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Planning for can lighting

Can lights vary in intensity and angle. The higher your ceiling, the more floor space a light will illuminate. In general, recessed cans should be positioned 6 feet from each other. Of course, most rooms are not sized to accommodate this, so you’ll have to adjust your calculations. In the example below, most of the lights are 5 feet apart. Make a similar plan for your own installation, experimenting with several configurations. Take your plans with you to your home center for advice. Lay out can lights using the templates that come with them, and mark the center point with a nail. You may have to move some lights a few inches one way or another in order to avoid hitting the ceiling framing. Fortunately, this will not make a big difference in the overall effect.

SPECIAL TECHNIQUES. In addition to providing general lighting, recessed can lights can enhance decorating strategies with:

• Wall washing. To light up a large wall area, install cans with wall-wash trims that are 24 to 30 inches apart and the same distance from the wall.

• Accent lighting. Spotlight a painting, fireplace mantel, or other feature with a can that has a fish-eye style trim. Place it 18 to 24 inches from the wall, centered on the object.

• Grazing. To dramatize an unusual vertical surface, such as a fireplace or a textured wall, place cans 6 to 12 inches from the wall and 12 to 18 inches apart. Wire them with a shared dimmer switch.

CONCENTRIC CIRCLES OF LIGHT. On graph paper, make a scale drawing of your room and place dots in a fairly consistent pattern To get a general idea of the distribution of light, use a compass to draw circles that are scaled to about 5 feet in radius (10 feet in diameter). In this example, the center of the room will get more light than the perimeter—which is usually desirable. Generally, figure that a 65-watt floodlight in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will light up a circle that is 8 feet in diameter on the floor; if the ceiling is 10 feet high, it will illuminate a 10-foot circle.

Choosing ceiling fixtures

The broad range of overhead fixtures can be roughly divided into those with eye-catching decorative features and those that are hardly noticeable but provide general illumination (like the flush ceiling fixtures shown opposite below). Track lights (opposite) fall in between. All come in a wide variety of styles. Here are the basic types and features to choose from.

PENDANT LIGHTS. Lights that hang down from the ceiling are called pendants. Use them for general lighting, to illuminate a dining room table, or to light up a work surface. A chandelier or other type of pendant usually can’t illuminate a large room on its own. A chandelier often hangs at eye level and would produce an unpleasant glare if it were bright enough to light an entire room.

• Pendant shades. Use a pendant shade to focus light on a specific space, such as a small table, a countertop, or a narrow work area. A pendant light with a glass shade will provide general lighting as well as directed light. A metal shade focuses light more directly. Older styles of pendant lights hang by decorative brass chains, with neutral-colored lamp cord running through the chain. Newer fixtures use a plain chrome-colored wire for support, with the cord running alongside.

• Pendant lanterns. These lights resemble the old glass lanterns that protected candles from wind. Use them in narrow areas like foyers and stairways. Hang these at least 6 1/2 feet from the ground so that people can walk under them. Center a pendant lantern width-wise in a narrow room. If it is near a large window, place it so it will look centered from the outside.

• Chandeliers. Originally designed as candleholders, chandeliers usually have five or more light bulbs. Look for a model that is easy to clean; complex designs can be difficult to dust or wash. Keep the fixture in scale; a chandelier that is too small will appear to be dwarfed by the room. When choosing a unit to hang over a dining room table, select one that is about 12 inches narrower than the table. If it is any wider, people may bump their heads on it when they stand up from the table. In an entryway, maintain proportion by installing a chandelier that is 2 inches wide for every foot of room width (for example, use a 20-inch-wide light in a 10-foot-wide room).

Get the height right. A common mistake is to hang a chandelier too low. A chandelier should hang about 30 inches above a tabletop. The length of the chain will depend on your ceiling height.

Some lighting fixtures can be raised or lowered to perform different functions—raised for general room light or lowered to focus on a dining room table.

Track Ceiling Fixtures

CHOOSING TRACK LIGHTS. A single track lighting system can combine general lighting and accent lighting. When choosing a lamp, make sure it can handle the light bulb of your choice and that it will fit onto your track. Incandescent lamps such as a round-back cylinder or a gimbal ring produce a broad, intense beam. Low-voltage halogen track lights such as a low-voltage bell or low-voltage gimbal ring produce a more intense, narrower beam of light. Each has its own transformer, so it can attach to a standard-voltage track. (However, these low-voltage lights require a special electronic dimmer; a standard magnetic dimmer will damage the lamps.) A track that partially encircles a room at a distance of 6 feet or so from the walls will disperse light more effectively than a single track running through the middle of the room.

Flush Ceiling Fixtures

CHOOSING FLUSH FIXTURES. A single flush fixture in the middle of the ceiling is the most common way to light a room. These fixtures usually produce enough light to adequately illuminate a 12'x12' room with an 8-foot ceiling or a 16'x16' room with a 10-foot ceiling (the higher the fixture, the broader the spread of its light). They hug the ceiling, consistently distributing light. Newer fluorescent ceiling fixtures with electronic ballasts look like incandescents, save energy, and have tubes that rarely burn out. A semi-flush fixture hangs down a foot or so from the ceiling. It diffuses light through the globe as well as upward, evenly illuminating a room. Halogens offer more intense light. Two- or three-head spotlights provide some of track lighting's versatility. Point the lights horizontally for general lighting, or angle them downward to highlight certain areas of the room.