How do I make sure a residential condominium has good and proper lighting?

Asked by JC Soriano
Pasadena, CA

Theres a boom in condo construction where i live, and want to make sure i get the best and most efficient especially in terms of lighting. Usually they just have a couple of bulbs installed but i cant complain since i dont have any basis or expertise on what im asking them for.


David Bergman

Answered by David Bergman

New York, NY

David Bergman Architect

January 12, 2012

We’re a little light on the details here, so let me try to come up with some very general observations on what to look for in terms of lighting when evaluating a potential home.

1. Efficiency of the built-in fixtures. There are two general types of light fixtures: built-in (or hard wired) and plug-in. Most of the time, a home will be sold with the former but not the latter. If there are recessed lights, they will be included, and surface mounted ceiling and wall lights may be included as well.

The relevant point here is that recessed lights are hard to change so it is important to check out what types of bulbs they can handle. If it is an incandescent recessed light, are there CFL or LED bulbs that can fit it?

Surface mounted and pendant lights can be changed once you move in, but that of course adds an expense that you may not want to incur amidst the flood of other costs of buying and moving. So you may want to check on the energy efficiency of those lights as well.

2. Electrical outlets. Hard-wired lighting, outside of bathroom and kitchens and other utility-type spaces, does not need to provide all the light. Especially in living spaces like bedrooms, living rooms and home offices, portable plug-in lighting will provide much – or maybe even all – of the artificial lighting.

In those locations, the main criterion in evaluating the space will be the locations of outlets because you will be providing your own (presumably energy-efficient) lamps.

3. Occupancy sensors. Even better than energy-efficient lights are lights that are off when not needed. How often do you (or your kids) forget to turn off lights when leaving a room?

In some states, occupancy sensors are now required for the primary lighting in bathrooms, and they can be a good idea elsewhere as well. As with surface mounted lighting, sensors can be installed to replace switches after you move in, but it’s an added task.

If you’re going to be using incandescent or halogen lighting, make sure you have dimmers so you can reduce the amount of light, thereby both reducing energy consumption and extending the lives of the bulbs.

4. Daylight. Don’t forget that lighting includes both artificial and natural light. And what could be more energy-efficient than daylight? (Added benefit: it’s free.) See what directions the rooms and windows face. Will there be enough natural light that you can use less – or no – artificial lighting during the day?

Make sure you look at the nearby trees, too. A heavily shaded house will obviously require more artificial lighting. Are the trees evergreen or deciduous? Trees that lose their leaves in the winter are great at providing shade in the summer (when you probably don’t want as much direct
sunlight coming in) while allowing more light in in the winter when you need both the light and the solar heat.

5. In a related vein, look at the colors of finishes in the condo. Dark colors on floors and kitchen counters and the like will necessitate stronger lighting.

I’ve probably left a few things off this quick, basic list. Feel free to add to pointers in the comments below.

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