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Lighting in the home serves the obvious purpose of illuminating the interior to see what is occurring. It also performs less obvious functions. It can improve safety, create atmosphere and even influence emotions.

Most people light their homes with lamps that are picked for appearance rather than their ability to deliver light. Little or no thought is given to planning effective lighting. A good plan starts with evaluating the room, its size, furnishings and function. The type is the next consideration. Lighting can be categorized in three broad functions, general, or ambient, lighting; task lighting, and accent lighting.Ambient lighting brightens an entire room. In many rooms like the bedroom, bathroom or kitchen ambient lighting may be provided by a single ceiling fixture. That may be adequate for a small room. But larger rooms often need additional fixtures like uplights, floor lamps or table lamps. Extra fixtures may not be practical in work rooms like the kitchen, where it may be a good idea to install recessed ceiling fixtures or track lighting.

Task lighting provides additional focused illumination, to perform an activities without eye-strain. Two factors are position and balance. It is essential to position lights so that they do not cause harsh glare or disturbing shadows. Many people wrongly assume that ambient lighting is unnecessary in addition to task lights. But task lights alone create excessive contrast with the surroundings. That can be distracting and cause eye fatigue. Task lights should be balanced with softer ambient light that is at least one-third as bright as the activity area.

Not all tasks require the same illumination. Sewing, for example, generally demands more light than casual reading.

Lighting requirements vary among individuals. Older people generally need more light than younger people. Table or floor lamps, pendant fixtures, under-cabinet fixtures and track lights are good choices for task lights.

Accent lighting is primarily decorative. Individual lights are set up and focused to highlight art or architecture or to cast shadows. To highlight an object or area, the accent light has to be at least three times as bright as the ambient light. It, too, has to be positioned to avoid glare or reflections. An easy way to do that is aiming the light at a 30-degree angle from the vertical. Track lights and recessed ceiling lights are good choices.

A balanced plan consists of combining ambient, task and accent lights into a pleasing montage. Start by defining the focal points, areas with major activities. Ideally there should be at least two focal points. Use task lights, the brightest lights, to highlight those areas.

Fill in the gaps with ambient light. Finally use accent lights for highlighting areas and visual stim-ulation. The final effect should be a balanced composition that looks interesting and gives the eyes a chance to relax by moving from bright to darker areas.

The plan should also be flexible. One way to do that is to use fixtures with three-way sockets and bulbs and dimmer switches.

After designing the plan comes selecting the fixtures. The most important part of a fixture is the bulb. It affects the intensity and the quality of the light. The market has a bewildering array of light-bulbs, but they can be grouped in three categories, tungsten, tungsten-halogen and fluorescent.

The tungsten, or incandescent, bulb is the mainstay of most homes. Those bulbs are relatively inexpensive but are less efficient than fluorescent. When an electric current passes through the filament, the tungsten heats up and emits a warm orange-yellow light, suitable for relaxed intimate surroundings and particularly flattering for skin tones. Tungsten may be ideal for living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms.

The familiar frosted A-bulb is the most widely used. The soft-light bulb provides diffused light with less glare and soft shadows.

Another type of tungsten bulb is the reflector. It has an interior coating of reflective silver. The crown, however, is clear. Because it can throw a focused beam, the reflector bulb is ideal for track and spotlight fixtures. The crown-silvered bulb has a reflective silver crown and a clear base. It should be used with a fixture that has a parabola-shaped reflector. The bulb directs the light back into the reflector, which throws it into the room.