After giving a general overview last week of what’s needed for the specifications for the plumbing, mechanical and electrical subs, I thought it would be helpful to go into more detail about the lighting and electrical plan that you will have to give to the electrician. There is so much to consider. I’ll give you a list of 50 suggestions that you can use as a checklist to help you develop a pretty complete electrical and lighting plan before you even meet your builder or electrician for the lighting walkthrough.
The lighting walkthrough typically happens in the rough-in stage, after framing is complete and before the drywall goes up. Usually the homeowner will walk through the framed house with the electrician and/or builder and discuss where fixtures, outlets and light switches will go.
But thinking through the electrical and lighting plan well before you do the electrical walkthrough will allow you more time to consider exactly what features and outlets we want, and where. This decreases the chances of you forgetting an outlet or light switch somewhere. It will also give you an opportunity to develop more detailed specifications so you can get more accurate electrical bids before construction even begins.
You may want to do a walkthrough by yourself a time or two when developing your lighting plan, just so you can get your thoughts together and not feel rushed when you do the official walk through with the electrician and/or builder. I’ll give you some suggestions in list form. 50 suggestions here and 21 more tips in a bonus episode.
It’s probably best to make a written, room by room list of fixtures and features plus mark your house plan where the electrical fixtures, outlets and light switches will go. You can use different colored dots or symbols for light switches, outlets, recessed can lights, under cabinet lighting, and lighting fixtures, such as wall scones, table lamps, floor lamps and chandeliers. For example, you might symbolize all recessed can lights with black dots and light switches with red dots. Outlets could be blue and lighting fixtures could be green. If you really want to be helpful (and a little Type A), after you figure out what exact lighting fixtures you want to go in each room, you paste a photo of the fixture to a paper copy of your house plan. Paste each lighting fixture photo on the diagram of the room where it will go. That will serve as a master guide for your electrician when he installs your fixtures toward the end of the build.
Now about these electrical and lighting plan suggestions... most likely, not all of the suggestions will work for your family, house and lifestyle. Use what works for you and leave the rest. And keep in mind, these tips should go to into your preliminary lighting/electrical plan. You’ll want to go over the preliminary electrical plan and marked up house plan with your electrician and/or builder to see if they have any additional suggestions that would make your lighting plan more functional or more economical.
One of the first things you’ll want to do when starting your electrical plan is a rough furniture layout. Give some thought to where sofas, beds, tables, chairs, built-ins and televisions will go. That will make it easier for you to mark on your house plan where your lighting fixtures and sockets should be placed.
Also think about what you love and what you hate about the lighting in your current house when considering the lighting plan for your new house. I hate that my current house is dimly lit with yellowish light in the bathrooms, closets and laundry room. So in my new house I’m going to have plenty of neutral, non-yellow light in those areas.
OK, let’s get to those tips.
1. If you don’t want a smart lighting system that can be controlled by your smart phone or tablet, you’ll probably want a bedside switch to control all the bedroom lighting. Put that all-in-one bedroom lighting switch on at least one side of the bed, and both sides of the bed if you have a spouse or partner and if your budget allows. Place the switches above your bedside tables, a few inches away from the bed. Put any lights, including table lamps, that can not be reached from your bed on that bedside light switch circuit. You might want to put two switches on one plate— one switch to control bright, general and task lighting and one switch to control dimmer light that is easier on the eyes when you first wake up. Don’t forget to add similar switches near the bedroom door too to switch everything off when you leave.
2. Since we often use more than 2 sockets near our bedside tables, ask if code allows you to place extra large outlets near your bed. If so, Instead of going with the standard 2 socket outlet, ask your electrician for outlets with 4 or even 6 sockets, plus a USB port to change your phone.
3. Consider hanging pendants, small chandeliers or wall scones as your bedside lights, so you don’t have to crowd your nightstands with a table lamp.
4. Place bedside sockets between your nightstand and bed, instead of in hard-to-reach places like behind your bed or behind your nightstand. That way you won’t scuff your hands or have to move furniture each time you want to plug something up. Code might require that outlets be spaced every 4, 6 or 8 feet, so you might end up with sockets behind furniture anyway, but at least have a few extra outlets that are easily accessible.
5. If you’re not sure how many outlets you’ll need in a room, get more than you think you’ll need. If wondering about whether to put 4 or 5 outlets in a room, for example, go for 5. Better to have an extra outlet or 2 than not enough. But don’t go crazy with the extra outlets. Let’s face it, electrical outlet are not very attractive and the more you request, the more it will cost you.
6. Place electrical outlets inside a bathroom vanity drawer so you can plug in and store hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, and electric shavers. Make sure you use one of the top drawers for this so you can easily use the plugged in appliance while standing at the mirror. If you use a bottom drawer, the appliance cord may not be long enough to reach you.
7. If you sometimes charge your phone while you are in the bathroom getting dressed, get the electrician to add a USB port either in that vanity drawer with electrical outlets or on the bathroom wall.
8. Image yourself walking through every room of your house to help you decide where you should place light switches. In hallways, you probably want one switch at each end. Most average sized rooms will only need one light switch.
9. Place a light switch at every exterior exit-- not just the front door, but the side, back or garage entrance/exit doors too, and doors to decks or patios. Those light switches should control both interior and exterior lights.
10. Light switches to closets, pantries, garages, attics and basements should be placed outside of those spaces so you don’t have to enter a dark room and fumble for the light switch.
11. Alternatively, motion activated lights can be put in closets, pantries, garages, and attics, especially if you or your family members have a tendency to forget to turn the lights off when you leave those spaces. If your basement will be used mainly for storage, and not as a living area, a motion sensor light can be a good idea. But if your basement will be a living space where you’ll be relaxing on the sofa, without much movement for long periods of time, you probably don’t want motion activated lights there or you might find in the dark while you’re quietly reading a book.
12. Put light switches at the top and bottom of stair cases. And add small lights along the steps, if you have it in our budget. You can put stairwell lighting on a motion sensor.
13. Consider where you’ll want to hang pictures or art and avoid placing light switches in those places.
14. Many lighting designers and electricians warn against over lighting your house. They say too much light can be unattractive, plus it’s expensive. But if you hate a dark house like I do, you could add lots of lighting and put the fixtures on dimmers, so you can adjust the amount of light at different times of day and for different occasions.
15. An easy rule of thumb to remember for recessed can lights is that 4 inch cans should be spaced about 4 feet apart and 6 inch cans should be spaced about 6 feet apart. You may not need that much lighting in every room. Bedrooms, media rooms and some living spaces could probably function just fine with less lighting, but be generous with lighting in bathrooms, kitchens and closets.
16. Do NOT place light directly over your head as you stand in front of the bathroom vanity. That downlight will produce large unattractive shadows on your face, making shaving and doing your hair and makeup challenging. The best place to put lights for your bathroom vanity is on both sides of the mirror AND above and slightly in front of the mirror (not above your head, but above the mirror). If you can’t manage to do both, the second best option is put lights for your bathroom vanity either on both sides of the mirror OR above the mirror. The worst thing you can do is put a light in the ceiling right above your head.
17. Plan exactly where your dining table will go and place the lighting fixture so it centered over the dining table. That may or may not be the center of the room, but you want the light centered over the table not necessarily centered in the room
18. Don’t forget lighting on the outside of the house. Place some wall lights beside your doors, plus uplights and downlights on your house and in your landscape. You can also put motion sensor lights above your garage, in your front yard and/or your backyard.
19. Don’t forget to add ceiling fans. There was a time about 15 years ago when people avoided putting ceiling fans in custom homes, but that’s changed in recent years. Most of the model and show homes that I’ve recently visited, even the higher end ones, have ceiling fans in many bedrooms and some living spaces. Ceiling fans used to be kind of ugly, but there are some beautiful fans on the market now. And let’s face it, ceiling fans are practical as they allow our hot natured family members and guests to enjoy a cool breeze. If you live in a hot climate, consider adding outdoor ceiling fans to covered porches.
20. If you have plans for home automation, decide where to place control panels. Put them in places that are practical, but not in plain view of guests— maybe in corner of the kitchen, in the mudroom or even a closet. Talk to your electrician or builder or home automation specialist about where they think the home automation panel should go.
21. If your budget is tight, but you know you will want more lighting fixtures, a home theater, a finished basement, solar panels or an outdoor kitchen at some point in the future, ask the electrician to run the wires and cables to the areas where you have future plans. That way you can easily add those features when the time is right.
22. Remember that your lighting layout should take into account ceiling beams or other architectural and structural features.
23. If a bathroom has two entrances, such as in a Jack and Jill bathroom, remember to put light switches near each door.
24. Think about where your Christmas trees and holiday lights will go and add outlets in those places, both inside and outside. Add light switches to those areas too so you don’t have to crouch down and wrestle with the Christmas tree or garland to plug in and unplug the holiday lights. You could also ask to have a light switch that controls all the indoor holiday lights and request a second switch to control all the outdoor holiday lights. Put those switches in an out of the way place, like inside a coat closet, since they will only be used for a short time of the year. Another option would be to put those holiday lights on a timer.
25. If you or your children take naps regularly and you don’t want to be disturbed by the door bell, you can ask for an on/off switch for the doorbell. That way you can turn the doorbell off during nap time.
26. Kitchens often have outlets every 4 feet apart. That could be a lot of outlets scattered along your beautiful backsplash. Instead, have an outlet strips installed inconspicuously under upper cabinets.
27. In addition to putting an outlet strip beneath upper cabinets, add lighting under upper cabinets so you can clearly see as you are chopping, mixing or cleaning on the counter space below.
28. Think about where smoke and carbon monoxide detectors will go and make sure they are not in an area that bothers you. There are code requirements for this, but you can work out with your electrician the best place to put those detectors without going against code.
29. Put an outlet in broom closets for your rechargeable vacuum, steam mop or other small electronics.
30. Put an outlet near your toilet if you are considering a toilet seat bidet.
31. Ask for an outlet inside walk in closets for steaming or ironing clothes.
32. Put an outlet in the walk-in pantry in case you want to plug in small appliances like blenders. Some people like to place their microwave in the pantry.
33. Consider adding a ceiling fan, or outlets for a floor fan or table top fan in your bathroom or walk-in closet if you are prone to getting hot while getting dressed.
34. Ask yourself if you want lights in your built-ins. And if you want a television to go in any built-ins.
35. Speaking of televisions, decide where they will go and indicate whether they will be wall mounted.
36. Consider having different switches for recessed lighting and a chandelier, that way you can choose whether you want all the lights on at once or not.
37. Put weatherproof outlets and USB ports around outdoor living and dining spaces. This allows you to avoid running extension cords across those areas.
38. Don’t forget electrical outlets for hot tubs and swimming pool equipment.
39. Take pictures of the wiring and switches in each wall. Just before the sheet rock goes up, go from room to room and take the photos. You’ll be glad you have those pics when you need work done in the future in the wall. The images will help any electrician find the wires and they will help any other tradesperson avoid damaging the wires.
40. Indicate if you want heated towel racks in bathrooms and where. Also note if you want radiant heated floors.
41. Tell your electrician if you want a keypad entry option on garage and/ or front doors.
42. Don’t forget the wiring and cable hookup if you want an outdoor, waterproof television and speakers for outdoor audio.
43. Run a conduit along the driveway for future outdoor wiring needs and run a conduit along an interior wall from the basement to the attic for future indoor wiring needs. A conduit is just hollow tubing, some people even use PVC piping.
44. Add a master switch that controls all exterior lights at once or to put exterior lights on timers.
45. Add a master switch at each exit (Front, back or garage) that turns off all the lights in the house when you are leaving.
46. If you have a crawl space foundation, have lights put in that area for plumbers and other workers who might need to work under the house.
47. If you are considering solar panels, tell the electrician. Even if you don’t put in the solar panels right away, it’s easier for you can get the appropriate wiring installed during the construction phase.
48. Think about the placement of your breaker boxes. Put them a place that’s easy to get to, but not in plain sight— like the garage, mudroom or laundry room.
49. Show where all your kitchen appliances will be, large and small.
50. Place outlets in an kitchen appliance garage or some other hidden-away, easy-access place to store frequently used appliances, like coffee makers, toasters, blenders and can openers. That way you can use the appliances right in the garage.
Phew!!! That was quite a list. But remember I have another 21 suggestions that I put in a bonus post so this post wouldn’t be too long. Look for BYHYU 125.5.
You might also want to check out episode 103 called Lighting 101 for more information that help you understand lighting better and for more detail about different types of bulbs and hues of light.
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That’s all I have for you this week. I hope this helps you with your lighting plan and I hope you’ll stop by next week. Don't forget those bonus tips.