Uncle Bobs Tips

Bathroom Lighting

Bathroom Lighting

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Bathroom lighting can be somewhat of a challenge to even the most creative designer and ardent DIY-er. This is because the bathroom requires a combination of different functions from its light sources. Ambient, task, and accent are the terms, now let's take a look.


Many designers and contractors place importance in the variety of lighting within the bathroom. In my book, task lighting is the most vital, and all the others take a back seat. You need to see what you're doing, but is it really a matter of life and death if you can't get the right ambiance for your W.C.? Vanity mirror lighting (which definitely is important) alone will not suffice for larger bathrooms, so a decent overhead fixture centrally located can supplement the rest of the room nicely.

Proper bathroom lighting plays an important role in the overall appearance of your bathroom. Too much light will overwhelm the mirror, and, while it may not seem important to have adequate lighting in the John, who wants to be sitting around in the dark (especially those who take the opportunity to do a little quality reading)? Practically speaking, good lighting is needed when applying makeup, shaving, or taking care of various other ablutions.

Something else that should be taken into consideration is the amount of light being given to the shower/bath area. This is an important safety measure, as insufficient lighting on a wet surface can be hazardous. Some would recommend a specific light for within the shower stall. I would not. While these lights are attractive in the original construction, maintenance can often be difficult, and DIY adjustments almost impossible. What I would suggest is simply arranging the main overhead fixture(s) in a reasonable place that allows light throughout the entire bathroom (after all, isn't that what it's for?)


Color-tinted lights are nice in the bedroom or living room, and are particularly good for highlighting or accenting a specific area or item. They are far less appropriate as bathroom lighting. A good compromise is a light bulb that gives off white light but creates a small arch of color around it (I've seen some really nice ideas done with these set on tracks).

Two fixtures placed on either side of the vanity provide ample lighting for the job. A large single light situated above the mirror also works, though it's not as good at eliminating surface shadows. Installing the proper lighting around the vanity can literally change your entire appearance*.

Let's get technical (finally!)

Halogen or incandescent lighting provides the strongest and cleanest light. This is the preferred choice for your task lighting convenience, as it will give you the best visibility. So here's the deal. Halogen lights are more expensive than their generic brethren. However, they last almost three times as long as regular incandescents will, so at the end of the day you're saving money by going with halogen. Xenon is the latest innovation in lighting options. This new product professes to last longer than halogens, give off a nicer, cooler color (a bluish tint, somewhere in between halogen and incandescent), and give off less heat, making it safer and more cost efficient. I haven't had enough experience with these yet to give a solid opinion, but I would say they are worth a try.

Replacing a light fixture can change the entire atmosphere of the room, and is one of the easiest DIY jobs out there.

Caution: Always shut off the electricity before working with outlets.

Fix the mounting strap to the wall. A mounting strap is a small piece of metal that is fitted over the electrical outlet. This is a federal safety requirement, and most fixtures come with this hardware included.

Attach the internal wiring to the fixture's wires. Your light fixture should come with specific instruction on how to properly connect the wiring. Each manufacturer has a different set of instructions, and they should be followed carefully. (Note: Make sure you're working with clean wires. Any slight imperfection on the wire should be cut, and the insulation trimmed accordingly.)

Once the wiring is complete, attach the actual light fixture to the wall/strap. Now why can't everything in life be summed up in three easy steps?


Many designers recommend flooding the room with light (that is supplying an overabundance of light), and then bringing the amount down to the required level by use of a dimmer system. I've seen this work effectively on numerous occasions.

Here's a good article if you are interested in a general overview on bathroom lighting and vanities. And anyone looking for a great DIY project this spring, check out installing bathroom vanities.

* UBT is not responsible for supplying you with a new excuse for why your wife looks. . .the way she does in the bathroom mirror once vanity lights are changed to the appropriate ones. Before attempting this project, weigh the pro's and con's carefully.

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