Saturday, 30 July 2011
Small Baths That Live
Two remodeled bathrooms showcase strategies that make small spaces feel roomy, without big changes
BY RUSSELL HAMLET
The real-estate market has been tight on Bain-bridge Island, Wash., for years now. Its location in Puget Sound, just a ferry-boat commute from Seattle, has made it a highly desirable place to
live. So those who are shopping for a house on the island have to be ready to pounce on a new listing as soon as it comes up. Either that, or figure out how to fix whatever was wrong with a house that kept it on the market for a while.
The house that Ken and Lisa purchased in 2001 fell into the latter category. Built in the ’20s, their attractive cottage-style home is in a desirable neighborhood of modest older homes. They credit the two dismal bathrooms as the Achilles’ heel that drove off potential buyers, allowing the house to remain on the market long enough for them to get it. The bathrooms were cramped, chopped-up rooms pasted together from a hodgepodge of materials. After putting up with them for a couple of years, Ken and Lisa decided to create a pair of inviting bathrooms that were in keeping with the rest of the house. But they wanted to do it within a relatively modest budget. We started at $50,000 for both baths. Once Ken and Lisa decided on finishes and fixtures, the budget grew to $70,000 max.
To stay on budget, it was important to stay within the existing footprint of each bathroom. This presented an excellent design challenge: Create rooms that feel larger and more comfortable by reproportioning the spaces; by adding light and color; and by simplifying the materials, fixtures, and details.
We also kept the parts worth keeping. The existing toilet in the upstairs bathroom was a low-flow model that worked well and was in good condition. Its low tank height fits in with the new, extended vanity top that carries over it. We also kept all of the doors, the built-in dresser/cabinet, storage shelving, and much of the trim.
The upstairs bath
The second-floor bathroom is divided into two areas that are connected by a pocket door. A half-bath opens to the stair hall, and a second space for bathing (also containing a sink) opens into the master bedroom. This multifunction plan combines storage and flexibility into a pretty small package, and it made sense to stick with it. But the sunken tub had to go. It was a deep, jetted tub that required so much water and made so much noise that nobody ever used it. A walk-in shower instead of a tub made a lot more sense.
We opened up the room with a skylight over the shower, infusing the entire room with natural daylight. The skylight well hides the bathroom-fan grille and includes a light fixture that illuminates the shower at night.
A frameless-glass shower enclosure keeps the room as open as possible. Green glass-mosaic tile wraps the shower walls and flows out of the shower, lining the bottom of the walls to the height of the wainscot and visually uniting the two areas of the bathroom. Big wall mirrors in both portions of the bath also help to expand the space.
Black Richlite countertops with undermount sinks sit atop maple cabinets in both rooms. The slate-tile floors lend a sub-stantial feel and warm, gray colors that work well with the other materials.
THE ORIGINAL PLAN STILL WORKS
This highly flexible plan, which pairs a powder room with another space for bathing and a built-in dresser, was worth keeping.
Updating the spaces with new finishes, sturdy grab bars, and natural light literally transformed the old bathroom without moving any fixtures or walls.
Both halves of the upstairs bath. Green glass-mosaic tiles shimmer in the sunshine admitted by the new sky-light in the remodeled bath. Unifying the walls, ceiling, and trim with a single, neutral color makes the bold fields of tile and the black counter all the more powerful. And big mirrors don’t hurt either.
A POCKET DOOR SAVES SPACE
The fixtures are in the same place, but the space feels more open. Replacing a vanity with a pedestal sink, removing a tall cabinet, and replacing a swinging door with a pocket door were key changes.
The downstairs bath
The first-floor bathroom serves as a powder room and occa- sionally as a guest bathroom. Given the room’s minimal size and infrequent use as a full bath, we equipped the tub with a handheld sprayer. As a result, we could eliminate a shower enclosure, making the room feel more open.
The existing bathroom had a ceiling that was almost 9 ft. high. We lowered it to improve the proportions of the room and created a barrel vault with cedar boards. To avoid the eyesore of an exhaust-fan grille on the ceiling, we located the bath’s exhaust fan above the cedar boards and cut slots in the 1x4s to allow air to be drawn into the fan’s intake. The fan can be reached through a hatch on the second floor.
Wainscoting of blue glass-mosaic tile surrounds the room, giving it color and continuity. The tile is topped with a simple painted-wood nosing. The bathroom has a cork floor, which is soft underfoot and feels nice when you step out of the tub.
We replaced the hinged, in-swinging door with a space-saving pocket door. A sleek pedestal sink takes the place of the bulky old lavatory counter. A cabinet at the foot of the tub now provides room for towels and toiletries, and support for a bench seat.
A splash of blue. With its glass-mosaic wainscot, white walls, and arched cedar ceiling, the reconfigured room has a sense of buoyancy. A cabinet at the foot of the tub provides towel storage topped with a bench, which, with the grab bar over the tub, makes the tub accessible to all ages and abilities. A heat register in the toe kick regulates the air temperature.
Ceiling supports from 2x12s, nailed to studs Exhaust fan is located above dropped ceiling over tub.
1⁄4-in.-wide slot, two per board
1x4 tongue-and-groove bleached cedar, square edge exposed
AN ARCHED CEILING WITH VENT SLOTS
Instead of a plastic vent grille, the cedar ceiling has slotted boards above the bathtub and the pedestal sink for evacuating bathroom vapors.
The check, please
The glass-mosaic tiles for both baths cost $19,000, including installation, sending the total cost of the re-model past the initial target of $50,000. The final tally came in at just less than $68,000, so we still ended up a bit shy of our cap. Some of the other finish materials, such as the Richlite countertops and cork flooring, were also fairly expensive, but because of their high quality and their environmental friendliness, Ken and Lisa chose to use them. The tiles are made from recycled bottles, Richlite is made of paper and phenolic resins, and cork is a readily renewable resource.
One regret Ken and Lisa had about the project was that they did not go for the electric radiant-heat mat under the upstairs bathroom floor. At a time when we were looking for ways to limit costs, it got cut. Warm floors are a nice luxury for a relatively low cost, but unfortunately, radiant heat is not something that can be added easily later.
On the other hand, the project accomplished the goal of re-creating the bathrooms so that they feel like assets, rather than liabilities. Who knows? The next time the house goes up for sale, a buyer may even purchase it because of the bathrooms.
Monday, 25 July 2011
Understanding Common Moisture Problems
Three case studies illustrate the importance of controlling humidity and air leakage
About a dozen years ago, a couple called me to complain about serious water stains on the kitchen ceiling of their new home. The builder and the architect were at each other's throats: The builder blamed the stains on the polyethylene vapor retarder the architect had insisted he install in the ceiling, and the architect disagreed but had no alternative explanation. The confused homeowners hoped that I could offer some help.
The low outdoor temperature meets high indoor moisture. Condensation on this window could be prevented by lowering the relative humidity inside the house, increasing the window's R-value or both.
Excessive indoor humidity causes mildew growth and peeling paint. Water running off this window has saturated the sash, damaging its finish. The moisture content of wooden windows in this passive-solar house was as high as 28%, as compared with the normal level of around 10%.
by Marc Rosenbaum
It took less than a minute to identify the source of the water causing the stains. Six recessed lights punched holes in the ceiling, and they acted like little chimneys, transferring moist kitchen air into the attic, where the vapor condensed on the cold roof sheathing and dripped back down to the ceiling drywall.
Once everybody could see the evidence, they understood what was occurring and could agree that the solution was to seal the recessed lights.
What I learned that day was how much myth and dogma exist in the design and construction professions about simple, common building failures that have straight forward physical explanations.
In the three case studies that follow, I describe the nature of the problems encountered, the diagnostic methods and tools used to determine the causes, and the recommended fixes. All of these homes are in the Northeast, but the construction practices that caused the failures are common throughout the country. What varies is the type of problem that results. In the end, most residential failures are caused by uncontrolled movement of air and/or moisture, whether the building is in Mississippi or Minnesota.
First, find out exactly what's wrong
Occasionally, I may be able to diagnose a straightforward problem over the phone. But if I visit the house, first I get a thorough description of the phenomena. I want to understand what is happening, where in the house it occurs, in which seasons and how long it has been going on. This last point is important; many problems are the result of a chain reaction that follows a change in a building, like a new kitchen, furnace or windows. Any of these things might alter the humidity level or create new pathways for air.
The next step is a thorough walk-through. The homeowner may have called me because of something obvious like severe condensation on windows. But a troubleshooter might find other failures, indicating a wider problem. So my rule is to start the examination at the footing and end at the ridge.
Case #1: Frost, water stains and ice dams—
In the first of the three case studies, the builder of a 3-year-old house called me because he had been unable to solve wintertime problems of severe frost buildup in the attic, stains on the second floor ceiling below and recurrent ice dams.
The house had a gas-fired, forced-air heating system with central air conditioning and was located in a 6,500-heating-degree-day climate. (Degree days, a measure of heating demand, are calculated by subtracting the average daily outdoor temperature from a designated base temperature, typically 65°F. A day with an average temperature of 40°F, for example, would be a 25-heating-degree day. Annual figures are simply the sum of the daily figures. For comparison, San Francisco averages about 3,000 degree days and Chicago 6,500.)
The insulation was kraft-faced fiberglass batts, exceeding code-required levels, and no special air-sealing measures were implemented during construction. Soffit vents and a ridge vent, properly installed, provided adequate roof ventilation. The contemporary design yielded two separate attic spaces above second-floor bedrooms, separated by a loft, and another attic above the garage. A walk-through showed a dry basement and no evidence of water in the house except for the minor ceiling stains.
Keep heat in the living space—Ice dams are caused by warming the underside of the roof, causing snow above to melt, run down the roof and freeze again where the roof temperature drops below freezing, commonly at the eaves. Water backs up behind the ice dam and leaks into the building. Although the classic solution for ice dams is to add insulation and/or roof ventilation, I look first for sources of unintentional attic heat that is warming up the roof sheathing. In this house, I didn't have far to look.
On a day that was substantially below freezing, I measured temperatures of 47°F in the attic above one second-floor bedroom and 40°F above the other. Because an insulated, ventilated attic should be only a few degrees above the out-door temperature, we were in prime ice-dam territory. We began to look for sources of warm air leaking to the attic or locations of inadequate insulation. We found both.
A leaky building envelope—The kneewall access panels from the loft to the two attics were poorly sealed and crudely insulated with fiber-glass batts duct-taped to their backsides. The door to the attic above the garage was uninsulated but had weather stripping at the latch side and top. The fiberglass insulation in the walls be- tween the heated spaces and these attics was open on the backside to the attic. This practice is common, but the effectiveness of fiberglass insulation is compromised when it is installed in an open cavity: Warm air adjacent to the backside of the drywall rises and moves into the attic, being replaced by cold attic air at the bottom. Fiberglass by itself does not stop air movement. Indeed, one clue a troubleshooter should always watch for is dirty fibber glass insulation. Fiberglass is a great filter, and dirty fiberglass has had a sub-stantial amount of air moving through it.
In the case at hand, the major source of heat in the attic came from a different source. The heating ducts for the second-floor rooms were in the attic, and they were unsealed. The metal duct-work was not insulated, and the flexible duct-work had 1 in. of fiberglass insulation, not much for ducts carrying 120°F to 130°F air in what is nominally an outdoor space. In addition, the attic-duct trunk came up through a basement chase that was unsealed top and bottom. This chase allowed warm basement air (the uninsulated ductwork kept the basement toasty) to rise freely into the attic. But what about the frost on the attic roof sheathing? Many homes have ice dams without this symptom also appearing. Frost occurs when water vapor in the air hits a cold surface and condenses or freezes on that surface. To solve this problem, we needed to find how moisture was entering the attic.
High-tech tools aid the search—With my sling psychrometer, I measured the relative humidity in the house: It was 50%, higher
than the 35% to 40% I prefer to see during the winter. A quick blower-door test showed an airflow rate of 2,375 cu. ft. per minute (CFM) at a 50-pascal pressure difference (CFM50). (A pascal is a metric unit of pressure; 6,895 pascals is 1 psi.) This amount is fairly typical of new construction with no special attempt to air-seal. The house was in fact probably a bit better than the average new home with forced-air heat. These houses tend to be leakier than homes with hot-water heat because of leaky ductwork. With normal amounts of moisture being generated in the house, this level of leakiness would typically result in a lower relative humidity, so I suspected an unusual moisture source somewhere. Bath fans, dryer and range hood were vented outdoors. Once again, the heating system was the major culprit.
Paint doesn't adhere well to a moving surface. Wood siding that has not been back-primed or otherwise sealed can expand and contract as it takes on and gives off moisture. As the wood siding moves, its painted finish cracks and peels.
Losing heat on the way to the living space. Heat-supply ducts in this attic were poorly sealed and underinsulated. A s a result, the temperature inside the attic was 47°F, substantially warmer than the outside air. This situation prompted the formation of ice dams.
The source of moisture wasn't hard to find. This clothes-dryer duct, torn and hanging by a wire rib, is supplying warm, moist air directly to the attic.
Mounted on the furnace plenum was a central humidifier. Although it was on a low setting, the builder reported that it had only recently been turned down. I suspected that this home had been running at relative-humidity levels exceeding 60%, which is unhealthy for both the building structure and the occupants (many people are allergic to dust mites, which need high humidity to flourish). The central humidifier added moisture to the heating air, some of which leaked directly into the attic. A more effective method for moisturizing the attic could hardly be devised.
Insulation is no good if it's not continuous. Cold air from this crawlspace has a clear path to the floor of the adjacent bedroom through this and other uninsulated joist bays. Dirt in the insulation could mean that air is escaping from the living space.
Ceiling fixture provides light below and heat above. This recessed ceiling light, installed during a remodeling job, provides a conduit for warm, humid air to flow from the living space into the attic. The preferred alternative in cases such as this one isto installthe type of light fixture that can be covered with insulation completely, without causing a fire hazard.
The proposed solution is two fold—I recommended that all attic ductwork first be sealed with latex mastic and then well-insulated. This task could be accomplished by covering the ductwork with loose-fill cellulose, a type of insulation made from recycled newspapers that have been shredded and treated with a fire retardant. Another alternative would have been to create a sealed duct chase out of foil-faced fiberglass duct board, laying the flexible duct in it and backfilling the space around the ducts with cellulose. I advised the homeowners that the central humidifier be disconnected.
Recommended fixes to the building itself included sealing the duct chase at both basement and attic levels with a rigid material such as plywood or sheet metal, sealing the house-to-attic penetrations (plumbing stacks, radon stack, electrical), installing an air barrier on the backside of the kneewalls (drywall or housewrap), and weatherstripping and insulating the door and kneewall hatches to the attics. In addition, I suggested installing a fan in the master bath, vented outdoors, and sealing the basement ducts with latex mastic. These changes not only will solve the problems and increase general durability of the home, but also will reduce the home's energy use significantly.
Case #2: A passive-solar house with severe moisture problems—Our second case study is a 10-year-old, passive-solar house with a south facing, finished walk-out basement in a 6,000 heating degree day climate. The problems were severe condensation and frost on the windows and glass doors, causing mildew and paint peeling; mold in the lower comer of one of the basement bedrooms; water stains around recessed ceiling lights; stuffy air quality; and peeling exterior paint. The home had an electric furnace, forced-air heating system and three heat-recovery ventilators, one serving the main body of the house and two small ones, each serving only a bathroom.
A walk-through showed condensation also appearing against the band joist in the unfinished basement on the house's north side. Because it was May, measuring relative humidity wouldn't necessarily have given an accurate indication of winter conditions. However, I used my moisture meter to assess moisture levels both inside, checking the millwork and the trim, and outside, testing the exterior siding and trim. Some of the windows had spot moisture contents as high as 28%, clearly caused by condensation. Interior trim was well below the danger zone of 20% or more, where wood becomes susceptible to decay organisms. Some exterior readings also were in the 20s, mostly in the areas where the trim was too close to the ground and splash-back was occurring.
The peeling of the exterior paint appeared to be caused by water penetrating from the outside. The house had minimal over hangs on the gable ends, and the grading around the foundation put the wood too close to the ground in many places. Neither the trim nor the siding had been back-primed before installation, so water drawn up between the clapboards by capillary action could soak readily into the wood. The expansion and contraction of clap- boards as they get wet and then dry eventually causes the paint film to fail. One clue suggesting an exterior problem—unrelated to high indoor- humidity levels—was that the unheated garage
showed the same peeling-paint symptoms.
Ventilation wasn't as it seemed—I did a quick blower-door test and found that the house was quite tight (1,000 CFM50). Then I checked the operation of the house's three ventilators to verify that air was in fact being exhausted. The central unit was moving hardly any air at the exterior vent hood, and one of the small units was incapable of opening the flap on its vent hood at all. The third small unit worked as it was supposed to. It was clear that the house, despite appearing well-ventilated, was suffering from too little air exchange. Humid air leaking from the house into the attic condensed on the roof sheathing and dripped back to the ceiling, causing stains.
In the unfinished basement, I taped 2-ft. squares of clear polyethylene to the concrete wall and to the basement slab. If there is a significant source of ground moisture, condensation often will bead on the backside of the poly. In this case, none was observed. Moisture-meter readings on the concrete appeared reasonable. However, I had noticed that the gutter down-spouts ran into standpipes leading down to the footing drains, not a good practice for keeping basements dry. I inspected the footing drains where they ran out to daylight, and no water was running, unusual for late spring in the northeast.
The mold in the lower corner of one of the bed-rooms appeared where the concrete sidewall met the wood-framed south wall. The basement's concrete walls continued beyond the building to form retaining walls on the east and west, and I strongly suspected a direct thermal bridge through the concrete. This bridge would keep the wall near the corner cold in the winter, causing a rise in the relative humidity at the wall surface. This increased relative humidity causes the moisture content of the wall surface to rise to the level where it will support growth of mold.
Moisture is the culprit—Virtually all of the interior problems could be corrected by substantially lowering winter moisture levels. This house needed reliable ventilation, so I suggested a new heat-recovery ventilator having adequate capacity (at least 100 CFM), and operating it enough to maintain 35% to 40% relative humidity in the heating season. The original ventilator was neither well-designed nor well-installed. Mold needed to be removed and the millwork repainted.
Even if the moisture is controlled, the south-east basement comer may still foster mold. This wall may need to be opened and insulated from the inside to maintain a higher interior surface temperature, and thereby a lower moisture content, not conducive to mold growth.
On the exterior, regrading would move water away from the building, and rotten trim could be replaced with wood primed on all sides. The gutter downspouts should be disconnected from the footing-drain system, and the drains should be checked for blockage. The clapboard laps could be wedged open with plastic wedges and allowed to dry. (Some cracking of the clapboards is likely to occur as the wood dries out.) Once dry, they could be repainted with a good latex paint.
Case #3: Problems common to conventional construction—In the third case study, the owner of a 32-year-old home complained of
room-to-room temperature variation in the winter, high utility bills and condensation in the attic. Located in a 5,000-degree-day heating climate, the house had forced-air gas heat. The second floor of this French Eclectic-style house was contained in flat-roofed dormers poking up through the steep hip roof. Kneewall spaces adjacent to the second-floor bedrooms were designed to be cold, and they were vented outdoors.
The bedrooms usually were cold—no mystery once I got in the crawlspaces. The ductwork to the bedrooms ran through the cold spaces, was leaky and had minimal insulation. The 2x4 kneewalls themselves were insulated with fiberglass batts, the backs of which were open to the cold. But the biggest offender was the fact that the 2x12 second-floor joist cavity was open to the knee walls. Cold outdoor air could flow into the kneewall cavity, through the joists and to the other knee-wall cavity. The net effect was like having an uninsulated floor in contact with the outdoors.
Heat loss through the ducts—The blower-door test gave a result of over 4,000 CFM50—very leaky. I started the furnace and used a smoke pencil—a small squeeze bottle containing chemical vapors that produce a smokelike gas on contact with air—to look for duct leaks. There were plenty. A good portion of the hot air generated by the furnace was not getting into the living spaces. There was a lot of leakage in the basement duct work and in the return side of the system, which used joist and wall cavities, some panned with sheet metal, as ducts. Another reason for the high utility bills was that the original furnace had been replaced in the late 1980s with a new unit that had a 67% efficiency rating—unimpressive at a time when furnaces were available with efficiency ratings as high as 95%.
Don't forget to replace the insulation. In his work, the author commonly finds conditions such as this uninsulated bathroom exhaust fan. The insulation, cleared away to make room for the retrofit fan and duct, was never replaced.
Close the gaps.
Poorly insulated heat-supply ducts raise the temperature of attics, increasing the chances of condensation and ice damming. In the attic, I found the source of moisture causing the condensation. A recent kitchen and bath remodel had added a number of recessed lights and two bathroom-ceiling exhaust fans. The insulation around each fixture and fan had been removed, and not the faintest attempt had been made to seal the ceiling penetrations. Most of the insulation in the attic was black with dirt, indicating rampant air leakage from the rooms below. Both fans had been vented with 3-in. flexible plastic duct, which had been flattened so that very little air actually made it outdoors. To top things off, the dryer had been vented through the roof, also with plastic duct. The duct was torn and hanging only by a wire rib to the roof vent cover. And the vent cover was screened and plugged with lint. The net result: All of the moisture from the dryer was venting to the attic.
Stem the flow of air on all fronts—To reduce air leakage in the house, I recommended the bath fans and recessed light fixtures be sealed. The insulation could be improved by filling the second-floor joists with blown-in, densepack cellulose insulation, or by sealing the joists from the kneewall area with rigid-foam insulation, foamed in place. The back of the kneewalls should be sealed with housewrap or drywall. Plastic sheeting should not be used on the cold or attic side of insulation because it can trap moisture inside the wall. Another alternative would be to insulate the sloped portions of the roof with dense-pack cellulose, bringing the kneewall areas within the heated envelope.
Ductwork should be sealed with latex mastic. Return ducts using standard joist bays should be lined with metal and sealed. Insulation should be added to ductwork in kneewall areas after it is sealed. Insulating basement ductwork would increase comfort by maintaining air temperature on the long duct runs. The dryer vent should be replaced with sealed metal ductwork. The long-term strategy would include replacing the low-efficiency furnace.
Tools for troubleshooting
I carry several instruments with me on all of my residential troubleshooting adventures. The first is a digital thermometer, useful for measuring attic temperatures, duct temperatures and the like. It costs about $20.
For measuring relative humidity, I use a sling psychrometer. This instrument consists of two thermometers, one of which has a dampened wick on the bulb. The tool is whirled around so that the thermometer bulbs are in moving air. The thermometer with the wick relates to how much moisture is in the air. The relative humidity is calculated from the two measurements.
A blower door—an instrumented, portable fan installed in an exterior door—is the tool for assessing how tight a house is and where the leaks are. My kit includes a two-channel, digital micromanometer, which measures pressure differences between indoors and outdoors, or between rooms or floors in a home.
A smoke pencil is a small plastic squeeze bottle containing chemicals that produce a visible gas on contact with air.
Finally, a moisture meter, which measures the moisture content of wood and other materials as a percentage of dry weight, is invaluable. —M. R.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
Sunday, 17 July 2011
The Well-Lit Kitchen
The hardest-working room in the house needs multi-layers of light to do its job
BY NANCY MCCOY
Layers of light provide flexibility in a multi-function room. Modern kitchens are often more than just a place to cook. Different types of lighting make work areas more efficient and recreation more inviting.
Down lights provide good ambient light. Recessed fixtures are relatively glare-free and can be used with incandescent or fluorescent lamps.
Remember the kitchen with one circular fluorescent tube in the ceiling? Back then, kitchens were places to cook, period, and that fixture was a high-tech way of lighting the cook’s work-space. These days, fluorescent fixtures still provide good light sources, but the kitchen is often part of a larger open space that also includes the breakfast, family and dining rooms. With such a wide assortment of activities and tasks, an area such as this one requires lots of different lighting created by a combination of incandescent, halogen and fluorescent fixtures. In this article, I’ll discuss a number of ideas for lighting a modern kitchen and some things to consider when choosing light sources.
Layers of light give you options
Quality of light directly affects your behavior, as anyone who has spent a winter near the Arctic Circle can tell you. Sunlight is the optimal light, but we’ve extended our lives past sundown and have to settle for artificial light sources. To make the best of the compromise, lighting designers think in terms of layers of light. Each of the four basic layers (ambient, task, accent and decorative) refers to one type of light in one area of the room; each light is controlled by a single dimmer or switch. Of the four types, accent lighting is rarely used in a kitchen.
Task lighting needs to be bright and shadow-free. Fixtures are mounted toward the cabinets’ fronts to direct light over the work and to reduce glare.
Layering light gives you the flexibility to create different moods or scenes in the room. For instance, a combination of undercabinet lights, recessed downlights and above-cabinet indirect fixtures creates good bright light for cooking. When it’s time to eat, the mood can be shifted from utilitarian to a more intimate setting by turning on indirect fixtures and dimming task lighting.
When you plan for layered light, there are some considerations to keep in mind: What do you want to light? What kind of fixtures and dimmers should you use? How reflective are the materials in the space? What sort of trims work better? When planning, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself first with the types of lamps and the quality of their light.
Halogen lamps shed good task lighting onto an island or table. Small MR16 lamps in adjustable downlights drive beams of light onto a work surface.
LAYERED LIGHT WORKS IN SMALL KITCHENS, TOO
Miniature strips of light mounted in the glass-front upper cabinets make them glow like lanterns. Below them, strip halogens or rope lighting hidden above the toe kicks shines a soft light onto the floor. A solitary halogen reflector above the sink, a task light when used with the recessed downlights, be- comes an accent light when used by itself. A variety of fixtures can change the character of a room and emphasize aspects of an intricate design. Here, recessed downlights with gold trims warm the maple cabinets. Cove lighting makes a good indirect source of ambient light. Controlled by a dimmer, cove lights can also serve as night-lights.
Ambient light can make the room feel bigger
The first job is to provide good general, or ambient, lighting. If you have a limited budget, you can still create good light by installing a 16-in. by 48-in. fluorescent fixture in the center of the ceiling that has color-corrected (80 on the color-rendering index, 3000°K) lamps and a 16-in. by 24-in. fluorescent directly above the sink. You’ll get lots of evenly distributed, natural-looking light.
On a larger budget, I like to use downlights recessed into the ceiling; Arranged around the perimeter of the room, downlights can illuminate the fronts of the upper cabinets, a trick that makes the room seem bigger. The light that grazes the cabinet doors highlights the molding profiles and illuminates the inside of the cabinet when you open the door. I start the layout by centering fixtures on the cabinet door or on pairs of doors, about 6 in. to 8 in. from the face frame.
When choosing downlight lamps for this application, I prefer a wider beam spread and softer punch of light, so I usually specify 100w halogen A-lamps, which have the widest beam spread available. This type of lamp will also throw supplemental task lighting on countertops and help to erase harsh shadows. If I want a narrower, more intense beam of light, I use 75w PAR30 halogen floods. When the ceiling is high (10 ft. or more), I sometimes use recessed downlights to supplement a pendant. This option provides a soft fill light in the space.
Once you’ve taken care of the essentials, you can get creative with cove lighting. If you have high ceilings, lights above the upper cabinets give a wash of light that’s shadow-free. Cove lighting can be used as ambient light in conjunction with task lights or by itself as a night-light. You need a minimum of 18 in. between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. I generally prefer fluorescent lighting here because the lamps have a 20,000-hour life and bounce large amounts of soft light off the ceiling. I center 4-ft. fluorescent tubes end to end on the top of the cabinet to prevent shadow lines between the fixtures from appearing on the wall. To shield the view of the fixtures from below, you must have a 4-in. fascia projecting from the top of the cabinet. Halogen strip lighting can also be used here and has the added attraction of being easily dimmed.
Understanding Kelvin color temperature
The designation Kelvin color temperature describes the warmth or coolness of a light source. Measured in degrees, the scale ranges from 1700°K to 7500°K; the lower the number, the warmer the color.
Candlelight, sunsets, incandescent lamps and halogen lamps produce a warm color of light. Noonday sunlight, cool white fluorescent and daylight fluorescent bulbs produce a cool color of light.
Residential interiors and skin tones generally look better under a warm color of light. New fluorescent lamps are typically rated in three Kelvin temperatures: 3000°K, 3500°K and 4100°K. The first two are most commonly used in residential lighting.
Candlelight Incandescent Halogen Warm fluorescent Cool white fluorescent Daylight fluorescent
1700°K 2700°K 3000°K 3000°K 4100°K 5000+°K
When you hear “light bulb,” you usually think of the familiar incandescent bulb (1), or lamp, as it’s known in the industry. Always available and inexpensive, incandescents have good color rendering and come in a wide variety of sizes and wattages, including the newer rope lights (2). Less energy efficient, incandescents are the shortest-lived lamps on
Halogen lamps are incandescents that are filled with halogen gas, which makes the lamp burn brighter and last longer. The color of the light is whiter than an incandes- cent, the color rendering is excellent, and the different types of bulbs last approxi- mately 2,500 to 10,000 hours. Miniature 12v bulbs, like those used in puck lights (3), can be used in undercabinet task lights; 12v and 120v reflector shapes (4) are used in re- cessed downlights. Like regular incandescents, halogens can be dimmed with standard line-voltage and low-voltage dimmers. Due to the excessive heat the lamps generate, manufacturers recommend that halogens not be used in confined spaces.
The most efficient lamps for indoor residential use are fluorescents. They generate 4 to 5 times more lumens per watt than incandescent bulbs, produce less heat and have a longer life, as much as 20,000 hours. In the past few years, compact shapes that have become more available can be used in recessed downlights and decorative fixtures. These new compact shapes include twin-tube (5), triple-tube (6) and quad-tube biaxial shapes that can squeeze more light from incandescent-size bulbs. To estimate equivalent incandescent wattage from a fluorescent, multiply fluorescent wattage times four. For example, one 26w quad-fluorescent equals a 100w incandescent.
Instead of the cool blue light, the new color-corrected triphosphor lamps make room finishes and skin tones appear more natural; I like 3000°K and 82 CRI fluorescent tubes.
The familiar cool white lamps should not be used in modern residential construction because they give cabinets, food and people a slightly blue-green cast. N. M.
Task lighting can come from the ceiling or under the cabinets
Task lighting should be bright, as shadow-free as possible and focused on places where you mince garlic, read a cookbook or watch a candy thermometer. When used as task lights, downlights work best positioned over an island or table where their beams can can- cel each other’s shadows. In a kitchen with an 8-ft. to 10-ft. ceiling height, I like to use incandescent downlights with small 50w MR16 halogen reflector bulbs or 75w PAR- 30 floods on 5-ft. to 6-ft. centers over islands or tables. If I use compact fluorescent lamps, I reduce the interval between fixtures a bit toabout4ft.to5ft. o. c. Over the sink, two similar fixtures spaced 15 in. to 18 in. apart work well.
One problem with downlights is that the upper cabinets create shadows on the countertop, the main workspace of the kitchen. Undercabinet lights, either fluorescent or halogen, are a good remedy. The first thing to consider for under cabinet task lighting is the location of the fixtures. They should be mounted at the front edge of the cabinet’s underside, for two reasons: First, the task is at the front of the counter, not at the back where the canisters are placed. Second, when you’re sitting at the adjacent table, you won’t see the fixtures because they’re hidden by the lower edge of the face frame. Slim fluorescent fixtures and halogen strip lights are commonly used for task lighting. Halogens are initially more expensive but are easily dimmed, whereas fluorescents are inexpensive to buy but costly (about $25 per lin. ft.) to dim.
The countertop material is important, too. Any highly polished material will reflect undercabinet lights, and glare can be distracting when you’re trying to work. Matte finishes are more compatible with undercabinet task lighting. However, if the kitchen has a shiny marble counter, I try to use 12v halogen puck lights spaced every 12 in. to 18 in. o. c. These individual sources aren’t as noticeable as a long continuous strip of fluorescents or halogens.
“Your eye is always drawn to the brightest object in the room. Don’t let that be a light bulb.”
Decorative pendants create an intimate glow. A row of small incandescent fixtures provides a uniform wash of light across the table and contributes to the ambient light in the larger space.
SELECTING RECESSED-DOWNLIGHT REFLECTOR FINISHES
Recessed downlights are available with five basic types of reflectors known as trims. These trims help to direct the light, to reduce excess light at the ceiling and to affect the quality of light, so it’s a good idea to think about what you need before you spend $15 to $25 for each reflector.
Gold specular: Wood cabinetry and skin tones can be enhanced with gold trims, which cast a warm glow. These trims can also make white colors look slightly muddy.
Black specular: Used when you don’t want to notice the fixture. Black absorbs stray light at the ceiling, reduces glare and focuses your attention on the object
Clear specular: Polished chrome is good for rooms with stainless-steel or similar finishes; the trim doesn’t add any color to the light.
Black or white step-baffle reflector trims:
Some people buy white step-baffle downlights because they look so good when they are turned off. When the recessed white step-baffle fixture is lighted, it becomes the brightest object in your field of view. If the ceiling height is 12 ft. or more, you could install white step-baffle trims because the light fixture would be out of your peripheral view. Baffles are easier to clean than specular reflectors and usually cost about 10% to 20% less.
Pendants add a decorative light source over islands and tables
Used in conjunction with recessed down-lights for task lighting, decorative fixtures add a soft ambience and human scale to the kitchen. Large-diameter, bowl-shaped pendants covered with translucent frosted glass fill a room with light; a line of smaller fixtures is a good option, too. A hanging fixture should have at least 30 in. of space over a tabletop; over an island or counter where someone is likely to stand and lean, the fixture should hang a bit higher, at least 36 in. to 48 in. from the horizontal surface.
The cabinets themselves are another good lighting location. Miniature halogen strip lights or rope lighting can be installed be- hind a fascia at the base of the cabinets. These 12v circuits (or 24v for longer runs) make great light sources for a change in mood or as night-lights. I don’t recommend this lighting technique if the kitchen has a polished floor; you’ll see the lighting fixture reflected in the finish.
These same fixtures look even better inside a glass-front cabinet. Hidden behind the face frame, the slim fixtures make the cabinet interiors glow like lanterns, especially effective in low-light conditions.
Dimmers make lighting creative
If you have a room full of lights that are controlled by a simple switch, it’s like having a stereo that has no volume control: It’s on and really loud, or off and completely quiet, there’s nothing between. I use lots of dimmers because you can vary the intensities of light according to your mood or the task at hand. As I said earlier, incandescents are easier to dim than fluorescent fixtures. I like a dimmer that all family members can operate and that has a red or green LED night-light
Have you have ever gone to a sports game and noticed the orange lights in the parking lot? What color is your blue car under one of these lights? Who knows? Your blue car looks gray or brown. This example is a good illustration of the color-rendering index, which refers to how realistic colored objects will appear under a given light source. The scale ranges from 0 (the worst) to 100 (the best) and is listed on all fluorescent lamps. Daylight, incandescent and halogen sources render colored objects well and are rated at 100. Cool white fluorescent lamps have a CRI of 64. This rating means that 64% of the objects look normal and 36% don’t look normal under this light source. There are also new fluorescent lamps that now use tricolor phosphor coatings that equally mix blues, greens and reds; the three primary colors make everything look better under these sources. With a CRI in the 70s or 80s, they’re ideal for residential use. N. M.
that locates the dimmer in a dark room. Lutron and Lightolier both make good ones that cost about $25 each.
For rooms that have more complex lighting schemes, I sometimes specify programmable scene controllers that feature a one-button touch to create an entire scene. Two examples are the Grafik Eye by Lutron or the Compli Scenist by Lightolier; these scene controllers integrate four dimmers into a four-gang box; four buttons on the faceplate are programmed to control four different combinations of lighting levels. Programming is simple, and it’s easy to make changes later. Plus, the dimmer is below the button if you want to override the preset. Another application that’s often overlooked is installing a dimmer that controls outdoor deck lighting. This option gives you the ability to get lots of light on the barbecue while you’re cooking and then to lower the level at dinner: no more floodlights while dining under the stars.