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A room-by-room guide to the right lightbulbs

Use LEDs to create layers of light but avoid glare

Published: August 05, 2015 11:00 AM

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Lighting a room doesn’t take much effort, but lighting it properly, well that’s a whole other thing. A center-mounted ceiling light isn’t enough anymore, not when you want lighting for tasks, ambience, security, and more. Consumer Reports asked four lighting designers from across the country for room-by-room lighting advice. Not surprisingly, they all said energy-saving LEDs are the way to go.

A lighting fixture in the center of the ceiling is visually boring and it can’t do it all. Use a variety of light sources to create layers of light, being careful to avoid glare. Whether the light color is warm or cool is a personal preference. “The further south you go people prefer cooler light because it makes you feel cooler and as you go north you find warm light is more popular,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, a lighting designer and architect in Lexington, Kentucky.

Light color is noted on the Lighting Facts label on lightbulb packages. Warm light is around 2700 K (the K is for Kelvin, a temperature scale that measures light color). Bulbs 3500-4100K cast a whiter light and those 5000-6500K give off a bluer-white light. “Don’t go above 3000K in any room,” says Rey-Barreau.

Kitchen and dining area

Task lighting. Mount dimmable, adjustable undercabinet LED fixtures near the cabinet front to direct light down and back to put light where you’ll be working, but if you have granite or another shiny countertop there can be some reflected glare—bright spots of light from the LEDs.
Need to know: Cut countertop glare by using LED fixtures with diffusers to soften the light. “And if your backsplash is white or another highly reflective surface, place the undercabinet LED fixtures upfront but aim them toward the backsplash to lessen glare and allow the light to bounce off the backsplash and illuminate the work surface, ” says Terry McGowan, a Cleveland-based lighting designer and director of engineering for the American Lighting Association

Overhead lights. Dimmable LEDs for recessed lighting can provide directional task lighting and general lighting. “The most common mistake that I’ve seen—even builders do it—is a recessed fixture with a bulb hanging, creating a huge amount of glare,” says Robin Muto, a lighting designer in Rochester, New York.
Need to know: A true recessed light means that the lightbulb is recessed too. And the color of the can’s interior, which surrounds the bulb, affects light output and the color of the can’s interior, which surrounds the bulb, affects light output and light color. A shiny metal reflector casts the most light but increases glare. A black interior reduces glare but absorbs light so you might prefer brighter bulbs.
Bulbs to consider: Any of the recommended BR30 LEDs that you see in our ratings

Family room

Use a ceiling fan with a light or recessed lights for general lighting, lamps at different heights and sizes to create an intimate look, track or recessed directional lighting to accent art, wall sconces for added light, and LED tape lighting on cabinet shelves to showcase books and your favorite pieces.
Need to Know: “Avoid a light above the TV as it will influence the quality of what you’re seeing,” says Rey-Barreau, adding that recessed lights should be off when you’re watching TV. Use bulbs within a 200-degree Kelvin range of other bulbs in the room to minimize noticeable differences in light color in one room.
Bulbs to consider: See the general purpose LEDs that replace 60-watt bulbs in our ratings

Bedrooms

Recessed lighting isn’t ideal as you don’t want to be looking up from your bed at a glaring light. A ceiling fixture lets you hit a switch for on/off light, and dimmers on your bedside lamps allow you to adjust light within a range of comfortable settings. Skip CFLs in children’s bedrooms. Horsing around may cause a lamp to crash to the floor, a concern since CFLs contain small amounts of mercury.
Need to know: Use warmer light color, around 2700K, to minimize blue light. Your eyes are especially sensitive to it, and studies have shown that exposure to any light at night is associated with an increased risk of sleep problems, according to our medical experts.
Bulbs to consider: For lamps or ceiling fixtures, most of the top scoring general purpose LEDs cast warm light. See our ratings and note whether the bulb can be used in a fully enclosed fixture.   

Bathrooms

You’ll want just enough light to get in and out in the middle of the night, yet the right light for grooming. Overhead dimmable light is useful and ideally you want light above the mirror and along both sides.
Need to know: Choose bulbs with a high color-rendering index (CRI). They more accurately show colors of skin tone—handy when applying make-up. You’ll see color accuracy scores in our lightbulb Ratings. As for light color, Muto prefers bathroom light that’s around 3000K. “It’s not cool yet but it’s more neutral,” she says, “and you perceive the light as being brighter than warm, yellow light.”
Bulbs to consider: Check the ratings for a general purpose LED that scored well in our color accuracy tests. 

Outdoors

LEDs perform very well in cold temperatures, unlike CFLs, which take time to fully brighten. And an LED’s long life makes it ideal for hard-to-reach spots. Continue the layered-lighting look outside, using lighting for safety, security, and accenting landscaping. “Glare is always bad.” says McGowan. “When you put a floodlight over the garage door and aim it down the driveway, you’re blinded when you pull in the driveway and your neighbors passing by on the street or sidewalk won’t appreciate this glaring light either.”
Need to know: Control the light by installing fixtures with shields so the light shines down and not out, and rather than using one bulb to do all the work use several smaller floodlights with less light output. “The rule of thumb is never try to light a distance beyond 1.5 times the mounting height of the light,” he says. Lights mounted at 12 feet can light up to 18 feet out.
Bulbs to consider: See the PAR38 bulbs in our ratings, and note that some of the BR30 LEDs can be used outdoors if they’re protected from water and aren’t as bright.

Full lightbulb Ratings and recommendations

Our lightbulb Ratings include dozens of energy-saving LEDs and CFLs. Click the Features & Specs page to learn more about the bulbs and how they compare. The buying guide is loaded with useful information. 

—Kimberly Janeway

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