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Sensational kitchen lighting makeover for net zero energy home

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Green Renovations

We're nearing completion of our kitchen renovation. It's time to work on the lighting. The kitchen is small, only 9' x 11', so lighting is crucial to making the space feel warm and functional.

Good lighting is tough to achieve. It's not just about brightening the space. Lighting requires understanding three things:

  1. Lumens - how bright is the bulb?
  2. Kelvins - what is the color of the light - is it cool blue or warm yellow?
  3. Watts - how much energy does it use? More watts means you waste more energy but doesn't mean you get any better lighting. Choose the bulbs with lowest watts per lumen. Check out this great video from the Department of Energy.

To confuse matters more, you need different kitchen lighting for different tasks; you need to pay attention to how lights bounce off of walls and the shadows they cast; you need to decide on control switches (how do lights turn on, off, or dim); and finally, you need to pick attractive fixtures that you'll love for years to come.

With the help of our rock star electrician Dan DelZoppo (yes, that's his real name - he was born to be an electrician) we made this lighting plan:

Pick the fixtures

Picking fixtures is the fun part. The kitchen is not big so we only needed a general central light, a light over each butcher block, a task / accent light over the sink, a task light over the range, and a light outdoors by the kitchen door.

You don't need to spend a lot on good lighting to get great results. But paying a bit more for a couple of key details in a kitchen can make it look like a million bucks.

schoolhouse shade
Photo credit to Schoolhouse Electric

General lighting: Keeping with the traditional style of the kitchen, we got the three ceiling lights from Schoolhouse Electric. The flush center ceiling fixture is the Otis with an opal schoolhouse glass shade with hand-painted black lines. The single bulb is a super-efficient 9 watt, 2700 Kelvin (warm) LED bulb from Philips.

Task lighting: Over each counter we chose Schoolhouse Electric pendant fixtures with matching shades and 3 watt, 2700 Kelvin LED bulbs from Philips.

under cabinet LED lights

For above the sink we went to Gross Electric in Ann Arbor and purchased LED strip lights to install under the cabinets. They use less than 10 watts. Unlike the ceiling lights, the under cabinet strip is 3000 Kelvins. This is a little whiter (cooler) color than the ceiling lamps - but the kitchen is one of the few places you want details to look a little less yellow than in your living room. The lights cast a great shadow on our beveled subway tiles and give the backsplash some extra dimension.

Trading up to efficient LED bulbs

For maximum efficiency you should look at every light bulb in every appliance and see if you can trade up to a more modern LED bulb.

Our refrigerator and freezer had a total of three incandescent light bulbs that were using a whopping 40 watts each!! That's 80 watts just in the fridge. To put this in perspective, Whirlpool's biggest fridge uses less energy than a 60 watt light bulb.

LED fridge light

Notice in this photo that my wife is holding the incandescent refrigerator bulb on a potholder. When I took it out of the fridge the bulb was so hot she couldn't hold it in her bare hands. That means wasted energy - both to light the bulb and to keep the food cold.

Fridge with LED lighting

I replaced the bulbs in the fridge, freezer, and under the over-the-range microwave with LED bulbs that were 3000 Kelvins and use only 3 watts each. The old bulbs totaled 170 watts (50 for the microwave and 120 for the fridge/freezer). The LEDs will now use only 15 watts total.

Control switches - The lights are on but nobody's home (a.k.a. The Snooki Syndrome)

If you've ever done the elbow dance to turn off a light switch while carrying a tray of food from the kitchen, you know why kitchen lights end up being left on all the time. Every light in our kitchen will turn off automatically if we forget to turn them off or forgo the precarious elbow dance.

We control the center lights and task/accent lights separately. Each set of lights has its own vacancy sensor switch from Wattstopper by Legrand. The switches have an infrared sensor that detects when the room has been left vacant. If you forget to turn off the lights, the switch turns them off for you after you leave the room.

LED outdoor lights timer

For our outside porch light off of the back of the kitchen, we installed a timer switch. If you're just running out to the car or taking out the recycling, you can set the timer for anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes. If you plan on being out there all night, you can select HOLD and allow the lights to stay on until you turn them off manually.

Looks great/saves energy

When we first bought our home, the kitchen had only one light bulb and it used 100 watts. Now we have seven different lights that provide gorgeous lighting for every task. Yet when all these lights are on at the same time, they use only 32 watts. We have designer lighting at only 1/3 the energy cost of the lousy single bulb we started with.

As a bonus, the vacancy sensor switches make it impossible for anyone to leave the lights on when they are serving no purpose in an empty room.

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  1. 1 Response  to “Sensational kitchen lighting makeover for net zero energy home”

  2. Feb 7, 2014
    I have that same pot holder! This makes me want that Whirlpool fridge and plus... it looks pretty snazzy.