Learn About Lighting

Types of Lighting

A wide variety of options is available to light every space and task within the home. To choose the right option, it pays to understand the basic lighting unit—the luminaire, or light fixture. To learn more about the differences read this article defining the luminaire.

The two basic types of lighting are daylight and electric lighting. Electric lights may be exposed lamps or, more often, luminaires. Luminaires are complete lighting units consisting of a lamp (the light source), any auxiliary device such as a fluorescent ballast or LED driver, socket providing an electrical connection, housing and shielding media such as a shade.

These luminaires are connected to a source of power either through hardwiring (permanently installed luminaires) or by plugging them into an outlet (portable luminaires). They are then controlled either by a switch or dimmer-switch.

Luminaires can be used to provide general/ambient, accent or task lighting. Some luminaires can provide more than one role in the space.

Architectural: This type of luminaire integrates into the architecture and uses it as a medium to distribute light in the space. The most common forms are cove, soffit and valance. These luminaires are typically used for ambient lighting.

  • Cove lighting is installed in some type of recessed space high up on a wall. The light can fill the space, highlighting it as an architectural feature, or emit light onto a nearby ceiling.
  • Soffit lighting is installed in a soffit or cornice near the ceiling. The light is emitted down to wash the wall with light.
  • Valance lighting is installed high up on a wall behind a horizontal panel. The light is emitted up toward the ceiling

Ceiling: Ceiling-mounted luminaires are installed on the surface of the ceiling. Typically used for ambient lighting.

Recessed: Recessed luminaires are luminaires mounted within a room surface for ambient, accent and task lighting. The luminaire may be flush-mounted (fully recessed) or semi-recessed. Typical recessed luminaires are downlights; light is typically aimed straight down, though aimable luminaires are available for wall washing and accent lighting.

Luminaires may also be recessed into walls or even the floor. Floor lights can add drama by uplighting a statue or other floor-level feature.

Pendants: Pendants are luminaires that are suspended from the ceiling. While popular for ambient lighting, they can also be directional for accenting objects or providing supplementary task lighting for spaces directly below.

A popular type of pendant is the chandelier. This decorative luminaire typically provides ambient lighting but can include a subtle accent or task downlighting component.

Wall sconces: Sconces are luminaires that are mounted on a wall surface. The light may be emitted in any direction to draw attention to the wall or luminaire itself. As they are visible at eye level, they contribute to room’s ambience. Wall sconces typically provide ambient lighting but can also provide task lighting in some spaces, such as when mounted on both sides of a mirror in a bathroom.

Track lighting: Track and rail lighting consists of luminaires (track heads) mounted on a linear track or rail, ideally suited to accent lighting but also used for task lighting. The track heads can be aimed and moved, providing flexibility

Undercabinet lighting: Available in linear and puck configurations, these luminaires are mounted under kitchen cabinets to provide task lighting. Shelf lighting can be installed inside cabinets for accent or task lighting.

Desk, floor and table lamps: These portable luminaires, available in a wide range of styles and sizes, are typically used for task lighting, though they also contribute ambient light.

With so many shapes, mounting configurations, styles and lamping options, the lighting industry offers homeowners the right light for every application need.

What You Need To Know About Defining The Luminaire:

  • Use ambient, accent and task lighting layers to light a room
  • Many luminaire options available to light it right

By Craig DiLouie, LC

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