When it comes to garments most people understand the term layering. The task of layering lighting in the home is less understood. Just as an interior designer would layer colors or fabric, lighting designers use three basic layers of light to enhance a room’s visual appeal. These layers are referred to as ambient, accent, and task lighting.

The reason layering of lights is needed in a home is because no single source of light can give a room everything that is needed for functionality, singular task performance, ambiance and accent lighting. Light layering gives a room flexibility and balance. Multiple light sources allow a room to transition from daytime work area to an elegant evening setting more appropriate for entertaining purposes.

Most people measure light by watts, but experts say the best way to measure light is by lumens. Lumens are the measure of the total amount of visible light from a light source whether it is natural light or from a light bulb. Generally speaking it takes about 20 lumens per square foot to create ample ambient lighting.

An energy saving bulb 75 watt bulb gives off about 1100 lumens, a 60W equals about 800 lumens and a 40W totals about 450 lumens. To calculate the amount of lumens a room needs, multiply the area in square feet by the foot-candles. A foot-candle is a measurement of light intensity. One foot-candle is defined as enough light to saturate a one-foot square with one lumen of light.

While this all sounds like mad-science, there are actually graphs and guides all over the Internet that show homeowners the way to determine what each room of the home needs. For example, a living room needs 10 - 20 foot-candles while a kitchen needs 50 - 100 foot-candles. To see guides simply type in “foot-candle guide” into an online search engine.

Light layering is why lighting stores sell various types of lights such as sconces, chandeliers, pendant, flush mounted, cove, recessed, under-cabinet, torchiere, and floor lamps. Novices commonly mistake torchiere and floor lamps as the same thing. The difference between a floor lamp and torchiere is the function. Floor lamps are normally used for task purposes such as for reading or sewing, while a torchiere is used for general lighting. On floor lamps the shade allows the light to travel towards the floor while a torchiere lamp shade sends the light toward the ceiling.

Laymens frequently confuse accent lighting with ambient lighting. As a general rule, accent lighting should be three times brighter than the surrounding ambient lighting. Accent lighting focuses light on a particular area or object, it is often used to highlight art or other artifacts. Ambient lighting comes from all directions and is commonly the natural light that fills a room.

Who knew there was so much light to be shed on flipping the switch on lighting.

— Marla Ballard’s Master of Disguise appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions, but due to space, is in this weekend’s edition.

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