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Bathroom Lighting 101

Written by Bath Simple Design Team. Posted in Home + Garden

Learn how to light up your bathroom.  Everything is illuminated in this Bath Simple guide to brightening your bath.

Bathroom Lighting 101 by Bath Simple

Lighting is a powerful design tool that can improve function, safety, comfort and enjoyment in your new bath. You’ll want to consider natural and artificial sources and, depending on the scale of the project, perhaps enlist the help of a designer who specializes in lighting. This pro can sort through the vast and quickly evolving field of options and suggest ones that meet local codes and match your budget and goals for the renovation. If the project is modest, and you’re willing to do your homework, you can specify the lights and have a contractor install them. Either way, you’ll want to think about:

  • > Who will use the bath? Do you/they have any visual limitations or preferences that will influence your choice of lighting and lighting controls?
  • > What activities will take place in the bath? Where will you apply makeup or shave?
  • > Are there decorative or structural items in the room (doors, walls, partitions, frosted glass, a shower curtain, window treatments) that will reduce or block light in any part of the bath?
  • > What types of surfaces will be in the bath? Reflective and glossy items and finishes may make the room appear brighter but may also contribute glare.
  • > What colors will you use on large surfaces, including the walls, cabinets, ceiling and floor? Darker colors absorb more light than lighter hues.
  • > What decorative features, such as artwork or architecture, do you want to highlight or minimize?
  • > How will you access the light fixtures? Consider if and how frequently you will need to replace bulbs, clean or reposition the lights.

Types of Light

Layer these four types of light into your bathroom decor:

  • Ambient light provides general illumination. It may come from a natural source (also called daylighting), such as a windows, glazed doors, skylights or light tubes, and be supplemented by electric fixtures that provide multidirectional light (light dispersed in many directions).    Ambient Lighting (Bath Simple)
  • Task lighting provides illumination for specific activities, such as shaving and applying makeup, near the vanity. These lights fill in where ambient light leaves off, eliminate shadows and reduce eyestrain. Look for sources that provide multidirectional light.
  • Decorative lighting, though more common in other rooms, is finding its way into the bath. Pendants, a chandelier or perhaps a small table lamp can supplement ambient light and add sparkle.Decorative Lighting (Bath Simple)
  • Accent lighting directs attention to a specific feature of the room, such as an alcove, cabinet or artwork. Choose fixtures that direct light in one direction.

Vanity Lighting

Sidelights are the best and easiest way to achieve the even, shadow-free light that’s desirable near the vanity. Depending on the fixture type, you can mount lights on the wall flanking the mirror - or on the mirror. Choose fixtures with light-filtering covers, such as frosted and opal glass - that minimize glare.

Here are four important rules:

  1. Position the sidelights at eye-level (about 66 in. from the floor for most users).
  2. The distance between the fixtures depends on the amount of light they cast. Position them so that the horizontal beams overlap (typically 28 to 40 in. apart) and produce even, shadow-free light.
  3. If you are installing the lights on a mirror, choose surface-mount fixtures or those with attractive backs.
  4. Lighting a double vanity? Illuminate the sinks individually.

If sidelights aren’t an option, mount a fixture above the mirror that provides some horizontal illumination via multiple lights or a single light that runs the width of the mirror. An uncluttered, light-colored vanity top will help bounce light upward from the overhead fixture and eliminate shadows.

Wet and Wired

Because of the amount of moisture in the room, bathroom light fixtures should be specifically rated for use in damp, or in the case of a shower or tub space, wet areas. Look for labels and ratings by independent testers Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or ETL (Intertek Testing Services). For safety, building codes may dictate the distance of the fixture from water sources and require that the lights be wired with ground fault interrupters (GFIs) that turn off the fixture or circuit when it comes in contact with water.

“Watts Up” With Lumens?

Thanks to new packaging regulations for lighting, familiar terms like watts are being replaced by lumens, color temperature and color rendering. Learn the latest lighting lingo and standards with these easy guides from the U.S. Department of Energy:

Save EnergyEnergy Star

Choosing Energy Star light fixtures and bulbs is the easiest way to reduce energy consumption in a new bathroom. These fixtures save 25% more energy than standard luminaries and last for seven to 22 years of regular use. The CFL or LED bulbs (also called lamps) use about 75% less energy and last six times longer than standard incandescent lamps.

Have questions?  A Bath Simple Certified Designer can help answer your questions.  (800) 699 2618 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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