How to optimize your home lighting design based on color temperature
Light is light, right? Not exactly. The light that comes from the overhead fluorescents at your office is nothing like the light that pours from your favorite chandelier at home or that of the bedside lamp that lets you read your favorite novel to help you fall asleep.
That’s because different light sources produce light with different color temperatures. In the early days of energy conservation, everyone recommended replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs because the latter consumed less electricity. But few people liked the tradeoff because of the quality of light the energy-efficient bulbs produced.
That didn’t stop Congress from mandating the phase-out of incandescent bulbs, but it did prompt the lighting industry to come up with better alternatives. As you think about which type of lighting to use in your home, you should consider how you can use color temperature to optimize your environment. Here’s everything you need to know.
How color temperature works
To understand why color temperature is important, you must first understand what it is. This can be a tricky concept, so let’s break it down to basics.
Imagine a hypothetical black, metal object—say, the filament of an incandescent light bulb. Now begin heating this filament with hypothetical fire. As the filament heats up, it will begin to glow, first red, then yellow, then white, and then various shades of blue as the flame gets hotter and hotter.
Certain temperatures of this flame, measured on the Kelvin temperature scale, correspond to various wavelengths of light from the filament. The bottom end (around 1800 Kelvin, or 1800K) corresponds to the intensely red-orange light from a match or candle. At the high end (15000K and up), the readings correspond to the light observed looking up at a clear, blue sky.
Matching color temperature to your environment
If you’ve ever replaced an incandescent light bulb with a fluorescent bulb and remarked about how cold, off-putting, or downright ugly the room looked after your upgrade, you’ve experienced how dramatic an impact color temperature can have.
Everything in a room is impacted by the light source in that room. A wall that is white under a 3200K light source can look green under a 4000K light source. That same wall under a 2500K light source may look yellow. This is why designers advise you to place lighting elements and choose bulbs before you paint and furnish a room. “The color paint you pick under the fluorescent bulbs at a hardware store might look very different when you get it under the light bulbs you have at home,” says Cory Bergeron, an author and video production professional.
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