The bathroom is one of the few rooms in the home that requires high quality, well-designed lighting. From applying makeup and fixing your hair to bathing and checking out how you look—crisp and accurate lighting is always at the top of the list.
Effective bathroom lighting is actually several types of lights coordinated to form a system. Since there is no single, universal type of bathroom lighting that addresses all needs, a combination of three or four separate lights usually provides that system.
Bathroom Ceiling Light
A bathroom ceiling light is a light fixture or series of light fixtures located in the bathroom ceiling, usually at the center. Ceiling lights provide general lighting to the bathroom. General lighting is usually controlled by a switch near the door. A ceiling light helps you to become situated when you enter the bathroom, plus it provides background lighting for tasks at the mirror and counter. Rarely is the ceiling light the only source of light in the bathroom.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires at least one ceiling-mounted light controlled by a switch, though local electrical codes do have the final word on this requirement. Often, the ceiling light is part of a ceiling light and bathroom exhaust fan combination.
Wall Sconce Lights
Sconce lights are mounted in pairs, one on each side of the mirror and typically above the bathroom sink. Sconce lights mount directly to the wall and close to it. Shades block some or all of the light from shining in the user's eyes as he or she faces the mirror.
Sconce lights provide an excellent source of illumination because they add faint shadows to the face. This creates a better sense of dimension than lights pointed directly at the user's face.
Because sconce lights are usually situated at head level or a bit higher, they are more visible than other types of bathroom lighting. This visibility gives homeowners the opportunity to choose sconce lights with attractive shades so that the lights become style elements.
Bathroom Vanity Lights
Bathroom vanity lights are typically a bank of two or more lights located directly above the bathroom mirror. This bank of lights is usually on the same electrical circuit, controlled by the same light switch.
If any type of bathroom lighting can be considered the workhorse of the bathroom, it is the vanity light. Some bathrooms rely solely on the vanity light for all lighting needs, while other bathrooms may use both a ceiling light and a vanity light.
Due to their position above the bathroom vanity or counter, bathroom vanity lights are good at illuminating the countertop and sink. However, watch for vanity lights without adequate shading as they can shine too brightly in the user's eyes.
Most bathrooms today are pre-wired for vanity lights. If a light is not already installed, there should be an electrical box with a live, switch-controlled at that spot. Installing a bathroom vanity light is easy: usually, the light mounts directly on the electrical box with hidden or decorative screws.
Chandeliers are rarely a necessity in any room, much less a bathroom—but consider what a fantastic statement they make. Chandeliers are showy and fun and always a bit decadent. When the chandelier is above your bathtub, you feel like you are staying in a five-star hotel.
Your bathroom ceiling needs to be at least 10 feet high and preferably higher to accommodate a chandelier. Unless you have an unusually large bathroom, try to keep your chandelier on the smaller side so that you can keep all design elements in proportion.
Bathroom Recessed Lights
Recessed lights are popular throughout the house for their ability to illuminate rooms while remaining out of the way, either recessed or flush with the ceiling. Recessed lights are installed within holes cut into the ceiling; wires are run through the ceiling to connect multiple recessed lights to each other.
The great value of installing recessed lights in the bathroom is that it saves space. Small bathrooms especially can benefit from a recessed light or two located along the perimeter of the room. Recessed lights will always act as general lighting since the high angle provides poor illumination when standing at the sink or countertop.
Recessed lights are often positioned along room perimeters more so than in the center of the bathroom. But if the bathroom is large enough, it can have recessed lights in the center, as well.