Lighting for the home can be one of the most exciting projects for a lighting designer. From ambient to decorative, residential lighting has to cover many environments, moods and tasks. As the average home is increasing in size, there is an ever-increasing demand by utilities, states and other organizations for more energy-efficient residential lighting. However, focusing on the technology is only half the issue; there are many design techniques for the home that will help utilize light more efficiently and effectively.

Technologies. Fluorescent technology is making a strong breakthrough in the residential market, primarily because of the ENERGY STAR program. Fixtures that have earned the ENERGY STAR meet strict efficacy, color, performance and quality requirements. These fixtures are laboratory-verified to be instant-on, do not hum or flicker and use 10,000-hour lamps, to name just a few of the attributes. At the June 2003 Dallas Residential Lighting Market, leading manufacturers such as Quoizel and Sea Gull were proudly displaying dozens of ENERGY STAR fixtures; with over 50 manufacturers making ENERGY STAR fixtures, it is easy to find a high-quality, energy-efficient fixture for most applications.

For spot, flood and sparkle, halogen light sources still have a place in the home. MR16s and MR11s on rail, track or cable systems are an excellent choice. Although minimally more efficacious (lumens per watt), a well-designed low-voltage halogen system can provide the same dramatic effect but use about one-half the energy as an incandescent recessed downlight design because of its more effective use of the light.

Controls should also be considered. Dimmers are most commonly used in dining, but can add flexibility for mood and efficiency to many rooms. However, when designing with fluorescent, make sure to specify a compatible dimmable fluorescent fixture. Timers for indoor fixtures also provide added benefits of control and energy savings. On outdoor fixtures consider the use of photocells (all ENERGY STAR outdoor fixtures use photocells) to turn lights off during the day. Motion sensors on outdoor fixtures (available on some ENERGY STAR models) are also a good idea not only for energy savings but for security as well.

Applications and Design. Kitchens often have the most number and diversity of lighting fixtures because of the many different needs. Today's larger homes commonly use numerous recessed downlights to illuminate countertops, islands and cabinets. However, typical incandescent downlights can add significant heat to the kitchens, and if installed improperly, the scalloping on the cabinets and walls can be uneven and too low. Consider the use of under- and over-cabinet fluorescent fixtures (T5 and other lamps now provide the opportunity to effectively hide the fixture from direct view) for visual effect and countertop lighting. Fluorescent, low-voltage or line-voltage halogen pendant fixtures can bring the light where needed-closer to the counter. If downlights are used, consider ENERGY STAR fluorescent downlights where the lamps will last 10 times longer.

Downlights are commonly used in living areas as well but are typically a source of glare. If downlights are a must, consider the use of adjustable downlights that provide flexible aiming. Adjustable MR16 downlights are an excellent choice for light control and minimize fixture size. ENERGY STAR downlights are also available but should be used with the proper glare control and only around the perimeter of the space. Fluorescent covelighting to illuminate walls or ceilings is one alternative if a more uniformly lighted room is desired. Remember to specify lamps with a color temperature of preferably 2700K (and not to exceed 3000K) for a warm looking environment.

Energy-efficient fixtures for bath, hallway and other areas should also be considered. Leading manufacturers have a wide range of decorative ENERGY STAR products for these applications.

In recreational rooms, consider the use of rail or track low-voltage systems instead of numerous high-wattage downlights when spot and accent lighting is desired on walls and furnishings. Using low-voltage MR16 and MR11 sources reduces the size of the fixture and allows the light to be efficiently controlled and to effectively illuminate only the desired object. The use of fluorescent covelighting to wash walls can help increase the perceived size of the room and reduce uncomfortable heat gain.

Unfortunately, this article only covers some of the very common residential lighting applications, but there are numerous strategies in lighting a house. Challenge yourself to explore techniques and technologies that will lead to high-quality, energy-efficient design.

Paul Vrabel, LC is a project manager with ICF Consulting, supporting a number of energy efficiency programs and continually tests out new energy-efficient technologies and design techniques throughout his home (until his family kicks him out). The author is always open to discussions on high-quality, energy-efficient lighting, and can be reached at