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The Right Lights To Beat The Home Office Blues


lighted home office

This home office lighting design relies on light wall, floor and cabinet fronts to reflect ambient light throughout the space. It has a bright, crisp, highly energetic feel.

By Michael Chotiner, construction expert at Home Depot

Among the many blessings of being able to work from home is the privilege of setting up an office lighting scheme that works for you. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I’ve escaped from the buzz and glare of the fluorescent-lit cube farm with its one-size-fits-all monochromaticity (this is not a made-up word).

A lot of good, functional advice on home-office lighting fixtures is available online and elsewhere, but nobody talks about how the brightness and color temperature of the light bulbs you install in those fixtures can affect your mood and even cure some common ills. I’ll cover both.

First, some general advice:

Provide more than one light source.

In other words, strive for a suitable combination of fixtures and lamps, which might include overhead lighting, desk and/or floor lamps, and, perhaps, wall sconces. Depending on the position of each fixture or lamp, and the type of bulbs you place in them, a combination of sources is necessary to address typical office illumination needs.

Utilize daylight as much as possible.

Natural sunlight is thought to be the healthiest, most uplifting type of light, so most experts suggest placing your desk near a window. I personally like to position my desk with a window at the side rather than in front so that bright sunlight that would emanate from behind my computer screen can’t produce a fatiguing overload. It’s also a good idea to fit home-office windows with curtains and blinds so you can easily moderate sunlight, as needed.

Provide ambient light.

If you work on a computer in a room with little or no ambient light, the contrast between the bright screen and the dim ambience tends to cause eyestrain and tiredness in most people. Ambient light is usually supplied by overhead fixtures but can also be provided by torchières (floor lamps) and wall sconces, as well. The common wisdom is that ambient light in home offices should be fairly bright but diffused. But too much light from overhead — especially bulbs that aren’t shaded from direct view — tends to create glare on computer screens, which, over time, is uncomfortable and tiring. Many designers prefer torchières and wall sconces with shades that direct light upward and against walls painted with light, reflective colors to produce comfortable, non-glaring levels of ambient light.

Provide task lights for close work.

Reading, writing by hand, and craft activities like sewing and jewelry-making require more than ambient light. Desk lamps, particularly ones with articulating arms, are the go-to task lights for most home offices. The placement of task lights can be critical. For example, if you write with your right hand, you’ll want to place the task lamp to the left and in front of the work so as not to cast shadows on the page. Wall-mounted task lamps can be used to save desktop space.

Provide good controls.

You want to be able to control light levels in your home office throughout the day, in sync with the level of natural light available and the tasks at hand. Dimmer switches and fixtures with three-way capability are great for ambient lighting. Programmable switches for controlling multiple lights in a single room enable you to turn on, intensify or dim lights in various combinations to create “room setting moods.”

home office with warm lighting

This warm lighting design combines a nice level of natural daylight with a shaded overhead fixture and a floor lamp for ambient light. The task light on the desk has an articulating arm and shade so the user can direct light wherever needed and minimize glare.

The Buzz on Bulbs

Equipping your home office with the right fixtures in the right places is important but so, too, is fitting them with light bulbs that optimize the environment. There’s a lot of buzz in the consumer home-improvement space about newer-tech light bulbs, especially in connection with their potential for energy savings. Here are some common rumors:

  • Incandescent bulbs are being banned by law and will be unavailable within a couple of years because they’re so inefficient.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are the replacement de rigueur for incandescent bulbs because they save energy, so now we’ll all be stuck with their dim cold starts and flat, boring quality of light in our homes and offices (this is not the case – read on for the truth).
  • LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are really cool, but they’re so expensive (also not true!).

The truth is that the use of incandescent bulbs is diminishing because of their relatively higher energy consumption requirements, but they are and will still be available if they can meet the government-mandated standard for 25 percent greater efficiency. Compact fluorescents have become the popular favorites because of their reasonable cost and efficiency, and LEDs — which are even more energy-efficient — are gaining share as people become aware that their high initial cost is offset by their extremely long life-up to ten years or longer.

But what’s really interesting and what all types of light bulbs have in common is that they’re all available in a full range of brightness levels and color temperatures. Research shows that brightness and color of artificial lights can have profound psychobiotic effects on those exposed. For example, in studies of nursing-home patients:

  • Bright blue combined with dim red lights alleviates depression.
  • Bright blue combined with moderate yellow lights can alleviate sleep disorders.
  • Gradually increasing illumination from dark to moderate light at or before dawn can shorten the groggy period that many people experience after waking.

Exposure to bright blue light has also been shown to alleviate symptoms in individuals with non-age-related depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Select Light Bulbs for Their Brightness and Color Temperature

light facts

The labels on all light bulbs are required to provide information about their output in terms of brightness and color. To understand them, you need to become familiar with a couple of technical terms:

– Lumen is a unit of light flow, often used to characterize the amount of light emanating from a bulb or fixture.

– Color temperature can be expressed in quantitative terms in K (Kelvin). To make it easier for non-engineers, there are number of different verbal classifications, including a rating scale that characterizes the quality of lights from Warm (2700K) to Cool (6500K). Another commonly used system classifies color temperature outputs as Warm White (reddish to yellowish), Bright White (yellowish to whiter) and Daylight (white to blue).

To interpret the labels accurately, you need to know that the greater the number of lumens, the brighter the light. The ratings for watts indicate the bulb’s efficiency. The light quality from bulbs with output in the Warm range tends to resemble old-fashioned incandescent bulbs and the output from bulbs registering in the Daylight range is actually as close to natural daylight as you’ll get from an artificial source, especially at the high end of the scale.

In my own home office, I prefer warm blubs for ambient lighting, and I have a couple of floor lamps with shades that are open at the top to cast light against the walls and ceilings. I have two recessed lighting fixtures mounted in the ceiling directly over my desk, fitted with bright floodlights that shine down directly in the area where I work on my laptop or write by hand. When I have a lot of reading to do, since I work at home, I have the luxury of popping into the bedroom where I’ve got a good reading light next to the bed.

I might also mention that my wife doesn’t like to sit at my desk when she brings work home from her day job because she prefers higher, brighter levels of ambient light – so she usually parks at the kitchen table where we have an abundance of white overhead lighting.

In the end, your lighting choices for your home office should depend on the properties of the room you work in, what you do there and what you like. Keep in mind that the possible combinations of fixtures lamps and bulbs are virtually infinite, and there’s no harm in experimenting for optimum comfort and productivity.


Michael Chotiner

Michael Chotiner is a construction expert who works from home and writes about lighting and other topics for Home Depot. Michael’s expertise on lighting, including overhead, recessed and wall sconces, stems from his many years as a general contractor in the construction industry. You can view Home Depot’s full range of sconce lighting options, including styles Michael writes about, on the Home Depot website.





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