How to Select the Right Light Fixture
May 13, 2021
Lighting can be one of the most complex elements of good design. Understanding the technical values of lighting – Kelvins, CRI, lumens, beam angle, photometrics and so on – make selecting the optimum layout and fixtures seem overwhelming.
I began to study lighting after I was bitterly disappointed with the final results of a major kitchen renovation for a client. Not understanding lighting overly well, I referred to the selections and choices made by the homeowner and electrician. Relying on others for their expertise is a common practice in the kitchen and bath industry, right? However, when it comes to making fixture choices, there has rarely ever been a circumstance that an electrical trade professional has selected an optimal fixture. But in their defense, their primary goal was to provide adequate lighting and to ensure that everything works as intended. Although I don’t fault these goals, I do challenge their “go-to” options frequently. To have this tough conversation, you need to have some compelling information.
Fixture selection is one of the biggest challenges in a project, especially when light levels in a kitchen are so critical. Creating ideal circumstances for meal preparation (i.e. chopping, measuring) and other detailed activities requires an abundance of light for both functionality and safety.
It is the actual fixture selection that dictates the type of bulb used. Many fixtures now come as a fully integrated unit (meaning the bulb/fixture as a whole unit), so choosing the best option requires a few basic parts of understanding. The main recessed pot light for so many electricians is what I call the “glowing disc of light.” These fixtures (shown as Fixture 1) come in a variety of color temperatures (Kelvin) from 3000K – 6500K, have a 50,000-hour life span, are readily available at almost any supplier including big-box stores, are easy to install and so on. So what is it that make these fixtures fall short? I’m so glad you asked!
Light Fixture 2
These fixtures look pretty similar. They both are low profile, long life, have multiple color temperature options and are similar in cost. The difference comes in the performance.
Check out these photometric charts. When comparing the value of light (the lux) that reaches a surface 1 – 1.2 meters away from the light source, the numbers tell the whole story. As you can see in the photometric charts, the light for Fixture 1 started at 613 lux but decreased by almost 50% by the time it got one meter away! On the other hand, Fixture 2 starts at 1600 lux and is only reduced less than 10% at 1.2 meters away. Fixture 2 has less loss of lux.
This all translates to the simple fact that with Fixture 1, MUCH less actual light will reach the kitchen counter compared to Fixture 2. It is this dramatic reduction that compromises true light quality in our designs and affects functionality.
Once you understand the value of these calculations, it is impossible to go back to “whatever” is installed by the electrician. Don’t get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for all my trades and could NOT do anything without their expertise, but selecting fixtures is not part of that list!
Time to have that tough conversation with your electrician. If lighting isn’t in your wheelhouse, there are plenty of lighting experts that would love to introduce you and your trade team to a whole collection of great products that offer much better, quality lighting. You owe it to your clients!
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