For illuminating any room, there are two categories of lighting to consider: general lighting and task lighting.

General lighting provides light for traffic areas. The type of general lighting used is based on the ambience desired by the client. Some people want a bright room and choose fluorescent lighting; others want the softer light of incandescent flood lights in recessed cans controlled by a dimmer switch. Either way, common areas and passageways must be lit so people can see a clear path without fear of collision with fixtures or furniture.

Though some general lighting might be combined with ventilators or heat lamps, a heat lamp alone should not be considered general lighting.

Task lighting is more complex. For example, vanity lighting can be tricky, as designers must consider the reflection of light off mirrors. Lighting should be based on the tasks that homeowners will perform in each area. If makeup is going to be applied at a vanity, overhead lighting recessed cans alone will cause shadows at the eyes. The best lighting for the vanity is a combination of overhead lighting to light the mirror and sconces to illuminate the sides of the face, eliminating shadows. The sconces are usually installed at 66 inches from the finished floor, but can be adjusted to suit the height of a specific client.

Consider using energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) for both general and task lighting. The bulbs come in different sizes and shapes, including flood reflectors and candle types.

According to Energy Star (, “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star-qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year ... and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.”

—Morton Block is an award-winning designer, training consultant, author, and speaker;