Bellingham Athletic Club

Let There Be Light

I love September in the Northwest. The leaves turning red and gold, fresh apples off the trees and the crisp feel of the morning air. What I’m not crazy about are the shorter days, with less natural light. Light plays a crucial part in our health and as Fall creeps in, it takes more work to get the right light for different activities. The solution is to have different levels of light, from low to bright, soft to intense, and everywhere in between.

Using different bulbs, fixtures and switches will help create a variety of lighting options. Here’s a basic guide for interior lighting choices.


Incandescent bulbs are the old school screw-in A-type bulbs. Of all the bulbs on the market, they are the least inexpensive and efficient. They aren’t recyclable and should be tossed in the garbage. Incandescent halogen bulbs have been slowly replacing incandescent bulbs. These bulbs are dimmable, with a wide range of light value and come in soft or warm colors. While halogens are 25% to 30% more efficient, they are also significantly more expensive. The idea is that they last longer, save energy and cost less over time.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) are the spiral looking bulbs. They are more energy-efficient, have a warmer light and are more expensive than the halogen bulbs. They take a while to warm up, are not dimmable, and need to be recycled. Because of their size and shape, CFLs don’t fit in some fixtures or lampshades.

Light-emitting diodes (LED) are the most efficient. They have a bright light, turn on instantly and last the longest. They are dimmable which is great for lighting levels. LEDs come in several colors of lights making them versatile for specific uses. They don’t need to be recycled. Puget Sound Energy often has deals on these lights, mostly on the brightest and coolest bulbs.


Recessed cans are used in ceilings to provide a cone of illumination. They are often used in the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and hallways. Cans can be used on their own, as spotlights for areas of interest in a room, or provide a level of light that enhances other fixtures. Cans are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and finishes.

Track lighting is a system of lighting where light fixtures, such as pendants or cans, are attached anywhere on a continuous track device which contains electrical conductors. Tracks are great for providing multiple directions of light along one line. They are often used in kitchens, dining rooms, and closets. There is an endless variety of possibilities of tracks and their fixtures.

Task lights are for specific areas of work and reading that require bright light. Under-cabinet mounted lights in the kitchen are a good example of task lighting for meal prep. Table and floor lamps can be task lights used for reading, crafts, and detailed work.


Rocker switches are easy to use for all ages and stages of life. The rocker switch turns the light on and off. Rocker switches can have a dimmer lever which makes them versatile for light control.

Motion sensors turn on as soon as they sense motion. They can be set on a timer to turn off after a certain amount of time with no motion. These are useful in bathrooms, halls, and rooms that are used infrequently.

Touch sensor switches respond to touch on the light plate. They can be used to turn a light on and off or to dim with a touch or swipe. These can be wall switches for room light fixtures. They are also found on lamps.

Smart switches are gaining popularity as home heating/lighting systems and appliances are run from central home control hubs. They are programmable with smart home systems, set on timers and levels of light. Smart switches can be accessed remotely with computers and cell phones.

All of these switches can be illuminated to be easily found in the dark. My recommendation is to add lights to just a few switches in the home, especially the bedroom. Too many will add a lot of light to a room and may disturb sleep.

When used together, bulbs, fixtures, and switches provide a variety of amounts and colors of light. When planning on new lighting, consider what activities will be happening in the room to figure out what levels will be needed. For instance, the kitchen will need a ceiling light source for all over-illumination. Task lighting should be available for food prep. If the kitchen has an eating bar, dimmable pendants on a track will add soft ambiance for eating or brightened for detail work like homework.

Good lighting is important for safety and comfort in our homes. There are many more types, shapes, and colors than this list. Make sure that there is enough light where it’s needed, that there are provisions for options of intensity, and that lighting controls are easily accessible by everyone in the house.

Susie Landsem
Aging in Place by Design
Susie is a consultant for Aging in Place. Contact her if you have questions about adding safety and comfort solutions to your home.