Figure 5-29: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Definition & Uses of Luminaires
Luminaire light fixture types, uses, installation

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Using luminaires: direct lights, downlights, accent lights and indirect lights: this article describes the different types of luminaire light fixtures and how they are used, including direct lighting, indirect lighting, downlights, accent lights, recessed lights, pot lights, ceiling lights, and wall sconces or similar lighting fixtures.

We define luminaires, include a catalog of types of direct and indirect lighting, and we explain the use of downlights & accent lights.

Here we provide a guide to the types of bulbs used with recessed & track lights and the types of housings used with recessed or "pot" or "can" lights.

We discuss the best uses of recessed lights & track lighting, and we provide advice about best kitchen & bathroom lighting designs.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Definition & Use of Luminaires

Flourescent light fixture on a ceiling is an example of a long-used luminaire type light fixture (C) Daniel Friedman at

A -common and long-established example of a luminaire would be a fluorescent lighting fixture mounted directly to a ceiling or wall: its connection to power is made inside of the lighting fixture, and an external electrical box is not required.

[Click to enlarge any image]

While there are thousands of different luminaires on the market, they all fall into a few basic categories.

Many mix more than one lighting strategy within a single fixture.

Definition of Luminaire Lighting: A luminaire light is one that is a complete electric light in one physical container or device.

In the U.S. the National Electrical Code (NEC) Article 100 gives this definition of "luminaire":

Luminaire: A complete lighting unit consisting of a light source such as a lamp(s) with parts designed to position the light source and connect it to the power supply.

Below: during electrical repair work,'s editor (DF) shows how the steel box forming the base of a bathroom fluorescent light fixture also serves as the container for electrical wiring connections in a Minnesota home constructed in 1963.

Flouresent light fixture as luminaire (C) DanieL Friedman at

The electrical wire bringing power to this light fixture enters the fixture directly; no separate electrical box was required.

4 Categories of Luminaires

The links below provide descriptions of the four categories or lighting strategies using luminaire light fixtures:

Many luminaires combine two or more of these strategies.

For example,many dining room chandeliers include a downlight that provides accent or task lighting to the table top in addition to the fixture’s ambient lighting.

Common fixture types and placement are covered in the article below.

This article also discusses

Below, and at the top of this page: lighting fixtures at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West, Scottsdale Arizona, first opened in 1937. Many of Taliesin West's light fixtures are luminaires.

Wall Sconces at Taliesin West, Scottsdale AZ (C) Daniel Friedman

Catalog of Types of Direct Lights

Figure 5-24: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

These include most surface-mounted fixtures on walls and ceilings, often with a diffusing globe or lens to reduce glare.

In general, these are very efficient sources of light, but may also produce a lot of glare.

Common types include surface-mounted ceiling fixtures, pendants, chandeliers, and sconces.

Figure 5-25: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

What are Downlights & How are they Used?

Wall Sconces at Taliesin West, Scottsdale AZ (C) Daniel FriedmanThese are predominantly recessed ceiling lights that create a dramatic effect by casting pools of bright light on floors and work surfaces while leaving the ceiling in shadow.

Used with A lamps, floods, or compact fluorescent, and spaced properly, downlights can create even general lighting.

With more focused spot bulbs and special trims, they can function as task lighting, accent lighting, or wall washers.





What are Accent Lights?

Wall Sconces at Taliesin West, Scottsdale AZ (C) Daniel Friedman

When lighting a picture or single object, use a directional spot lamp in a shielded fixture.

These are often track-mounted or adjustable recessed fixtures, such as “eyeballs.”

Our photo (left - DJF) shows how Frank Lloyd Wright used accent lights in the corners of "the bunker" at Taliesin West as part of a compendium of different lighting methods all demonstrated in this space: direct, indirect, accent, and track lighting all are installed and create different effects in this structure that has no exterior windows (and was originally used for storage).

To create even lighting over a large picture or group of pictures, it is best to use special “wallwasher” fixtures, or non directional lamps such as A-bulbs or compact fluorescent's (Figure 5-23 below)

What are Indirect Lights & how is Indirect Lighting Best Used?

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss Figure 5-26: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

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Bouncing light off light-colored walls and ceilings creates a soft and diffused illumination with little glare and gives a room a feeling of spaciousness.

Figure 5-27: (C) J Wiley, S BlissExamples include upward directed floor lamps and wall sconces, as well as site-built coves and valences, which can make use of cost-effective fluorescent tubes.

Coves reflect light off the upper walls and ceiling and dramatize a high or cathedral ceiling. Brackets provide down lighting as well to emphasize wall surfaces or artwork.

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Typical cove and bracket details are shown in Figure 5-26 (above) and Figure 5-27 (below).

The shield should be designed to protect the bulbs from view within the room.

Best Uses of Recessed and Track Lighting

Recessed lighting can provide either ambient, task, or accent lighting, depending on the lamp type, its beam spread, and the type of reflector and trim used. Where recessed fixtures are used for ambient lighting, they should be spaced to provide even lighting without dark spots.

Track lighting follows the same design principles as recessed, but is best used for accent or task lighting in certain situations. It is particularly well-suited to situations where flexibility is required since fixtures may be easily moved as lighting needs change.

Guide to Lamps (Bulbs) Used with Recessed & Track Lights

Beam spreads for directional lights vary depending on the lamp and fixture. For general lighting, choose a wide flood with a beam spread of at least 50 degrees. BR lamps are the most economical directional lamp and provide good enough beam control for general lighting. Standard A lamps with Alzak trim or compact fluorescent also provide good general lighting.

Halogen PAR lamps offer more precise beam control suitable for task or accent lighting. Low-voltage M-16 and PAR36 lamps offer very precise beam control, making them well-suited to accent lighting. Because of their narrow focus, spots produce higher illumination levels than floods but over a smaller area. Beam spreads and lighting levels for common directional lamps are shown in Table 5-24.

Table 5-24: Performance of Common Directional Lamps (bulbs)  (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Guide to Recessed Light Housings

Typical residential recessed lights come in 4- to 7-inch diameters and can take a variety of different trims that significantly affect light output and glare.

For general lighting, a 5- to 7-inch diameter housing is commonly used. For accent lights, smaller 4-inch housings are available for both line-voltage and low-voltage figures. Special recessed housings are also available for compact fluorescents, sloped ceilings, and retrofit installations.

Standard recessed housings must be left uninsulated above. For insulated ceilings, use a can rated IC for “insulation contact.” Also make sure the housing is rated “airtight,” which is not true of all IC units. Air leaks through recessed lights can be a significant source of heat loss and moisture problems in cathedral ceilings.

Recessed Lighting Fixture Trims

Figure 5-28: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

The common black or white step baffles are designed for use with a PAR or BR lamp, although homeowners often put in the less expensive A19 bulbs.

Baffles reduce glare, but also cut light output by 50% or more for A lamps and up to 40% for directional lamps. Black baffles cut light output significantly more than white (Figure 5-28).

Figure 5-29: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

For maximum light output from a recessed lighting fixture, use a clear or gold specular reflector, also known as Alzak trim.

To reduce glare, which can be a problem with these highly efficient reflectors, it is best to use a deep-profile Alzak trim, offered by most recessed lighting manufacturers.

These work well with standard A19 bulbs as well as BR lamps (Figure 5-29). Gold Alzak is about 10% less efficient than the clear style.

Figure 5-30: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

For accent lighting, eyeballs and similar adjustable trims allow the homeowner to direct the light to the artwork or architectural feature being lit (Figure 5-30).

These are typically used with a narrow spot to provide bright focused light on a small area. Slotted wall wash trim is used to splash diffused light on broad areas of wall or bookcases. Non directional A lamps or compact fluorescents work well in this application. General recommendations for recessed lighting bulb wattage or bulb type and fixture spacing are given in Table 5-25.

Spacing Guidelines for Light Fixtures

Table 5-25: Recessed Lighting Recommendations: Bulb Sizes, Fixture Spacing (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

The general rule for ambient or task lighting is to space recessed ceiling fixtures approximately the same distance apart as the beam spread at the work height, typically assumed to be 30 inches above the floor (36 inches for kitchen counters). The beam spread is the central cone of light, where the beam is at least 50% of the brightness at the center of the beam.

Most manufacturers publish beam spread data for their recessed lights with different trim options. Beam spreads and lighting levels for some common fixtures and lamps are shown in Table 5-26.

Table 5-26: Performance of common Recessed Lighting Fixtures (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Table 5-26.

For ambient lighting, choose a compact fluorescent, A lamp, or wide flood with a beam angle of at least 50 degrees. Typical spacing for ambient lighting with recessed lights is 6 to 7 1/2 feet for an 8-foot ceiling, or 7 to 8 1/2 feet for a 9-foot ceiling. Spacing from the first row of lights to the wall is half this distance.

For accent lighting, space recessed or track fixtures so their light hits the wall at about 30 degrees. For lighting a large wall area, the distance between fixtures should be equal to or less than their distance from the wall (see Figure 5-23).

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Figure 5-23

Closet Lighting Selection & Installation - Fire Safety Clearances

Due to risk of fire, the International Building Code and the National Electrical Code require that all fixtures installed in closets must be either surface-mounted or recessed and must completely enclose the bulb. Only incandescent or fluorescent lamps are allowed.

In addition, the fixture must be installed either in the wall above the door or on the ceiling and have the following clearances:

Kitchen Lighting Requirements

Kitchens require general ambient lighting as well as task lighting on sinks, ranges, counters, and eating areas. Given the high lighting needs of a kitchen, the energy savings from fluorescent lights can be substantial.

Look for fluorescent bulbs with a CRI over 80 and a color temperature near 2800K to match standard incandescent lights, or 3500K to match halogen lights.

Ambient Kitchen Lighting Specifications

For efficient general lighting, use one or more enclosed ceiling fixtures with a white diffuser that illuminates the ceiling as well as the space below. In a very small kitchen, placing the ceiling fixture near the sink and counter can provide effective task lighting as well.

For a softer glow in a kitchen, indirect lighting can also work nicely with lights placed in coves and above the cabinets to illuminate the ceiling.

Although not the most energy-efficient, recessed lighting has become a popular choice for kitchen lighting because of its sleek appearance and dramatic effect. For even lighting, use fixtures and lamps with wide beam spreads and spacing based on a 36-inch work plane (Figure 5-23 below).

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Figure 5-23 is given above. Also see the discussion on “Spacing,” page 202 in the printed text of this book.

As a rough guide, the American Lighting Association suggests the following minimum lighting levels:

These numbers should be increased by 50 to 100% for indirect lighting, dark surfaces, lighting placed high in cathedral ceilings, or use of recessed lights with diffusers, baffles, or other light blocking trim.

Kitchen Task Lighting Guidelines for Counters, Sinks, Cooktops

Work counters, sinks, and cooktops all need high lighting levels. Where wall cabinets are present, under cabinet lighting provides excellent illumination for counters. Place lights as close as possible to the front of the cabinets to avoid glare reflecting off the work surface (Figure 5-23 shown above).

Low-voltage xenon “festoon” lamps provide bright, even light similar to halogen but without the high temperatures and pressures, eliminating the safety concerns associated with halogen. Also, xenon lamps can be touched with bare skin and provide 10,000 hours of service.

An alternative for lighting at counters is to place a row of recessed fixtures directly over the outer edge of the counter. If used for task lighting, place fixtures about 36 inches apart for 8-foot ceilings or 48 inches apart for 10-foot ceilings (see Task Lighting in Table 5-25).

Table 5-25: Recommendations for Recessed Lights (Ceiling Lights or "Pot Lights" (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Sinks, cooktops, islands, and counters without cabinets above can be lit by small recessed downlights or track lighting. Mini-pendants with 12-volt halogen bulbs offer an attractive and functional way to illuminate islands, peninsulas, and eating counters (Figure 5-23).

Table Top Lighting Specifications

Figure 5-24: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Choose a pendant at least 12 inches less in diameter than the table’s smallest dimension and mount the fixture 27 to 36 inches above the table.

A 120-watt incandescent or 40- to 50-watt fluorescent fixture will generally provide sufficient illumination (see Figure 5-24).

Bathroom Lighting Guidelines

Figure 5-23: (C) J Wiley, S Bliss

Bathroom Mirror Lighting Recommendations

Good lighting is critical at the bathroom mirror for shaving, makeup, and other tasks of personal hygiene. For optimal lighting, place strip lights or globe type light bars at least 16 inches long on each side of the mirror centered at 61 to 64 inches (about the average eye height). Wall sconces on either side are also an option for smaller mirrors. These provide even cross lighting without shadows or glare (see Figure 5-23).

Figure 5-23

For small mirrors under 30 inches wide, use about 75 watts of incandescent lighting or 20 watts of warm-white fluorescent on each side. For larger mirrors, use up to 150 watts of incandescent or 40 watts of fluorescent on each side. Additional lights across the top of larger mirrors are also helpful. If using fluorescents, select lamps with high CRIs and warm color temperatures in the 2700K to 3000K range.

Lighting from above the mirror only using globe-type light bars, a pair of recessed downlights, or a lighting soffit is acceptable as long as the vanity top is a light color. Otherwise, areas under the eyes, nose, and chin will be in shadow. If recessed fixtures are used, choose an A lamp, flood, or compact fluorescent for a diffused beam.

General Lighting for Bathrooms

As a rule of thumb, provide one watt of incandescent or 1/3 to 1/2 watt of fluorescent light per square foot of floor space. Increase this by 50 to 100% for recessed lights, indirect lighting, or a room with dark surfaces. In a small bathroom, the mirror lights can also provide the ambient light.

Bulb type demonstration in a bathroom luminaire light fixture (C) Daniel Friedman at

For larger baths, a separate ceiling fixture mounted near the tub and toilet can be useful for ambient light and reading. Finally, in a room with a high ceiling, indirect lighting with coves or uplights can create a feeling of spaciousness in a bathroom, along with a pleasing, soft glow.

Guidelines for Lighting Over Tub and Shower

A recessed light with a white diffuser mounted over the tub or shower will be appreciated by bathers. Electrical codes require that these fixtures be totally enclosed and rated for use in a damp location (tub area) or wet location (shower). Most require GFCI protection for their UL rating. In addition, fixtures must be at least 6 feet above the water line and switches must be a minimum of 5 feet from the edge of the bathtub or shower.

Watch out: Check with local code officials in your own jurisdiction for specific lighting and electrical safety requirements.

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.

Luminaires: Standards, Codes, Marking

Luminaire fixture at InspectApedia study (C) Daniel Friedman Why is this Light Fixture NOT a Luminaire?

Shown here: a lighting fixture mounted on a ceiling of a New York study. Because this light fixture does not include an integral housing that would serve to contain its connection to power, it does not qualify as a Luminaire, and an electrical box was required.

Lighting & Light Bulb or Fixture & Luminaire Industry & Trade Associations

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.


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