The Top 3 Biggest Home Lighting Mistakes You Might Be Making (From a Decade of Experience in the Industry) – Part 1

Rule #1 – In the daytime, use as much natural light as possible and as little artificial light as possible. In the nightime, use as little artificial light as possible.

Might as well do this since we’re all stuck at home.

Good home lighting design is often overlooked. It can boost productivity, restfulness and safety. And vice versa if done badly. I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you; if you have any of the following issues then you might want to read further:

  1. It’s more than 2 hours after sunset, you or any one of your family (kids especially) don’t feel sleepy. When you do sleep, the quality is not superb.
  2. Working from home or studying at a desk is quickly tiring and causes eye strain.
  3. When all your house lights are turned on, the ceiling is too glaring to look at.
  4. Coming home doesn’t feel especially cosy and comforting. Its no different from your office or the hypermarket.

If you have none of these issues, skip reading and please leave a comment below. I would like to know you and give you a thumbs up.

If you have some or even all of the issues, I’m here for you! Let’s jump into it. These three mistakes form pillars which are interconnected as you will see.

Mistake #1 – Too much light

Most Malaysian homes are too brightly lit by as much as 3x. Because contractors are not interior designers. And because there are many reasons why they want to make every square inch of your home extra bright and evenly lit. Don’t let your contractor decide. I tried for years to sell people less lighting but to not much avail.

Too much light will mess with your circadian rhythm and is strongly linked to increased risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

So here is my rudimentary guideline. Your wattage should be 10% of your total build-up (Assuming you are using reasonably good LEDs manufactured within the past decade). This means that if your condo is 1000 sqft, the total wattage of the lighting you install should not exceed 100W. This is a good rule of thumb assuming a regular ceiling height of around 10-12ft. If you have a very high ceiling then you can just use x/10*10%*built-up-area-in-sqft, where x is your ceiling height in ft. See, that was easy. No need to crawl around the floor with a lux meter doing complex equations.

But remember, this is just a guideline. For example, if your home is multi-generational and your parents/grandparents have poor eyesight, you might want to bump it up a little, but not too much. Just use your common sense and good judgement. When it comes to home lighting, less is more.

On the other hand, if your feng-shui master says it’s too dark, that choice is on you.

And if your place is currently using a combined 300W or more, then you know you could be saving a lot of energy while also improving your health. Take action.

Mistake #2 – Using the wrong color temperature, namely Cool Daylight (6500K)

Malaysians generally use too much of Cool Daylight, it’s like that unhealthy sambal that you like to slather all over your roti canai, nasi lemak, mee goreng mamak etc etc. Cool Daylight makes your body feel alert and wakeful, but will cause eye strain because you are getting an overdose of blue light. You will get tired faster when exposed to too much of this.

That is why modern devices such as phones and tablets now come with a blue light filter which will tune the display’s color temperature.

Just follow this chart and don’t use the color on the far right, ever. By the way, these all fall under the spectrum of white light. That’s why it shouldn’t be called yellow vs white light, but rather warm vs cool.

Even modern offices are eschewing 6500K and replacing it with 4000K (Cool White) which will still stimulate you but cuts out a lot of the blue light.

So if 6500K is not used even for offices, you and your family bathing in it at home is just suicidal for your health.

For activities like studying, working at a desk or getting ready for work in the morning, use 4000K. This is known as task lighting. If its in the evening and you don’t require any task lighting, stick to the warmest light possible.

Since our twins were born and developed their circadian rhythm (at around the 3rd month), they have always gotten sleepy at around 7.30pm and woken up to start the day at around 7.30am. Without fail. We practice turning off all the cool white lights immediately after dinner.

Your home should feel like a high end or boutique hotel. Or think the interior of a fine dining restaurant. Ikea is another good example.

But definitely not Tesco.


Which one does your home look like?

Mistake #3 Directionless and unlayered lighting

A bit more technical but bear with me. To keep it in layman’s terms, good home lighting should fulfill 3 criteria:

Ambient Lighting: Light that will relax and provide ambiance. So basically, soft, warm indirect light in the form of LED strips, floor/table lamps with lampshades, LED candles etc. etc.

General Lighting: The ultimate purpose is safety. You should be able to see where you’re going and be able to tell that the pot of water on the kitchen counter top is boiling etc etc. This is easily settled since the human eye is super sensitive to light. The only issue is the speed which the eye adjusts to changing light conditions. I should know first-hand. Ever since I hit 40 recently, the eyes have been slowly getting less responsive. Use more Ambient Lighting so that your general lighting is taken care of. This wasn’t really possible before the advent of LEDs, as they enabled light bulbs to become extremely compact and directional.

Task Lighting: Specific lighting fixtures for specific purposes like a pendant for your dining table or kitchen island, desk lamps for studying, floor lamps for reading.

Since General Lighting is easily taken care of, you need a good mix of Ambient + Task.

Malaysian homes typically have all the light sources in the form of broad angle downlights and everything comes downward from the ceiling. Yes, I have seen it all and it gets really old. If your lights were done by your contractor, he probably tried to go for overkill by suggesting a cove with light tubes inside, in addition to the downlights covering every square inch of the plaster ceiling.

Instead, you should focus on having the following:

Ceiling: Smaller angle downlights (<35%), and less of them. Strategically placed, not evenly distributed over a floor plan.

Wall: A few wall lights are all you need. Actually, my current condo living room only has wall lights, I don’t use a false ceiling at all. However this might be costly for you since most local developers don’t provide the wiring points for walls.

Accessories: Your best solution. There are LED candles, dehumidifiers with LED lights, even ceiling fans with lights built-in. Ikea has a great and affordable range of floor lamps.

Having light at different heights in your home creates layers, adds flexibility and eliminates energy wastage and artifical light pollution.

Some simple layered lighting.

That’s it for the 3 main mistakes you might be making in your home lighting. Hope it helps! Please leave your questions or comments below and I will answer.

In my next follow-up post I will provide some practical solutions and tips for both existing and new homes if you have committed these lighting sins. Also more advice on upgrading to wireless lighting and energy savings. And maybe some tips for shift workers. Phew! There’s a tonne of stuff to cover.

*Note: The author has over a decade’s worth of home lighting experience during his stint with Philips Lighting (now known as Signify) He has been consulted by thousands of end users while growing the showroom sales from an average of MYR 15k per month to over MYR 1m in annual revenue. Also spent virtually zero on advertising or lead generation. These strong opinions are his own and do not represent the position of Philips Lighting or any other lighting company.

*Recommended further exploration for all you fellow geeks:

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