January 18, 2013

     by Lisa Dugan


Q: What is the best way to light a kitchen for a buyer who is 50 years old or older?  If the budget allows, what are extras to consider adding for optimum light?

A: As we age, our eyes process light differently, so the way we design lighting for our living spaces needs to change. Also, we perform detailed tasks like cooking and reading recipes in kitchens. These things are especially important to consider when designing lighting for the kitchen and the people who use it.

 Photo courtesy Juno Lighting

We need to address four major considerations: Increase light levels, but keep them uniform; eliminate glare; use light sources that have good color rendering and, if the budget allows, provide lighting controls or dimmers. 

People need higher light levels as they age. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, a 60-year-old needs about three times the light level as a 20-year-old to perform the same visual task.

Additionally, aging eye takes longer to adjust to different light levels, so it is important for lighting to be uniform and glare-free.

For glare-free light, use evenly spaced recessed lighting with shielded bulbs, or fluorescent ceiling fixtures. But because that usually won’t create enough light to meet the requirements for uniform lighting, add indirect or ambient lighting to both fill the visual space and eliminate dark spaces. That approach is especially effective when the ceilings are white or light in color.

Placing fixtures such as inexpensive fluorescent strips on top of cabinets will provide glare-free lighting that “bounces” off the ceiling back into the kitchen. LED tape lighting atop cabinets also can provide this indirect layer of light. 

When planning lighting for the mature buyer, it is also important to consider light sources with good color rendering to compensate for the yellowing and thickening of the eye lens that naturally occurs with aging. Fluorescent and LED light sources are rated with a CRI (color rendering index) number that indicates the source’s ability to show colors, compared to an incandescent light source.

With incandescent light rated at a 100CRI, sources with a CRI rating of 80 or above are optimal. If the budget allows, LED light sources with a high CRI will provide the added benefits of long life and energy savings while minimizing the need to replace bulbs.

Since highly detailed work is performed in kitchens, good task lighting is critical, especially in food preparation areas. Fixtures placed under cabinets with the light source behind diffusers or lenses provide lighting to the work surface. It’s best to install under-cabinet lights at the front of the cabinets so that light is evenly distributed over the task area. Under-cabinet lighting is available in LED as well as xenon, fluorescent and halogen lamps, all of which provide good light levels.

Kitchen islands are a good place to add pendants, both for additional task lighting and to add a decorative touch. Pendants come in a variety of light sources, from incandescent to halogen to fluorescent to LED. Again, it is important that the light source is shielded from view to provide glare-free diffused lighting.

Don’t forget the kitchen table when designing lighting for the kitchen. This is a space used for dining, craft work and other family activities, so a task light — a decorative pendant or chandelier — can provide good light and add a style element to the space.

One last consideration when lighting a kitchen: Provide the ability to control light levels. The requirements for additional daytime light are less than what's needed at night. Light the room for nighttime, but install dimmers to allow light levels to be adjusted based on time of day, the amount of light required, and the tasks being performed. Dimmers also provide an energy savings benefit by decreasing the wattage used when lights are dimmed.      

With proper planning, consideration of lighting needs and attention to task areas where high light levels are needed, you can design a kitchen that is not only beautiful but meets the unique lighting needs of the aging buyer.


Lisa Dugan is an ALA Certified Lighting Consultant with Burgess Lighting in the Washington D.C. area. 

Working in the lighting industry for more than 28 years, Dugan designs and specifies lighting for production homes as well as custom homes.

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