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Planning lighting takes forethought, and it can help to know of possible pitfalls before they happen. I hope these crucial lighting lessons will help when planning your next lighting project.

Avoid Lighting Grids

Downlights have their place, but their placing is important. Positions of downlights should be dictated by where the light needs to fall and not planned in uniform grids. In addition, you don’t want all the light coming from overhead. Mix it up with layering of lighting.

Focus on Light Quality

The quality of light emitted from your downlights or bulbs is dependent on three main factors – output, tone and colour rendering.

  1. Output: This is gauged by lumens (or lux). Brighter is not necessarily better. You don’t want the highest output lights if you can’t dim them, especially if the light source is exposed. This will end up glary.
  1. Tone: Some lamps/bulbs will specify ‘warm white’ as 3000K but in fact this is a bit cool. They can work okay in kitchens and bathrooms, but ideally you should go for 2700K in main living areas. There are even some bulbs you can buy now where the tone will warm as they dim which is lovely for a cosy atmosphere in the evenings.
  1. Colour Rendering: If you’re buying an item of clothing in a store and you want to see the true colour, you’ll often take it to the window so you can see it in natural sunlight. This is pure natural sunlight – a CRI of 100. Check the colour rendering of the lights or bulbs you buy. The closer you can get to 100, the better. This will give you a purer light.

Check out my earlier article: LED Downlights and Spotlights – Did You Know

Designer Dimming

There are some beautiful feature lights on the market but many of them are dedicated LED lights. In other words they don’t take changeable lamps (bulbs) but come with integral LEDs that are fed via a ‘driver’ which is often built in to the product. Always check that the fitting is dimmable. Many are not. Some will dim but will need special wiring in place to do so. Always check before ordering. Don’t kid yourself that dimming doesn’t matter and you can live with it. Dimming is one of the most important elements of lighting design.

Pay for Quality

There’s a saying ‘buy cheap, pay twice’ and I’ve seen several examples of this. Lighting products have become more and more technical over the years. Be sure that, when you order several dozen LED downlights for your new build, you won’t need to replace them within a few years. This will not only be irritating but costly as you’ll need to buy the replacements and bring the electrician in to change the fittings.

Always Check Building Regulations

Rules and regulations for lighting efficiency and safety can change so make sure you see the most up to date building regs. Check when planning and double check before ordering the products.

Order in Time

Manufacturers may indicate a certain lead time on their specifications or websites but this is often ‘best case scenario’. There’s nothing worse than the work being held up because a few elements of the design haven’t arrived. Be particularly wary when ordering lighting from the continent during the summer months – some factories close in July and some in August. And then there’s the backlog in September…

Double Check Stair Positions

I’ve designed lighting for countless newbuilds and, in my experience, the key areas where clients have problems are with their windows, doors and staircases. Often the stairs will need to be tweaked on site and this can impact the positions of stair lighting. Double check the positioning of the treads before marking up the step lights.

Lighting Controls

I’ve had clients who have dismissed any form of smart lighting control systems because they thought it was too complicated. While I do agree that it’s not necessary throughout an entire building, it can be invaluable in open plan living areas. It’s not complicated for the user – it makes life easier. There are some simple solutions available that won’t break the bank and you’ll be grateful you installed it once you’re living in the property.

Plan Early

Lighting is becoming more integrated into the fabric of buildings, and this is particularly true of linear LED lighting. This means that the build may need to incorporate recesses to house hidden lighting profiles, or shadow gaps to weave in smart slots of light. This can have a big impact on the ultimate design of the property so it’s a shame to miss this trick by designing the lighting at the last minute.

Plan for Feature Lights

Some pendant lights are large and heavy. Always ensure you create a solid fixing that will take the weight of the chandelier or lantern – you definitely don’t want it to come crashing down on your heads and it’s been known to happen.


Make sure your dimmers are compatible with your light fitting or bulbs. You can’t always assume that you can replace a light fitting and use the original dimmer. Always check before placing an order.

Hidden Lighting

There are all sorts of ways you can weave in lighting without it actually being in the form of a light fitting – such as lighting in shelving, reflecting lighting back off a painting or recessed lighting profiles. Allow for lighting in media units and niches. Not only do they help give depth and interest but this technique can work well for balancing natural light when it’s coming in from only one direction.

Night Lighting

It’s a luxury to be able to find your way to the bathroom at night without disturbing your partner, or waking you up too much. Allow for low level lighting in the bathroom and a very small marker light to guide you to the bathroom door. A tiny red LED can work well as this doesn’t disturb sleep.


This is only a selection of pitfalls you need to watch out for but I hope it helps!