Dear Jim: I plan to remodel my master bathroom area and my young kid’s bathroom. The existing lighting in both is terrible. What is the best and most efficient lighting to use for these bathroom projects? – Rosella D.
Dear Rosella: People don’t often think about lighting and efficiency when it comes to bathroom remodeling, it is as important a factor as installing the proper vanity or plumbing fixtures. Today’s modern master bathrooms and dressing areas are often as large as some second bedrooms and are more than just a place to shower, shave, etc.
If the lighting in both the bathrooms is like most older bathrooms, it consists of just an overhead light, perhaps built into a vent fan if there is no window. If there is a window in the bathroom, few builders went to the expense of installing a vent fan. Today, vent fans are almost always installed for indoor air quality concerns in modern, more airtight houses. While you are doing your remodeling projects, definitely install a vent fan.
The lighting for your children’s bathroom will be simpler, so tackle it first. A simple overhead light should be adequate until they get old enough to shave or wear makeup. There likely already is an incandescent overhead light-only or fan/light fixture. In either case, replace it with a new Energy Star qualified fan with a LED (light-emitting diode) bulb. It will use 80 percent less electricity than a comparable incandescent bulb and the fan will be much quieter.
Since children tend to forget to turn lights or vent fans off when they leave the bathroom, select a vent fan with a motion or humidity sensor to automatically shut it off at the right time. This can save a significant amount of electricity. If you have only a ceiling light fixture, install a motion-sensing switch. Program the length of time the light stays on after no motion is detected.
Planning efficient and effective lighting for your master bathroom and dressing area is much more complicated than for the children’s bathroom. Use the basic lighting design technique called layering to provide the proper lighting for various activities and needs. This is the same design technique professionals use for every other room of a house.
The three basic lighting layers are task, ambient, and accent or decorative. Since a bathroom is a relatively task oriented (showering, shaving, applying makeup, general grooming, etc.), adequate task lighting is most important. Other than showering or bathing, the task lighting at the mirror and the vanity is most often used.
(Dulley’s articles appear monthly. Write to him in care of the The Derrick, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45244 or visit http://www.dulley.com.)
The ideal lighting is directed from both sides of the mirror and perhaps also from the top for three-direction lighting. This eliminates shadows which can be a particular problem when shaving or applying makeup. If the mirror is not too wide, vertical fluorescent tube lighting mounted on the wall on each side of the mirror is best and efficient.
Several companies offer efficient decorative T2 or T5 fluorescent fixtures. Some are also designed to be attached to the mirror in case it is very wide. Decorative sconces with LED’s or CFL’s are also effective around a narrow mirror. Daylight-type CFL’s provide excellent color rendition for makeup.
For the over-the-mirror task lighting, a new decorative rail light design with LED’s is ideal. This is also excellent for accent lighting. It is similar to track lighting with three or four directional fixtures, but they are mounted on a rail which hangs down a couple of inches from the ceiling. It mounts to the ceiling over a standard ceiling electrical box.
For the bath/shower area, recessed overhead task lighting works well. Since you are installing it yourself, consider installing low-voltage fixtures for safety and ease of installation. Recessed light fixtures with built-in exhaust fans are efficient because excess moisture is drawn from the shower stall before it ever enters the room.
For the ambient and accent lighting, either overhead or sconces are effective. These can be controlled by dimmer switches to save energy. As the lights are dimmed, an indicator on the faceplate may change color to remind you to dim the lights.
On some models, the switch also functions as an efficient night light. It is wise to install separate dimmer switches for the various layers of light. Another daytime ambient light option is a tubular skylight with a solar-powered remote dimmer.
Dear Jim: My old water heater insulation jacket is not long enough to cover my entire new electric water heater. Will it still be effective if the water heater is covered only 3/4 of the way down? – Doug K.
Dear Doug: Although it is best to have the entire electric water heater tank insulated, your water heater jacket should still be effective. The water near the top of the tank is hotter than at the bottom.
If you have some old fiberglass or rock wool wall insulation, wrap a layer of it around the bottom uncovered area. Face the vapor barrier to the outside and use it to staple the ends of the insulation together. Make sure you don’t block the combustion air inlet on a gas water heater.