Green Lights for Kitchens and Baths


Fluorescents, pendants, LEDs and Title 24 create options for contractors:

As kitchens have evolved from utilitarian to high-tech family centers, multifunction and decorative lighting opportunities for electrical contractors (ECs) have mushroomed; because of continual kitchen use and placement at the edge of the main living space, lights stay on longer, requiring the correct lighting source. “Incandescent, low-voltage Xenon and fluorescent all have a place in kitchen,” said Jeffrey Dross, product manager at Kichler Lighting. “Consumers want the right lamp for the right application connected to switches that maximize use and allow flexibility.”

Dross also said that because fluorescent lighting has matured to where it is virtually indistinguishable from incandescent, savvy contractors might suggest alternatives. “Fluorescent fixtures match incandescent families for a cohesive look. Successful kitchen projects excel with points of excitement and interest. Stone countertops, copper exhaust fans and interesting drawer hardware add panache to the room. The main light source might be recessed units throughout the ceiling, but the room will be noticed because of the mini-pendants. Don’t forget this ‘jewelry.’”

Cabinet lighting is another source that contributes to look and environment, and manufacturers have engineered this for easy installation.

“Contractors do not have to lie upside down on counters to install Kichler cabinet lighting,” Dross said. “The wiring module has integrated strain relief, preventing the source wire from pulling back into the wall. The wire connection is push-in; the cover is snap-on. Fixtures are connected with a plug-in cable that runs from the wiring module to the fixture. Fixtures have mounting screws held in place, enabling two-handed installation. The lens is on a simple, flip-and-lock hinge.”

New fixture designs not only provide easier installation, but they accommodate new trends in overall kitchen style.

“Today’s kitchen cabinetry and furnishings have red tones such as cherry and mahogany,” said Tony Petruzzi, lighting fixtures product manager at Westinghouse Lighting Corp., Philadelphia. “While the brushed nickel lighting styles of the past few years are still available, manufacturers are introducing lighting fixtures in a variety of darker finishes to complement the home furnishing trend towards deeper, richer colors and stainless steel appliances.”

In general, however, the kitchen is becoming more important because people are spending more time there. Paula Powers, marketing communications specialist at Progress Lighting, Spartanburg, S.C., said although floor plans still feature open spaces, “keeping rooms,” which mix kitchen and living room furniture and include ceiling fans, wall sconces and ceiling fixtures, are returning with a more casual role.

There, Powers said, “Under-cabinet lighting in toe-kicks helps to safely navigate the kitchen at night.”

Getting greener

In addition to look and feel, people are overall becoming more energy conscious. Energy efficiency is a concern many people are taking to their local electrical contractor, and manufacturers are responding with products that are suited for this purpose.  

“Everlume LEDs use just 2 to 15 watts each, contain no hazardous materials, can be dimmed with standard off-the-shelf dimmers and emit a warm-white light output at 2,750K. Everlumes last 15 to 20 years under normal use and emit little heat,” Powers said.

These energy concerns are a recent trend, and like all trends, it had to start somewhere.

“What starts in California moves forward,” said Brett DeChellis, branch manager, Graybar, San Bernardino, Calif. “California’s Title 24 Code mandates 80 percent of residential lighting must be low efficacy. In 2005, California contractors installed fluorescent under-cabinet lights in all the kitchens to meet code.”

DeChellis sees a trend driven by another Title 24 mandate requiring 85 percent fluorescent lighting in kitchens.

“No one wants to return to old-style fluorescent bar with a Plexiglas or acrylic lens. Homebuyers know they will have better resale with recessed cans,” DeChellis said.

Although a recessed fluorescent’s aesthetic appeal is apparent, it costs more, DeChellis said.

“The increased expense results from more costly housings because a ballast is required [about $30 compared to $7 for incandescent], more expensive lamps [$4 to $5 for U.S.-made fluorescent compared to $1 to $1.50 for incandescent] and twice as many fixtures to light the space. With incandescent BR lighting, the globe sticking out of the fixture created more light output because it cast light sideways and downward. Fluorescent bulbs are shoved so far up into the fixture there’s no spread of light, creating more dark spots. Consequently, it takes more fixtures to light a kitchen.”

Despite the cost, electrical contractors should be wary of buying cheap offshore fluorescent lamps.

“One contractor had thousands of cans,” DeChellis said. “These lamps don’t have the same ANSI ratings, so they may output different wattages than the ballast ratings. The offshore bulbs burned out ballasts and melted sockets. That contractor was out thousands of dollars on repairs and had to replace the cans and ballasts because they were ultimately responsible for the problem.”

Bathroom luxury

“We’re seeing a trend in the creation of more spacious, luxurious bathrooms in new and remodeled homes,” said Westinghouse’s Petruzzi. “Contractors, builders and consumers are looking beyond standard bathroom wall brackets and opting for more decorative products like pendants and chandeliers.”

Homeowners are turning master baths into spas, and the key element in achieving this overall look and feel is visual consistency. To do this, designers and homeowners coordinate plumbing, lighting and accessories—matching both style and finish—for clean, upscale looks.

“Research indicates minimizing visual stimulation with this simplistic approach helps create a tranquil, relaxing environment,” Powers said. In addition, there has been an increased use of wood in bathrooms, and the trend toward a warmer aesthetic direction with polished nickel, rather than chrome, becoming a popular hardware, lighting fixture and plumbing option.

However, more than just the look, bathrooms serve an important function in our everyday lives, and personal care is one of their main functions. Experts agree the best bathroom lighting for makeup application, shaving and facial treatments is a combination of light from the top and sides of the mirror.

“One light on each side provides even light and less glare, but this is still not the most popular light option,” Kichler’s Dross said. “Homes are typically equipped with one lighting fixture placed over the center of the top of the mirror. Top-center lighting causes shadows and dark spots. The light, close to the eye, causes glare and bounce, making daily personal care difficult.”

One outlet box on each side of the mirror, or over the sink, plus recessed lights overhead or another box above the mirror is another more costly option, Dross said. “As consumers make choices during construction of their new room or home, dollars to add appropriate lighting may not seem immediately important.” To address this, manufacturers are creating some products that can produce the top and side light on only one electrical outlet.

Title 24 also affects the bathroom, DeChellis said. “Formerly, the first switch had to be fluorescent; now it must be controlled by a motion sensor that’s manual-on, automatic-off. This can pose problems in a ‘Jack and Jill’ bathroom where the toilet and tub/shower are in a separate room from the sink area. When you shut the shower curtain, the motion sensor doesn’t detect any movement, and it goes dark in the bathroom while someone’s in the shower. Builders are just doing what the code says. However, if ECs are aware of this problem, they can recommend additional lighting.”

DeChellis also predicts the fluorescent/fan combo for bathrooms because fluorescent lighting is affordable, and fans are quieting down. Electrical contractors have traditionally had to install a fan, recessed fluorescent light and bath bars, but ECs can attain the same effect with this combo.

“The higher-end builders are using more of the QT fans that are really quiet. You can’t tell they’re on. You can go with the fan/fluorescent light combo and a decorative light fixture over the countertop area. The decorative lighting would be on the motion sensor, and the combo would go on an on/off switch because you don’t want your fan going on and off,” DeChellis said.

As energy-efficient kitchen and bath lighting that coordinates with surrounding décor influences consumer decisions, contractors with knowledge of the range of products available can benefit. As studies predict, home renovation is becoming a more prominent market. Combined with other trends, such as the desire for energy efficiency, electrical contractors may be able to thrive.    EC

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached via e-mail at





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