How to Plan Lighting Into Your Renovation Project
Whether you want to update or completely renew your electrics, it’s never too early to start planning, say our experts
Professional advice from: Anatoly Alekseev of Black & Milk; Luke Locke-Wheaton of The Lighting Design Studio; Stuart Wighton of Wighton Architects
Stuart Wighton recommends you start with the function of the room. “This often helps inform what type and style of lighting would be most suitable,” he says. “Is task or mood lighting required? Does it need to be flexible and provide a series of options?”
“You need to consider the colour temperature of the light sources, too – how warm or cool the light appears,” Luke Locke-Wheaton adds. “Warm white is often preferred in UK homes.
“Another important element is the colour rendering index, or CRI, of the LED,” he says. The CRI measures a light’s ability to reproduce the colours of objects faithfully in comparison with a natural light source. “Some LEDs are much better than others,” he says. “Go for a minimum of CRI90 if budget permits.”
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Layers of light are key, Luke advises. “Think about general, task and accent lights. You need these different layers to be controlled separately to provide flexibility with different light scenes,” he says. “Consider the control and number of circuits required from the beginning. Each type of light should be on a separate circuit.”
Anatoly Alekseev explains the different types of lighting further. “Task lighting is for accomplishing a task, such as reading in a study area,” he says. “Accent lighting draws attention to something to create drama or give character to a space – for example, a light focused on a painting or plant. Ambient lighting is the general lighting needed for any space.”
“The lighting needs to relate to the functionality and end use of the room,” Stuart explains. “A kitchen will need task lighting, but also general, everyday lighting, with the flexibility to further change during the evening.”
“To create a relaxed, cosy atmosphere, you need drama, contrast, areas of shadow and pools of light,” Luke says. “Try to incorporate lighting into the fabric of the building – for example, light that washes along joinery or in the shadow gap between two surfaces.”
He also suggests you avoid too many downlights, as it can be quite uniform and “results in the ceiling and top third of walls being relatively dark”.
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The design and position of lighting should be planned very early in the project. “A lighting plan will help ensure you have enough illumination for the space and will make it easier for a builder to quote for the job,” Anatoly says. “Draw up a circuit plan to show which switches control which lights.”
The electrics are fitted at two key stages of a renovation project: first fix and second fix. Luke explains that cables are run in during the first fix, and says, “This will be done early in a project, before ceilings and walls are lined and plastered.”
If you’re planning to have recessed floor lights, installation tubes will be fitted during the first fix, Luke adds, as will plaster-in rings for trimless downlights.
“Second fix, where fittings are installed, is one of the last things on a project,” Luke says. “You don’t want your beautiful new light fittings getting damaged on site or covered in dust and paint.”
“Once the building work starts and just prior to first fix, we recommend walking around with the electrician to confirm locations and quantities of all fixtures and fittings,” Stuart says. “Using the plan developed during the design stage enables any variations to be quantified and any costs to be adjusted.”
While a small amount of retrofitting is feasible, the consensus from our experts is that lighting is best installed while you’re renovating.
“If you’re moving or adding a few downlights, for example, it can be done without much disruption,” Anatoly says. “However, if you’re changing the lighting system altogether, it needs to be done as part of the bigger renovation project, which may cause disruption.”
“However, it depends on the project and make-up of the walls, floor and ceiling,” Luke adds. “If walls and ceilings are being replaced or replastered, then rewiring may not be much of an issue.”
It’s a good idea to add some flexibility into your lighting plan. “It could be worth running extra cables from light switches or control system locations and keeping them coiled up in the ceiling,” Luke suggests. “The cost of a few metres of cable at this stage of a project is negligible compared to running new cables and having to redecorate in the future.
“Also, it’s certainly worth having some additional five-amp sockets in a room for plugging in floor or table lamps,” he says. “You don’t have to use them at first, but they could be useful if a room later changes function.”
It’s worth going for smart technology when it comes to lighting, say our experts, but you don’t have to rely on this entirely.
“A fully automated smart home lighting system is the best in terms of future-proofing,” Anatoly says. “However, if you don’t have the budget for this, incorporating smart bulbs that can be controlled with Wi-Fi or via a voice-command system can provide additional flexibility.”
“We often look at hard-wiring fittings, so the reliance purely on wireless is minimised,” Stuart says. “As more devices access the wireless network, there are potential issues with interference. Having your house hard-wired means you can not only take advantage of wireless, but also know that, should the network become compromised, you have a hard-wired solution already set up.
“With home working and the increase in home computers and internet-compatible devices, clients are hard-wiring all rooms to create maximum flexibility for the future,” Stuart adds. “While it may not seem much to put in a data port for internet-compatible devices in each room, it does involve running a Category 6 data cable back to a central switch from each data point.”
It’s easy to comply with lighting rules, according to Luke. These are covered in Part L of Building Regulations, which focuses on the conservation of fuel and power.
“Seventy-five per cent of lighting, or three out of four lights, need to be energy-efficient,” he explains. These should be better than 45 lamp lumens per circuit watt, which means they can be either fluorescent or LED.
In a bathroom or outside, you should choose an IP65 fitting in the wettest zones and an IP45 in damp areas. “Specialists can explain lumen levels and other similar best practices to ensure compliance,” Anatoly says.
Whether or not you need to rewire depends on how the existing wiring will be affected by the project, Anatoly explains. “As a rule of thumb, if the wiring is 10 years’ old or you’re changing 50% of the outlets, you’re better off rewiring the whole system,” he says.
“Recent regulations [BS7671, 2015/16] stipulate that consumer units need to be made out of metal (not plastic), so, in most cases, the fuse box will need to be replaced,” he adds.
“If the wiring is old and uses the old cable colours (black instead of blue for neutral), then a rewire is needed,” Luke says. “If you want to move lots of light fittings, or add more fittings and/or more lighting circuits to a room, then it’s sometimes easier to rewire the whole space. If the existing wiring is dangerous, then obviously it should be replaced.”
“If you’re buying a house or looking to undertake significant work on a dwelling, it’s worth getting a qualified electrician to carry out a survey,” Stuart recommends. “This will quickly highlight the condition of the existing wiring and whether you need to replace it or not.
“If you’re refurbishing, always consider the state of the electrics,” he adds, “because replacing them at a later date once you’ve completed the main works will not only be costly, but very disruptive.”
“Most smart bulbs are LEDs that consume less energy,” Anatoly says, “but you can also manage usage with dusk-to-dawn timers and motion detectors.”
Luke recommends using LED lights throughout your home. “They’re much more efficient than incandescent or halogen fittings and can save 90% on energy usage,” he says. “Also, lighting control circuits should be dimmable to massively reduce energy use.”
Have you ever had new lighting fitted during a renovation? What tips did you pick up? Share your experiences in the Comments section.