One aspect often overlooked in most basement remodeling projects is the lighting. However, if there is one area of your home that can really benefit from good lighting planning, that area is the basement. Basements are usually dimly lit and get very little daylight, so you really need to compensate with good artificial lighting.
First, let’s take a look at the artificial lighting types:
- General lighting: Commonly known as the ceiling lighting, or that single little fixture or plain light bulb in the center of the room, it’s usually effective to drive away some of the typical basement darkness but not effective enough to light corners or create interesting ambient lighting effects.
- Ambient lighting: As the name indicates, these lights are used to create effects and different ambiences around the room. They can be used in many different ways. For example: against a textured wall to enhance the textures, over a painting or special piece of art, embedded in some furniture pieces such as curio cabinets and bars to highlight its contents, inside a plaster or vinyl wall, or ceiling trimmings for a dramatic effect.
- Task lighting: These lights are focused only in so-called task areas. For example, fixtures over a pool table, over a reading chair, a work table, a desk or a kitchen sink. Those lights are also very effective in creating ambience because while they bright the task areas, they don’t cause strain in your eyes as a general, brighter overhead light would.
Planning the basement lighting
The first thing to consider is what you will be using your basement for. For each different basement project, a different lighting scheme is needed. For example, if your basement is to become your kid’s new play room, it might be a good idea to use general, bright overhead lights, rather than task or ambient lights. For safety reasons, you want every corner of the play room to be properly lit.
A home office, studio or atelier will greatly benefit from proper task lighting, giving you a nice mood along with all the brightness you need in the work areas. Guest bedrooms, home theaters, game rooms and bars call for great ambient lighting. Sometimes, proper lighting makes the whole room, even if you are using inexpensive furniture and not so “eye-catching” décor. Your basement can look like a million bucks.
Choosing the best lighting fixtures:
There are many types of lighting fixtures for every lighting application.
Permanent lighting fixtures are the most commonly used. They are usually attached to the wall or ceiling, directly against them, embedded in plaster or plastic trimmings and ceiling finishes, or hanging from cables or decorative chains. Wall sconces and all types of ceiling and wall fixtures come under the permanent lighting fixtures.
Chandeliers are an interesting choice because a chandelier can be the focal point, besides providing much needed light. You can also add light and cooling/exhausting properties with fixtures that combine a chandelier and ceiling fan.
However, keep in mind that basement ceilings are usually lower, so avoid installing chandeliers and hanging fixtures in high-traffic areas. They may be perfect over a table or in a corner.
One thing to consider when using permanent light fixtures in basements is the kind of finishing material you are using for the wall and ceiling. Not all basement wall and ceiling finishes are created equal.
Drywall, for example, is the worst choice. Consider that basements are usually prone to water problems and humidity. Water and electricity are a bad, hazardous combination. You want to be able to easily access, inspect and service your electric wiring, in case of a water accident or high humidity levels. That would mean cutting through drywall finishes. In addition, even mold resistant drywall will not prevent humidity from infiltrating the insulation behind it. It will get wet and grow mold.
Remember: electricity + moisture = bad news.
The best options are basement wall systems, modular units that can be assembled and disassembled as needed, and are specifically developed to work under humid basement conditions. However, make sure your choice of wall and ceiling system is capable of delivering the results you expect.
For example, some basement wall solutions are made of a lightweight plastic foam, covered with fabric and will not support the weight of heavy fixtures; some will not work with the embedded fixtures either.
Pendants, floor lamps and portable lamps come under the second type of lighting fixtures: the movable type.
Those are the most versatile lighting options you can get. You can move them around, experiment different placements and effects. Change them according to different occasions, events and seasons, add and subtract as you wish. They are found in all kinds of shapes, styles and materials, from classic to whimsical to bizarre. It is always a good idea to add a few portable fixtures to your lighting plan.