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updated: 9/4/2011 11:34 PM

The Sensible Home: How to update bathroom lighting

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Q. The existing lighting in our bathrooms is not adequate. I am going to remodel the master and the children's bathroom myself. What type of efficient lighting do you recommend for both bathroom projects?

A. If the lighting in both 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, very few builders went to the expense of installing 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 compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Since children forget to turn off lights or vent fans, select a vent fan with a motion or humidity sensor to automatically shut it off. If you have only a light fixture, install a motion-sensing wall switch.

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.

The three basic lighting layers are task, ambient, and accent. Since a bathroom is 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.

The ideal lighting is directed from both sides of the mirror and perhaps also from the top for three-direction lighting. This eliminates shadows when shaving or applying makeup. If the mirror is not too wide, mount vertical fluorescent tube lighting on the wall on each side of the mirror.

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 CFLs are also effective around a narrow mirror. Daylight-type CFLs provide the best color rendition for makeup.

For the bath/shower area, recessed overhead task lighting works well. Since you are installing it yourself, consider using low-voltage fixtures for ease of installation. Broan/Nutone offers recessed light fixtures with built-in exhaust fans. These are efficient because excess moisture is drawn from the shower stall before it enters the room.

For accent lighting, low-wattage incandescent fixtures, either overhead or sconces, are effective. These can be controlled by dimmer switches to save energy. It is wise to install separate dimmer switches for the various layers of lighting. Another daytime ambient lighting option is an ODL tubular skylight with a solar-powered remote dimmer.

Q. My attic has soffit and ridge vents. I measured the temperature in the attic this summer and it was up to 110 degrees sometimes. Would it make sense to install a vent fan with a thermostat to cool it?

A. An attic air temperature of 110 degrees is not excessive and actually is quite low. The most important temperature in an attic is the underside of the roof, which radiates heat down into your house.

It sounds as though your current attic venting system of ridge and soffit vents is adequate so installing a fan will not help much. They can actually pull cool air out of living areas and into the attic. If you want to block more heat, staple attic foil under the roof rafters.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit