• How To Light A Bathroom

    How To Light A Bathroom

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    July 18, 2017

    Unfortunately, bathrooms are typically given the least consideration of all the rooms in the house.

    Most people tend to invest mainly in the living room or kitchen.

    Therefore, most bathrooms are decorated incorrectly, with inadequate lighting at the mirror.

    Most of the time there’s simply a single ceiling fixture.

    But as bathrooms are increasingly becoming the place in the house to relax and recharge, complete with steam shower and spa tub, the lighting requires extra attention.

    When it’s done correctly, the payoff is phenomenal.  After all, this is where most people start and end their day.

    A good lighting plan is a series of layers.  It places ample light where it’s needed for showers, shaving, getting dressed, or putting on makeup.

    Let’s discuss those layers.


    Ambient is “fill-in” lighting that serves as a substitute for natural light.

    It’s most often supplied by a central fixture.  Typically this is a surface-mounted ceiling light.

    You may want to consider a pendant lamp or chandelier.  You can also go with “cove lighting.”  This comprised of rope lights hidden behind a molding dropped several inches below ceiling height.  It adds a soft glow around the perimeter of the room.


    This is a small recessed spotlight directed at a piece of decorative art or a beautiful powder room basin.

    It creates another layer of light in the bathroom.

    A recessed shower fixture can be angled to highlight nice tile work or fixtures and make them sparkle.


    To eliminate shadows under the chin, eyes, and cheeks, fixtures should be placed on either side of the vanity mirror (or on the mirror’s surface, if it’s large), 36 to 40 inches apart.

    The center of each should be roughly at eye level (or about 66 inches above the floor).  This will guarantee even illumination across the face for grooming.


    Vanity lighting gets top consideration because these fixtures work the hardest to illuminate the head and face for grooming.

    The most common mistake people make is putting recessed ceiling fixtures directly over the mirror.  These cast shadows on the face, making daily grooming far more difficult.

    Vertical fixtures or sconces mounted on either side of the mirror are best for casting an even light across the face.

    Given the size and positioning of some vanity mirrors, sidelights can be impractical (mounting them directly to the mirror is always an option, but at greater planning and cost).  Place a fixture for over the mirror.  It should be placed 75 to 80 inches above the floor and like all vanity lighting, contain at least 150 watts, which are ideally spread over a fixture that’s at least 24 inches long so that the light will wash evenly over the hair and face.

    The shower is a secondary area of task lighting.  In small bathrooms, if the stall has a clear glass door, a dedicated fixture may not be necessary.  Otherwise, implement a recessed light with a glass lens (plastic will yellow).  Similar recessed fixtures work well over a freestanding tub or the toilet.


    Crisp white light tends to show skin tones accurately.

    Halogen bulbs set the standard.  Low-voltage varieties (with a built-in transformer that converts 120 volts to 12 volts) are especially compact, and the smaller bulb gives a nice sparkling effect.  Halogen bulbs cost a few dollars more than standard incandescents but can last three times as long.  Many feature screw-in bases; those labeled medium-base (MB) are shaped like standard incandescents, so they fit most fixtures.  The newest compact fluorescent bulbs also offer good color rendering and are up to 10 times more efficient than regular incandescent bulbs.


    Dimmers give you absolute control over the lighting and the mood of the room.

    In a powder room, dimming the vanity fixtures might even provide all-in-one task, ambient, and accent lighting.  Plus, dimmers conserve energy.  The total savings depends on how much you dim the bulb.  One bulb dimmed just 10 percent will last twice as long as a bulb at full brightness.

    Dimmers work for every kind of light source.  A 120-volt incandescent or halogen light source will need an incandescent dimmer, while low-voltage and fluorescent fixtures require their own compatible dimmers.  Occasionally, dimmed bulbs will buzz as the filament vibrates.  Switching to a lower-watt bulb (which has a smaller filament) should reduce or even eliminate the noise.


    Electricity and water are still lethal companions, and nowhere do they join more closely than in the bathroom.

    Always consult a certified electrician before tackling even the simplest lighting project.

    The National Electric Code requires all new outlets to have GFCIs, ground-fault circuit interrupters; the newer ones can be retrofitted to existing outlets.  Even with a GFCI, freestanding plug-in lamps should never be placed near a sink or tub.

    Fixtures that are going to be within a certain distance of the tub or shower (usually 6 feet, though local codes vary) must be “wet” or “shower-location” rated.  Don’t confuse this with the less rigorous “damp-location” rating that’s ascribed to most outdoor lighting.

    Hopefully you learned quite a bit about lighting your bathroom.

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    For more information, schedule a FREE BATHROOM DESIGN CONSULTATION with an Edge Showroom Kitchen & Bath Designer by clicking here.

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    Feel free to stop into Builder Supply Outlet or the Edge Showroom with any home improvement questions you may have regarding cabinet hardware, bathroom vanity sinks, tops, remodeling, tile, backsplash, cleaning, sealing, grout, windows, kitchen cabinets, construction, contractors, designing/installing a new kitchen or bathroom — or anything else.  We can help you through the entire design and installation process from A-Z.  Or call us anytime in Broadview, IL at 1-708-343-3900. You can also make an appointment to meet with one of our Edge Kitchen and Bathroom designers at no charge by clicking here.