Save Energy With Layered Bathroom Lighting
October 26th, 2010 by James Dulley

lighting3People don’t often think about lighting and energy efficiency when remodeling bathrooms, but it is as important as installing proper plumbing fixtures.

If the lighting in your bathrooms is like most older bathrooms, it consists of an overhead light, perhaps built into a vent fan, if there is no window.

If there is a window in the bathroom, few builders went to the expense of installing a vent fan. Today, vent fans are almost always installed to address indoor air quality concerns in modern, more airtight houses. While remodeling, install a vent fan.

The lighting for your children’s bathroom will be simpler, so tackle it first. A basic overhead light should be adequate until they get old enough to shave or wear makeup. There is likely already an incandescent overhead light-only or fan/light fixture. In either case, replace it with a new Energy Star-qualified fan with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL). It will use 75 percent less electricity for lighting.

Planning efficient and effective lighting for your master bathroom and dressing area is more complicated. Use the basic lighting design technique called layering to provide proper lighting.

The three basic lighting layers are task, ambient, and accent or decorative. Bathrooms are relatively task oriented— showering, shaving, applying makeup, general grooming—so adequate task lighting is most important. Other than showering or bathing, the task lighting at the mirror and vanity is used most often.

Ideally, place lighting on both sides of the mirror and perhaps on top for three-direction lighting. This eliminates shadows that can be a problem when shaving or applying makeup. If the mirror is not too wide, wall-mounted vertical fluorescent tube lighting on each side of the mirror is best and efficient.

Several companies offer efficient decorative T2 or T5 fluorescent fixtures. Some are designed to be attached to wide mirrors, and decorative sconces with CFLs are effective around narrow mirrors.

Daylight-type CFLs provide the best color rendition for makeup. Halogen bulbs may be used. They offer a longer life, are more efficient and provide a whiter light.

For over-the-mirror task lighting, Kichler offers a new decorative rail light design, which also works well for accent lighting. It is similar to track lighting, with three or four directional fixtures, but is mounted on a rail that hangs down a couple of inches from the ceiling. It mounts to the ceiling over a standard ceiling electrical box. Several of the rail fixtures use super-efficient, long-lasting, white light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

For the bath/shower area, recessed overhead task lighting works well. Consider installing low-voltage fixtures for safety and easy installation.

For ambient lighting, lower-wattage incandescent fixtures—either overhead or sconces—are effective. They can be controlled by dimmer switches to save energy. The new Lutron Eco-Minder dimmer is a good choice. As the lights are dimmed, an LED on the faceplate changes from red to green to remind you to dim the lights to save energy. On some models, the switch also functions as an efficient night light. It is wise to install separate dimmer switches for the various layers of light. Another daytime ambient light is an ODL tubular skylight with a solar-powered remote dimmer.