Energy codes and utility bills are making energy efficient lighting a must, even in today's spa-like baths. Products now hitting the market are both functional and fashionable.
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Today's super-sized bathrooms aren't the spartan spaces they once were, and luxury has become a guiding principle for designers of present-day spa retreats. However, practicality is beginning to rule at least one crucial aspect of current bath design: Highly efficient lighting fixtures are taking fashionable form among steam showers and soaking tubs.
Making Form Follow Function
The key to a successful bathroom illumination plan is to understand the various functions lighting serves in the space. General lighting takes care of 90 percent of bathroom lighting needs, like ceiling lights, soffits and wall sconces. Task lighting delivers the remaining 10 percent and is used to perform specific activities like personal grooming.
"To face the day, you need to see the same image in the mirror as you would outside in daylight," says Martha Kerr, certified master kitchen and bath designer for the Neil Kelly Company in Portland, Ore.
In the past, meeting these different needs posed a challenge for bath designers, who overwhelmingly chose incandescent fixtures over more efficient fluorescent versions.
"As an industry, we tried to avoid using fluorescent lighting," says Bruce Goff, American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), principal of Domus Design Group in San Francisco and Reno. "They buzzed, flickered and glared. We couldn't dim them and we didn?t look good in that greenish cast."
However, with energy prices rising and states like California beginning to mandate efficiency in their building codes, manufacturers have been forced to address designers' concerns. A 2005 rewrite of California's energy code requires the first switch in a room to control a fluorescent fixture. Also, a full 50 percent of all lighting be energy efficient, according to Goff.
In response, today's fluorescent fixtures feature dimmable ballasts, accurate color representation, cool white and full spectrum colors, along with higher quality materials and innovative design styles. Now, Goff tells his clients that fluorescents can deliver beautifully lighted rooms and keep power bills lower.
New Options on the Market
American Fluorescent Corp. is one company that's managed to fuse efficiency with award-winning design. The Waukegan, Ill.-based company has won the Lighting for Tomorrow Fixture Design Competition grand prize two years in a row.
"The new Helios sconce design was created for the competition," says Stephen Blackman, director of design and innovation for American Fluorescent. "People see it and they're automatically attracted because it's different than most wall fixtures with a unique shaped back plate. The scale could only be accomplished using a fluorescent bulb."
The Helios sconce has an organically inspired hand-blown diffuser with a case metal body and oil-rubbed bronze or satin nickel finishes. Used for general lighting needs in high-end residential homes, it's available in lighting showrooms in larger cities.
Blackman says "a lot of the fixtures we have in the bathroom area are contemporary, like the Fusion Vanity series." Picture a delicate droplet of water streaming down a chilled glass window. The Fusion series fits the bill for task lighting and combines the complex textural patterns of nature with the quiet simplicity of a satin metal finish.
Cooper Lighting in Peachtree City, Ga., is another proponent of design-friendly efficiency.
"Cooper Lighting manufactures Energy Star fixtures that meet federal requirements for energy saving," says Mark Lien, manager of the company's SOURCE Educational Center. "Our wall, ceiling and over-the-mirror fixtures with 'softsides' that resemble a pillow shape are very popular. They feature an all white lens that blends well on white ceilings and light walls without becoming a focal point."
The soft floating frameless diffuser includes a lift and shift feature for easy cleaning and bulb replacement. Lien says "another popular choice is the fluorescent downlight, a good choice for general lighting but not safe in showers where a wet-location fixture is required."
Halo, a Cooper Lighting brand, offers a full line of recessed downlights available in a variety of sizes with several lamp and trim choices, including new high-quality designer metallic finishes of satin nickel, antique copper and Tuscan bronze.
Fluorescents aren't the only option for bringing energy efficient lighting into the bath. Solar tubes are another choice beginning to hit the market. These products are like flexible skylights, which are installed through the roof and fit between the rafters and ceiling joists, capturing direct and ambient light. They'll even focus the light of a full moon into a space, creating an other-worldly night light at least once a month.
On the coming-trend list, light emitting diode (LED) lamps are making a huge splash. "I expect them to become more efficient and affordable in the future but they won't be the bulb that replaces everything else," says Blackman. "This filament-less technology will co-exist with other lamps."