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When you are designing, redesigning or simply updating a space, the multitude of choices on offer can be intimidating! Downlighting is a popular choice, especially at the build stage, so it’s worth considering the use you’ll put a room to, and where you’d like to zone such lighting.
This blog goes through all of the benefits of downlighting, as well as its definition, to help you to work out whether downlighting might be the best lighting solution for your home.
Downlighting simply describes a light fitting (or ‘luminaire’) placed so as to cast its light downward. The light fitting referred to in a downlight is often a light bulb set in a metal cylinder with a decorative fascia. This is usually recessed into the ceiling, held in place using either compression clips or spring clips, so that you only see a small part of the fitting (if any of it) from below.
Downlights are a popular choice both for bathrooms and kitchens, in particular, as they are widely available in fire-rated, IP-rated variations.
Downlights are often incorrectly referred to as spotlights. Where downlights focus light downward and are, as explained above, often recessed into the ceiling, ‘spotlights’ is the correct name for lights which hang from the ceiling and are task-oriented – a surface-mounted light that has single, double, triple or quad spots, which can be swivelled to add extra light to specific zones or task areas.
If we refer to downlights as the variety recessed into the ceiling, there are several different varieties to pick from:
Trim downlights showcase a view of the bezel on the ceiling.
Trimless downlights have the bezel plastered in, so that they are flush with the ceiling, allowing the lighting itself to draw attention rather than the fixture. All trimless, recessed and true trimless fittings are ideally put in place at first-fix stage of a build. Some varieties can be feather plastered in at the second-fix stage, but it is a harder task.
Recessed downlights have the bezel plastered in so as to be actually recessed up into the ceiling, further focussing on the quality of light rather than the fixture, and actually minimising glare too.
True trimless downlights have the bezel plastered flush to the ceiling, with even more focus on minimising the bulb housing/fixture.
LED fixtures are a must these days, offering longevity and minimising energy usage. LED downlighting is a long-lasting and efficient lighting solution. Downlighting using LED bulbs both use far less energy and kick out much less heat, so they do less damage to the fixture itself. Less energy usage means both lower bills and a lower impact on the environment – a win-win outcome.
This creates a long-lasting solution compared to traditional lighting, so you will likely spend much less on replacement and renovation down the line.
Downlighting can be installed throughout the room or space. This is referred to as general illumination, and is useful in small spaces and where you’re likely to want a consistently well-lit ambience.
Zoned downlighting, however, is a great way to bring atmosphere to a room, as well as provide light to task-specific zones. This is a good way to save on electricity, too. For example, you might want the sofa area dim after a dinner party, lit only by candles – but you still need to see in the kitchen to assemble your cheese board. This is where zoned downlighting steps in – simply design task-specific kitchen lighting to light your tasks without completely transforming the whole room.
Many modern downlight options are also dimmable. This enables downlights to also provide gorgeous ambient lighting, as well as that glass-sharp task-centred lighting we need in certain areas, such as on kitchen worktops and in front of bathroom mirrors.
A clever scheme uses lighting on several different circuits, so that you can use your overhead lighting as you might use secondary lighting – to provide (and maintain) ambience.
As mentioned above, downlighting is perfect for task lighting. Excellent for a multitude of purposes around the home, downlights can highlight pieces of art, furniture or special features, provide sought-after light in a dark space (think about a reading nook, or a kitchen counter in an open plan living space) and help you to navigate space (for example in the treads of a staircase, to provide safety and security whilst avoiding using bright overheads). Be aware that most downlights can also be tilted, for further task-based focus.
A canny designer will suggest you consider your space usage before finalising your lighting plan. This is because downlighting is much more subtle, and effective, when it is zoned and task- or area-specific, rather than placed in a grid to cast exactly the same light everywhere.
This is because, if you think about it, lighting has quite a profound impact on how we use our spaces. With a grid installation, you might find, for example, that you have to work in your own shadow when chopping at the kitchen counter because the downlight isn’t correctly positioned. Alternatively, you might find that the whole living room becomes daylit rather than cosy, because there is an overall imbalance in the amount of light you need there.
Downlights work really well in ‘layered lighting schemes’, too – when you use several different sources of light to create a well-lit, balanced space. This is the best way to ensure you have lighting options – turn all three lighting circuits on when you need a space bathed in light, and resort to one or two for a more cosy and relaxed ambience for evening relaxation.
You might not think of installing downlighting in older properties, but houses with traditionally lower ceilings can truly make the most of the practicality offered by downlights. Unlike pendants, or even spotlights, modern downlights ensure your space can be perfectly illuminated without compromising any head space. Some worry about casting a constant ‘daylight’ level of illumination after downlight installation – but with clever, task-specific lighting, as we’ve explained above, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
First off, it’s best to consider your usage of the space you need to illuminate. Where will you most likely stand to chop vegetables, stir a pot or wash up? How would the direction of light impact you here? Where do you tend to relax in the evening, in lower light levels? What are your preferences for bathrooms and bedrooms – bright light or more laid back? Then create a zoned lighting scheme to fit all of your requirements.
Once you’ve created your planned downlighting scheme, you’ll need to further think about the functionality of the fitting in the space. What will you be lighting, and how light? This specification will help you to work out the size of the fitting you need, and the power required for it. You should also make absolutely clear that any downlighting specified for wet areas such as bathrooms is an appropriate fixture for this environment. Consider the space between lights, here, both aesthetically and for the power of light they cast. Will you choose wide beam bulbs (over 60 degrees is considered wide angle) to cast a broader, ambient light, or are you looking for sharp, directed light for task lighting?
Make sure there is room in the ceiling void for downlight installation! Also make sure to choose the sort of downlight you think best suits your scheme – with trim, or trimless. Do you want them to be dimmable? Do you want two or three different circuits, so that you can create a layered lighting scheme? You’ll want to choose energy-saving bulbs, so make sure to specify this in the design so as to avoid costly fixture changes down the line.
This is part and parcel of your lighting scheme, but is truly important as a factor to consider more holistically. Which way does your house sit – does it get sun in this room in the morning, or in the evening? What colour scheme are you planning for the room, and will you be using certain shades on the walls? Are you looking to highlight a feature of the space, or particular area of the room? How are you going about that with furniture etc as well as lighting choices? All of these choices will interact with how your downlighting works, and therefore how successful your overall scheme ends up being.
Revamping, renovating or building your own space? Looking for some illumination? Head over to Electrical Supermarket to see our vast range of products, or get in touch today for advice on how we could help you choose the best lighting for your space.