Ah, the bathroom. Whether yours is an oasis or a heavily trafficked room thanks to the kids, one thing is consistent regardless: you need good lighting.
That said, effectively lighting a bathroom can be tricky. Small rooms and tight spaces can make it challenging when it comes to placing sconces, ceiling lights, and even light switches. Not to mention the bathroom needs to accommodate a variety of tasks that require different types of lighting.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't worry—we can help! Here are three bathroom lighting mistakes to avoid.
Bathroom Lighting Mistake #1: Not Including Enough Light
It's easy to think a single overhead light or a single sconce above the mirror will be enough to light a small bathroom. However, even if the room is small, a single light fixture is often insufficient.
For example, a light in the center of the room isn't in a good location to provide shadow-free task lighting at the mirror, making certain tasks difficult (such as shaving and applying makeup). On the other hand, a sconce above the mirror may provide excellent task lighting, but it might not provide enough ambient light in the shower once it filters through the shower curtain.
How to avoid this mistake: Layer your lighting. Simply put, layered lighting involves the use of multiple lighting types to create a well-lit and balanced space. Think ambient lighting for overall illumination; task lighting for specific areas (e.g., sconces mounted on either side of the mirror above the sink); and accent lighting for areas of interest (such as the cool mosaic tile in your master bath).
- Pro tip: Make sure any fixture in a shower is wet-location listed. Be aware, however, that this fixture may not be rated for a steam shower. If you have a steam shower, be sure to look for fixtures specifically recommended for that application.
Bathroom Lighting Mistake #2: Overlooking Color Temperature and CRI
Alongside information about brightness and wattage, manufacturers of LED bulbs or fixtures will also note the color temperature and CRI (color rendering index).
Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K), and it's used to describe the color of the white light that a light bulb or light fixture provides. The lower the color temperature of a light source, the warmer (redder) the color of the light appears. The higher the color temperature of a light source, the cooler (bluer) the light appears.
For example, candlelight with its warm, reddish-amber has a color temperature of about 1800K. Daylight at noon on a snowy winter's day falls at the other end of the spectrum. It is much whiter and bluer in color, and has a color temperature of about 6500K. Incandescent light bulbs fall in between these two examples. The color temperature of a conventional incandescent bulb is about 2700K, and a halogen bulb has a color temperature of about 3000K.
CRI, on the other hand, is a measure of how true-to-life a light source renders color when compared to a full spectrum source of the same color temperature. Have you ever been in a room with older fluorescent lighting and felt like everything looked sickly or not quite right? A light source with a low CRI (like those old fluorescents) won't render colors accurately, dulling the colors in the room or tinting them strangely.
In a bathroom, choosing a low CRI light fixture can make colors look unnatural, which in turn can make some bathroom tasks like applying makeup difficult. Choosing a light fixture with a very high or very low color temperature can also give objects a blue or amber cast, making it challenging to see colors accurately and having an unintended effect on the overall look and feel of the room.
How to avoid this mistake: Familiarize yourself with the way that light looks at different color temperatures. Though color preferences are very personal, most people prefer light in the 2700K-3000K range for their homes because the color of the light is comfortable and familiar.
Light around 2700K tends to have a warmer, cozier feel and is more flattering to skin tones and warmer color palettes. Light around 3000K has a brighter, crisper feel and tends to be more flattering to cooler color palettes—it reads as more of a neutral white light. See these different color temperatures in person and learn what you like best.
Once you're familiar with color temperature, consider how you (and others) will be using this particular bathroom. The most important function of a powder room might be to have a welcoming feel for guests as they wash their hands or check their makeup, and so 2700K could be the perfect fit. On the other hand, 3000K might work well in the master bathroom to allow good color reproduction when applying makeup.
Also, pay attention to the CRI of the light fixture. CRI is measured in a scale out of 100, with 100 being a perfect score. Look for CRI information near the color temperature information of an LED bulb or fixture and be sure the light fixture has a high CRI: 80+ is good, 90+ is great, and 95+ is excellent.
Bathroom Lighting Mistake #3: Dismissing Dimming
Dimmable fixtures are invaluable in versatile spaces—and bathrooms are often just that.
While a vanity light at full intensity is perfect for primping and shaving in the morning, a bright bathroom can disrupt circadian rhythms at bedtime and during those quick trips in the middle of the night.
How to avoid this mistake: Seriously consider a dimmer for your bathroom lighting. Bonus: it can save energy and add to the overall ambience.
- Pro tip: Talking to an educated lighting consultant can save you headaches. (Our lighting experts are always happy to help.)
Do you need more bathroom lighting tips?
In addition, we have a bathroom lighting lab in Waltham to show you some approaches to keep in mind when selecting your lighting. Or check out our free online lighting resources where you can download our bathroom lighting guide and bathroom lighting worksheet.