Basic lighting design guidelines always describe layering light to achieve your desired effect. For the kitchen, this means combining general ambient lighting with task lighting and accent lighting. Using energy efficient light bulbs you can transform the kitchen’s aesthetics as well as reduce the monthly energy bill. Using LED (light emitting diode) light bulbs gives you that energy efficiency and bulb options that compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) don’t provide.
In order for CFLs to last the life time rating printed on their packaging, they have to be left on at least 15 minutes at a time. If not they will burn out a much quicker rate. CFLs also need this time to warm up to their full brightness. LED light bulbs on the other hand turn on instantly, and do not need to be kept on to keep their full rated run time (which is usually 50,000 hours).
Along with their long life and energy efficiency, LED light bulbs also come in flood and spot light options. CFLs aren’t able to produce focused light without relying heavily on the fixture it is placed in to do the light focusing. With more bulb options, it is easier to get the lighting look that you want.
Start with the task areas.
Good kitchen lighting from a functional and decorative aspect incorporates ambient lighting and task lighting. Task lighting is used to light up workspace areas such as the counters, sinks, and tabletops. The lighting should be bright and shadowless with the fixtures mounted close to the task areas. Mounting lights to under the cabinets that sit over the kitchen counter is a great place to put some task lighting. LED options include light bars and flexible LED strips that mount flush against the bottom of the cabinet keeping hidden, while providing useful task light, as well as light to enhance the look of stone counter tops.
In the cases where there are no overhead cabinets, such as the kitchen island, hanging pendant lights can be used to bring light close to the work area. As a general guideline, pendant lights should hang approximately 5 feet 6 inches off the floor (based on a 36-inch high kitchen island), and the kitchen dining area light should hang approximately 5 feet 4 inches off the floor or between 30 to 36 inches from the table top. The fixture selected should also be 12 inches narrower than the top of your table. If hanging lights are not possible, then light can be projected from the ceiling using track or recessed lighting.
The most effective light bulbs for track or recessed fixtures are directional lamps that shine in a particular direction. Many of these fixtures use MR16 type bulbs. Find an LED MR16 bulb that produces a flood pattern and one that does not have a hard defined beam pattern otherwise it will cast hard shadows, which would make it a poor choice for a task light, but excellent for accent lighting. PAR30 lights are often used in recessed cans and can be found readily as LED bulbs.
Once the task lighting has been chosen, it is time to choose the fixtures that will provide the ambient light. Ambient light is the general light that is used for casual activities in the kitchen. It fills in shadows, reduces contrast, and lights vertical surfaces to give a brighter feel. A kitchen with light colored surfaces and lots of windows has a lot of ambient light during the day, but as soon as the sun sets the kitchen must rely on fixtures that produce general lighting.
If your current kitchen uses fluorescent tubes, they can be replaced with tubes of LED bulbs. These LED tubes last much longer. With an average of 50,000 hours, the rated lifetime equates to about 10 years of usage if you calculate it being on 12 hours a day. This is especially great if you often neglect to change your used fluorescent tubes, which consume electricity even when burnt out. Choosing a warmer color temperature somewhere between 3000K and 5000K will produce a nice inviting light.
LED sconces are also a great way to add ambient lighting to the kitchen. Mounted to the wall, light is usually directed upwards, but some fixtures shine both up and down. They are generally mounted so that the center of the sconce is 5 feet 6 inches away from the floor. If you have space between the top of your cabinets and the ceiling, LED strips or light bars can be used to bounce light off the ceiling to add more general lighting.