material, in line with one of the shoulders of the reader. If the light is directly above the book, it will reflect off of glossy paper back into one's eyes. Having it on one side reduces eye strain.

The lower edge of the shade should be at eye level for a seated reader. For reading in bed, place the lower edge of the shade at semi-reclining eye level. The shade should be opaque with a white lining. Colored linings tint the light. This is nice for atmosphere, but bad for reading. Floor lamps with a base height of 40 to 49 inches work well. In a small room where furniture is close to the walls, wall lamps work well. Use 200 watt bulbs, or alternately, 3-way bulbs--- 100/200/300.

Swing-arm wall or floor lamps are great for reading in bed. Another option is to use a shielded fluorescent tube 30 inches above the mattress at the headboard. Choose warm white bulbs.

Make-up and shaving The first rule of thumb for mirrors and light is to make sure the light shines away from the mirror onto the viewer rather than onto the mirror. A light that shines from the top is bad because it casts shadows under one's eyes and nose. The best light fixture has bulbs which encircle the mirror completely, therefore illuminating shadowlessly. For a more traditional look on a dresser or dressing table, use twin side- lamps. Two evenly spaced lamps should evenly illuminate one's face. The center of the translucent shades should be at cheek height. This is approximately 22" above a 36" dresser, or 15" above a dressing table where one would be seated. Use 100watt soft white bulbs.

Sewing One needs twice as much light for hand sewing as for reading. The lamp should stand forty to forty-two inches from the floor and be to one side of the seated sewer. Use a 300watt bulb. If possible, add a 75watt adjustable clamp-on spotlight to the lamp pole. It can be aimed at the sewing from a distance of 10 or 12 inches.

For machine sewing, one definitely needs more than just general light and the tiny bulb on the machine. Ideally use a floor lamp with three firmly adjustable, accurately aimable light housings. Aim the lowest fixture at the needle, the next higher one at the general work surface and background, and the third at the ceiling to bounce softly back down. Use 75watt floodlight bulbs set into a housing that recesses the bulbs 2 inches from the end.

Desk The bottom of the opaque shade should be at eye level--- approximately 15 inches above the desk. It should sit 12 inches back from the edge of the desk. or it can sit further away if it has a swing-arm. Again place it to one side of the seated writer--- about 15 inches from the work center.. Use at least a 150watt bulb.

Worktops Work surfaces in kitchen, utility, and shop areas need extra light. One good way to achieve this is with strip lights under shelves or cabinets. The light should be 9 to 12 inches back from the front work surface edge, and 15 to 20 inches above the surface. Use shielded fluorescent tubes. Paint the inside of the shield white. For a little added up-light use a two-inch strip of glass inset into the shelf above the bulb. This will cast light up to bounce softly off the ceiling.

Piano music A single light should shine from above and behind the user. Aim it to cover the music and immediate background. A single light works well, but a pair works even better. Place them 22 inches to the right and left of the keyboard center, 13 inches above the lower edge of the music rack. Use at least 100watt bulbs.

Stairs Staircases should be well lit from above with a light directed toward the floor to reveal changes in levels and surfaces. If lit from the top of the flight, the risers will be in shadow, but the treads and their projecting edges will be lit. This is safest.

Entries Try using down-lights and wall-washers to illuminate artwork, mirrors, coat-racks, etc.

Games Ideally for card playing and board games, use 75 watt floodlights aimed toward the table, set out 24 inches diagonally from the table's corners. For pool or ping-pong use two lights (one for each half) set 36 inches directly above the table.

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