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Lighting 101: Common Configurations

Light fixtures are a rather diverse subject.

Due the power of the human imagination, and the ingenuity of the human mind, the shape, size and style of light fixtures are extremely varied. Unlike other home fixtures, such as faucets, which differ very little from one another, the choices for light fixtures are nearly endless. However, it is possible to gain an understanding of this varied subject by reviewing some of the basic lighting fixtures. Lamps are without a doubt the first light fixture that comes to mind when someone thinks of a light fixture. The iconic image of an incandescent bulb sitting a lamp covered by a shade is something most people grew up sleeping next to. Often dreading having to reach inside to turn the thing off while temporarily blinding themselves. This type of light is iconic for a reason, lamps are the direct decedents of earlier gas lit and even earlier candle lit lamps. The lamps is simply relic of centuries old light schemes. But, the common lamp is extremely adept at providing light and remains in wide use even though the method by which it produces light has changed dramatically over time. Lamps today are becoming increasingly more useful. Compact fluorescent bulbs has given the common lamp a new lease on life by reducing energy consumption four fifths when compared to incandescent bulbs. Recent studies regarding over illumination have shed new light on the value of lamps as light fixtures which provide adequate yet subtle amounts of light. The most important value of lamps is their impermanence. Lamps can be moved easily when a room is redecorated or house remodeled, even if the home owner moves from one home to another. In practice, lamps have even outlasted many of the their original owners and become family heirlooms or valuable antiques. Recessed lighting is increasingly more common in new homes. Builders will readily install recessed lights to illuminate wide areas, a practice known as general lighting. However, the use of general lighting and recessed lighting should be limited. Recessed lights are only efficient on high or vaulted ceilings. Limiting the use of this type of lighting to task lighting is advisable, as it will save the homeowner a sizable amount of money on their electric bill. Track lighting is useful, convenient, and sometimes just looks good. Likely one of the most useful developments in lighting in recent decades, track lighting well suited to almost any purpose. Because the lights are installed on a configurable track, this type of lighting is easily reconfigured to fit the changing demands of the homeowner. This ability to be configured over and over again is the ultimate value of the fixture. Track lights also enable the basic lighting schemes, general lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. If someone wanted to go through a light fixture catalog, they'd find quite a few types of special lights, sconces, pendant lights, chandeliers, the list goes on and on. Chandeliers are perhaps the ultimate designer fixture. These fixtures were once a status symbol, the more elaborate the chandelier, the wealthier the owner. The same is true today, but new homes are graced by increasingly dull chandeliers. In the minds of most people a dining room or formal entry way are incomplete without a nice chandelier, however too often in modern times does the chandelier look like its made out of shiny plastic. Upgrading a home's chandelier(s) is a quick way to increase the aesthetic and cash value of a home. Similar in concept to chandeliers are pendant lights. These are fixtures which hang from the ceiling and, but unlike chandeliers, usually contain a single light. Pendants are meant to provide a limited area with a subtle but very attractive and well placed light. Pendants also vary in size and can be used alone or in groupings. A small cluster of pendant lights is very attractive and increased the value of the home's lighting scheme. Sconces are attractive wall fixtures that radiate light onto the wall around them. These fixtures vary in style and material, but like chandeliers, no homeowner should make use of sconces that look cheap. Akin to lamps, sconces provide an even and appropriate amount of light to homes. Mostly used as accent lighting and in hallways, sconces are uncommon in most households. However, their increasing popularity among light fixture producers will likely guarantee these fixtures will one day become commonplace.