Why is the basement the place imaginations go to freak out? It’s simple. Because most of the time unfinished basements are dark and gloomy. If you want to transform your basement from “that place we don’t go” into the center of your social life then the key ingredient will not be carpeting or plush furniture or a 90” Plasma TV, it will be the lighting. With a fully finished, beautifully lit basement family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, in-laws and anyone else you care to invite over will be more than happy to shuck aside their primal fears and join you downstairs for holiday festivities, a birthday party, a Sunday afternoon of football or just to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Table Of Contents
- Lighting Tips from Residential Electricians
- The Basics Basement Lighting
- What Makes a Good Basement Light Fixture?
- Types of Basement Lighting to Consider
- Few Quick Tips on Lighting the Basement
- Other Things to Consider
- Plan for the 21st Century Homes
Bring Your Basement to Life by Following These Lighting Tips from Residential Electricians
Most people don’t give a second thought to the fact that as much as ¼ to ⅓ of the square footage of their home is basically unusable. (That would be the basement.) Finishing the basement is not only a great way to increase the fun factor of your house but it’s also a great way to add market value and ensure a faster sale should you ever want to put the house on the market. But let’s for the sake of this article say that you want to transform the basement and keep the house. What are the secrets to basement lighting that will enable you to get the most out of your new space?
The Basics Basement Lighting
Before we get into the different kinds of light fixtures you may want to use in your basement we’re going to cover a few basic concepts about lighting the space down under.
The Sun is Your Friend
When it comes to basements some will have windows and some won’t. If yours does you’re going to want to make them an integral part of the lighting scheme for two reasons: first, natural light rocks, and second, natural light is free. Come up with a basement lighting scheme that utilizes both natural and artificial light. And keep any window treatments tasteful but minimal so that you can take full advantage of what Mother Nature is giving away.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall (or Ceiling)
For the most part, the basement space is a pretty claustrophobic one. Even if you have basement windows they’re likely only partial windows jammed up at the top of the walls. Therefore consider using mirrors to both give the illusion of additional space and to reflect light. Residential electricians recommend ceiling mirrors as another way to counteract the oppressively low ceilings in most basements.
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What Makes a Good Basement Light Fixture?
The ideal basement light is sleek and can be tucked away effectively so as not to intrude on the limited space. That means (for the most part) no chandeliers and no big, bulky (the key word) table or floor lamps. See below for an in-depth look at light fixtures that will work in the basement.
Light placement is always important but never so much as in the basement where vertical space is at a premium. The location of windows can also make light placement challenging in the basement. Place your lights so that they’ll be effective both augmenting natural light and standing on their own as the primary light source.
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Make an honest assessment about when you’re likely to use the basement and what you’re going to be doing there. If you’re building an all-purpose entertainment center with a bar, a pool table, a big-screen TV for sports and movies, etc you’ll want different areas lit in different ways. Perhaps a tiffany lamp over the pool table, track lighting over the bar, and recessed lights that can be dimmed over the TV viewing area.
As for when you’ll be in the basement… if you’re like most people you’re going to be at work during the day and on the weekends you’re going to be sleeping in the mornings and busy Saturday afternoons. That leaves evenings and Sundays. It will still be important to take advantage of natural light because there will be times it will come in handy. But, since most of the time you’ll be in the basement it will be dark out, make sure you have enough lights to completely illuminate every aspect of the entire space. Put the ambient, accent, task, and other lights on separate switches and make sure everything has a dimmer.
Sometimes called occupancy sensors these little miracles can make the basement experience a lot more agreeable for those who still get a little weak behind the knees as they descend the stairs. Set up motion detectors so that as soon as someone hits the first step the ambient lights come on. Once they get downstairs they can decide what other lights to turn on.
Types of Basement Lighting to Consider
Now that we’re clear on a few basic ground rules let’s approach the issue of basement lighting the way residential electricians do; by weighing the relative virtues of each type of fixture and where it should and shouldn’t be used.
- Recessed lighting – Recessed lights are a staple of basement lighting design and have been since they first appeared in the aftermath of World War II. They remain popular because they tuck away neatly into the drop ceiling and do a great job of making a space look bigger than it is. They are most often used to give a space a clean, modern look but they’re not one trick ponies. Not by a long shot. They can just as easily be utilized to add atmosphere, space, and background lighting for more traditional decors as well. Most ambient light in the basement will be a recessed light.
- Sconces – Wall sconces are another common feature of basement lighting schemes. Residential electricians recommend them as a way to create volume. Upward shining wall sconces can make the space feel taller than it actually is, which is always a plus in the basement. When combined with and used to play off pot lights they can really ramp up the visual interest and make you forget you’re in the basement.
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- Cove lighting – Cove lighting is another way to make a space feel as though it’s soaring. Cove lights are installed into gutters around the top of the wall or behind a portion of the drop ceiling. You can also use it to ring a wall or install it behind a portion of the wall that has been extruded a bit or had a gutter cut out around it. Cove lighting is a great way to give your basement an ultra-modern feel. When attached to a dimmer it also provides just enough discreet light to allow people to move around without tripping during a movie.
- Track lighting – Track lighting is without a doubt one of the most underrated advances in artificial lighting technology ever devised. From the minute the first track lights appeared in commercial settings illuminating clothing displays and the like during the 60s they felt like they had always been here. And that is the sign of a truly great product, idea, or work of art. In just a few short years they bled into the housing sector with residential electricians installing them next to the only slightly newer recessed lights in new homes across America. Today they’re every bit as in demand as they’ve ever been and continue to set the standard for evocative, versatile, beautiful, leading-edge lighting solutions whether upstairs or down in the basement.
- Surface-mounted spots – Surface-mounted spotlights are a type of lighting that is too often overlooked. They’re similar in appearance to track lights with the difference being that you can’t unclip them from the track and move them around. Instead, they’re wired into a plate on the wall or in the ceiling. You can get them with swivel heads however, that can be pointed whichever way your heart desires. So they’re a wonderfully versatile lighting option. Use them over the bar as you would track lighting or in the ceiling to shine a light on your autographed and framed sports memorabilia.
- Stairway lighting – Because basements are naturally dark and oftentimes the stairway will be away from the main space illuminating the stairway with discrete lighting underneath the overhanging tread (at the top of the riser) will not only look spectacular but make it a great deal safer to navigate the stairs; especially if the lights are low because everyone is glued to the set watching GoT. If you don’t want to go the ‘under the tread’ route you can install several sconces on the wall between the top of the stairs and the foot.
- Table lamps – Table lamps are thought to be problematic in the basement because of their verticality. The thought is that if the top of the table lamp is too high it will call attention to how low the ceiling is, and you don’t want to do that if you can help it. Table lamps can be made to work in the basement, however. It really all depends on the context. Some people choose to go with very low-slung furniture in their finished basement precisely because it makes the ceiling look taller. This type of furniture can open the door to a table lamp or two as long as they are modest in height and overall scale.
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- Floor lamps – Even floor lamps, typically dismissed out of hand as being too vertical for a basement, can be made to work if the setting is right. Generally, the floor lamp will need to be somewhat delicate so that it doesn’t call too much attention to itself and it’s always better if it’s used in concert with a chair or table that will help break up the vertical lines of the lamp. In other cases, the verticality can sometimes be turned into an asset if you use a tall floor lamp with a single straight pole and an upward-pointing dish on top. This will serve to drive the eye upward and make the ceiling appear higher than it is.
- Mood lights – Mood lighting is sometimes whimsical and makeshift in appearance and is used to lighten the mood. In other cases, however, mood lighting can be built right into the architecture of the basement walls and ceiling. You use mood lighting to do just that; set the mood. It’s a great way to add a sense of mystery or to create a relaxing air within a space. Mood lighting isn’t for everyone but if you’ve got a serious man cave going on in your basement you might want to consider it.
A Few Quick Tips on Lighting the Basement
- Use motion sensors – There’s probably no place in the house where motion sensors are more welcome than the basement. We talked above about putting an occupancy sensor on the stairway but why stop there? Put one behind the bar too. And if you retained (and perhaps renovated) your laundry area put one in there as well.
- Use strategic lighting – Put a light under the edge of the bar. Put a light (on a dimmer) behind the big flat-screen TV. Use track lights to illuminate artwork or other precious items. This way you won’t have to light the whole basement and you’ll also set a relaxed, low-key mood.
- Ditch the incandescent – You may have a lamp or two you think will be perfect for the basement that still has an incandescent bulb in the socket. Now’s the time to make the switch. Replace the incandescent’s with CFLs and make a clean, energy-efficient start in the new basement.
- Keep flashlights handy – Few things are as unnerving as being in the basement when the power goes out. Residential electricians recommend you have a few of those ultra-bright tactical flashlights in easily accessible places around the basement in case you ever need them.
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Other Things to Consider
- Type of construction – Some basements are built out leaving little or no room behind the finished wall for the commercial electricians or residential electricians to run wires. If that’s the case with your basement (or if that’s the plan as laid out by the GC for the upcoming renovation) discuss it with the electrician or the contractor so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to lighting.
- Type of Flooring – Dark hardwood floors is a beautiful thing to behold. However, they also suck the light out of your basement. If your renovation plans call for installing a dark floor you may want to reconsider. If the dark floor is already in place you may want to install a few more lights than you originally planned.
- Wall Colours – Upstairs where ceilings are high and there’s lots of light pouring in the big windows you can get away with darker colors on the wall. Not in the basement. Keep the walls light and you’ll make the job of illuminating the basement a lot easier.
- Safety – Every aspect of the wiring and installation of your basement lighting needs to be up to code and 100% safe. There’s no compromising with this. Talk to a variety of residential electricians before choosing one but whatever you do, don’t wire the basement lighting yourself.
- Flooding – Before you build out your basement make sure any flooding issues are addressed. If you have a high water table in your area install a sump pump if you haven’t already. If you think there’s a chance your basement may wind up with water in it at some point don’t carpet the floor and use furniture that sits up on legs. And make sure any wiring is up away from the floor as well.
Plan for the 21st Century Homes
Commercial electricians and residential electricians alike know the primary concern when it comes to adding new electrical appliances, fixtures or whatever to your home today is energy efficiency. We’re not living in 1955 when oil was plentiful and cost $4 a barrel. Today we know that oil is a finite resource and not only that, fossil fuel emissions are wreaking havoc with the environment. Make sure your lighting plan addresses energy efficiency at every turn. You’ll be leaving a better planet to your kids and you won’t be paying more than you have to for electricity every month.
A well-considered lighting plan is what separates a welcoming, in-demand finished basement from one that just sort of sits there unused most of the time. When it comes to planning your basement and instituting your basement lighting scheme residential electricians are the only way to go. Talk to the pros at Hotwire Electric about your basement renovation plans. They’ll help you devise a lighting scheme that will turn “that place we don’t go” into the active center of your domestic social life. The basement is the undiscovered country under your feet. Give us a call to learn more about bringing it to life with light.