How to arrange and position downlights
In this handy guide on how to position downlights we will explain how lighting can make a dramatic difference to the look and feel of any room. And, when downlights are part of your lighting scheme, you can create the ideal arrangement while you save energy, cut costs and maximise space.
Available in a range of colours, tones and brightness, downlights fulfil the three key functions of interior lighting as they cast their light down from fully or partially recessed locations in the ceiling:
- Illuminate a room
- Enable localised tasks
- Create ambience.
If you are considering making the switch but feel uncertain about how to go about it, this article provides all the information you need to deploy your downlights with confidence.
WARNING: ELECTRICITY IS DANGEROUS
If in any doubt, or where required by the law, consult a competent, registered electrician. All products must be installed in accordance with local building regulations.
The installation of led downlights must adhere to the latest IEE wiring regulations and current building regulations. New builds must meet the requirements of the sustainable code to which you are building.
Halogen vs LED – Which downlight should I choose?
When browsing the plethora of lighting solutions available nowadays, you will notice there are two common options for downlights, halogen and LED.
Halogen bulbs typically cost less than LEDs, though LED prices have come down significantly in the last 2-3 years and are now more competitively priced. Regardless of initial outlay, LEDs have a number of advantages over halogen bulbs which makes them much more cost-effective:
- The lifespan of an LED is 30,000+ hours – around ten times longer than that of a halogen bulb
- LEDs are extremely energy-efficient, generating significant savings on electricity bills. For example, the light output of a 50W halogen bulb is equivalent to that from an LED using only 6.5W
- LED lights are a good choice if you want to avoid light damage to paintings. They do not produce heat or UV radiation, which also makes them safe to touch
- LEDs are relatively robust, whereas halogen bulbs are extremely sensitive. The natural oils from the skin can cause them to malfunction.
What are Lumens and how many do I need?
For decades, the brightness of a bulb was measured in watts (W). This is because the brightness of a traditional incandescent bulb was directly related to its power consumption. Downlighters, however, along with most modern bulbs, do not follow this relationship.
A more appropriate way to classify bulb brightness is the lumen (lm). The quantity of lumens simply denotes the total amount of visible light from a light source. Another unit that is often used in the lux (lx). This is a measure of the concentration of the brightness, where one lux is equal to one lumen per square metre.
The lumens required to adequately illuminate an area depends on a number of factors:
- The needs of the room’s users
- The size and shape of the room
- The height of the ceiling
- The colour of the walls, flooring and furnishings.
For example, a basic kitchen may require 400lm, but when a number of task areas are included, that could rise to 800lm. A hallway requiring sufficient light to see clearly as you pass through would need approximately 300lm in total, and a seat used for reading may require as much 400lm for that single area.
How do I plan the layout of my downlights?
If you are asking yourself how to position spotlights correctly then you have come to the right place. One or more downlights can be positioned to shed light on a specific spot within a room or a number of downlights can be combined to illuminate an entire room. How many lights you will need and where to position them needs careful thought to achieve the desired result.
For an approximate idea, allowing one downlight per 1.2m2 will provide high levels of lighting. To calculate numbers and spacing more precisely, you need to consider everything from the room’s decor to its intended usage.
Here are the key issues to bear in mind:
Which areas need more light than the rest of the room? Deal with these areas before anything else. If you are planning a lighting scheme for a bathroom, for example, your starting point should be the locations requiring extra brightness, such as above the wash basin. Once the downlights for this area have been arranged, the remaining downlights can be added around them.
If you position downlights too close to a wall it will create shadows around the edge of the ceiling, which can make the room appear a bit gloomy and smaller than it actually is. To avoid this, incorporate a gap of approximately 75cm between the downlights and the edge of your ceiling. This will allow the light to spread and light up the whole room, making it appear well lit and spacious.
As light emanates from a recessed downlight it radiates downwards in the shape of a cone. Ideally, these cones of light should intersect above the floor, approximately 75cm above it. A higher ceiling, therefore, does not need additional downlights to produce a suitable pool of light, but it does require the individual bulbs to be powerful enough to produce sufficient brightness all the way down to the floor.
A common practice is to calculate the spacing between downlights by dividing the height of the ceiling by 2 and using the result as the separation distance. Of course, your final decision will take into account other factors, such as decor, room shape and the number and size of windows.
The intended use of a room is an essential factor when considering its lighting scheme. A room’s function dictates the position of any focal points and the general level of brightness required throughout. Unlike traditional lighting involving a single central pendant light plus additional table and standard lamps as required, LED downlights can be located strategically to assemble a lighting solution tailored to the precise needs of the room.
Dimmable downlights give you added control over your lighting, allowing you to adjust your light levels to suit your various needs. Dimming gives you the option of installing downlights that provide ‘too much’ light then reducing the lighting level manually as required – rather than attempt creating a single ‘ideal’ lighting level that will be fixed permanently. To avoid buzzing and possible damage to the bulbs themselves, select a ‘trailing edge’ dimmer rather than a ‘leading edge’ dimmer. If you require more information about these two types of dimmer, it can easily be found online.
Putting downlights in a bathroom
Make the most of mirrors with one or two downlights to provide clear lighting to see your face for washing and shaving. Niche and shelving areas can also benefit from downlights to prevent shadowy corners. Truly effective bathroom lighting blends safety and practicality with relaxing aesthetics. Installing a dimmer creates a tranquil ambience when taking a relaxing bath, transforming the room.
Extreme care must always be taken whenever electricity is used in a wet environment. There are strict regulations that must be followed. To understand these regulations, you must know about bathroom zones and IP ratings.
What are bathroom zones and IP ratings?
There are four zones in a bathroom: 0, 1, 2 and the Outside Zone. Each zone has specific requirements regarding how well protected a light fitting must be against moisture, as indicated by its IP rating. IP stands for Ingress Protection, and the degree of protection offered is denoted by two digits: the first refers to how dustproof it is (0 min. to 6 max.), the second refers to how waterproof it is (0 min. to 8 max.).
The four bathroom lighting zones are:
Inside the bath or shower. Lights must be rated at least IP67.
Above the bath or shower to a height of 2.25m from the floor. Lights must be rated at least IP45 (typically, IP65 is used).
An area extending 60cm beyond the bath, shower and wash basin, up to 2.25m above the floor. Lights must be rated at least IP44.
Anywhere outside zones 0,1 and 2 where no water is likely to be present. Lights have no designated IP rating, though water-resistant fittings, such as IP65, are advisable to protect them from excessive steam and inadvertent splashes. This will ensure the light’s optimum performance and give you peace of mind.
Putting downlights in a living room
The living room is where we unwind in the evening, relax with the family, entertain guests, play games and watch TV. It also tends to be the room where we hang paintings and display ornaments and photographs.
How you position spotlights can be used to bounce light off walls, mirrors and architectural features to give the living room real character. Colour-variable bulbs enable you to create a number of moods to suit different occasions at the push of a button. On cold, dark winter nights, carefully composed lighting can transform a living room into a warm, cosy retreat. Add a dimmer switch to control the brightness of your downlights and you can switch from bright and fresh to subtle and snug at the turn of a dial.
Strategically positioned directional downlights can highlight artworks and photographs and display the contents of shelves and cabinets at their very best.
Using downlights for task lighting, such as for reading or when you’re tackling paperwork, means you can achieve precisely the lighting levels you need without losing valuable space to floor lamps and cables.
LED downlights are available with a range of beam angles, offering different cones of light for different uses. The wider the angle the more floorspace is illuminated. Take care not to use widely spaced downlights with narrow cones or you will create obvious and unattractive spots of light on the floor. Similarly, a narrow cone of light is ideal for task lighting as it will not encroach on other people in the room.
Putting downlights in a kitchen
Kitchen downlights have increasingly become a focal point in the home and can provide a great contemporary feel to your home, or if you prefer a traditional feel you can use an antique style of kitchen downlight. Much more than just a place to cook, the kitchen has become a favourite place to eat, socialise and spend time as a family. All of these uses are greatly enhanced when the lighting is right.
Food preparation, especially where slicing and dicing is involved, is easier and more enjoyable in bright, well-lit conditions. This requires careful consideration when positioning your downlights. A common mistake is to forget to include the people actually using the kitchen when calculating where the light will fall. You can’t cook up a culinary masterpiece with a shadowy worksurface – so make sure you illuminate what you are doing, not the back of your head.
Less light will be required, however, when chatting or relaxing with a cup of tea and biscuits. Though, if you’re doing a jigsaw on the kitchen table, brighter light would be a useful option.
Using downlights, you can have the right amount of light in every area of the kitchen. You can combine spotlights over counters and islands with wide-angle downlights for more general areas. You can group downlights above a table and even add a dash of colour to add an extra ingredient to your kitchen’s colour scheme.
Make the switch to downlights
LED downlights have changed the way we light our homes. Long lasting, energy efficient, maintenance-free and providing a pure quality of light that is considerably more attractive than other energy-saving alternatives – it is no wonder more and more of us are making the switch.
If you want a bespoke lighting solution that suits your needs and your budget, start planning your downlight design today.
James is an experienced professional with over a decade of experience in the lighting industry. His expertise in the field makes him a valuable asset to Scotlight Direct.
James has a deep understanding of the technical and creative aspects of lighting. He is passionate about staying up-to-date with the latest innovations and trends in the field, and he is always looking for ways to apply this knowledge to his work.