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How to optimize your home lighting design based on color temperature

Christopher Null | Feb. 24, 2015
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.

Some studies suggest that light in the blue portions of the spectrum can help you wake up in the morning, making cool white and daylight bulbs especially suitable for bedrooms. "This 'upper high-Kelvin' light can trigger a photoreceptor called melanopsin that helps set your body's daily cycles and can keep you more attentive and alert — so, for example, you can read and study longer, comprehend better, and make fewer errors," says Michael Gottsacker, director of marketing for Verilux, which sells light-therapy products.

That said, there's no real need to replace your warm bulbs with daylight bulbs (which will kill the romantic mood in the evening and can make it tough for you to get to sleep). One option is to simply use the screen of your laptop or tablet to mimic this wavelength of light in the morning to get you ready for the day.

No matter what you do to change the light around you, remember that it will impact your mood and your overall health. "Light can even make your immune system work more effectively," says Sally Augustin, Ph.D., a practicing environmental psychologist.

How to tune color temperature in your home

There are a few popular basic strategies when it comes to choosing bulbs for the home. Perhaps the most popular is to select a color temperature you like — typically in the warm light range — and install these bulbs everywhere. This has the advantage of making your home's lighting uniform, which makes transitions from one room to the next less jarring.

Alternately, warm bulbs can be used for the primary lighting in areas like the living room, dining room, bedrooms, and hallways; and cool or daylight bulbs can be used where more attention to fine detail is required. Bathrooms, the garage, offices, the kitchen (particularly fixtures directly over work areas), and focused task lights like reading lamps are good candidates for cool white or daylight lighting. There are no hard and fast rules about where to use which type of bulb. Ultimately, you'll have to experiment to see which looks best to you in each fixture in the house.

But that's just the beginning. Thanks to the rise of LEDs, which are available in a much wider range of colors than have been available through other technologies, "color tuning" has become an increasingly popular option for consumers looking to really define their homes through lighting design.

A new breed of LED bulbs lets you switch between cool and warm light with abandon — or set the bulb to any other color under the sun. Products in this rapidly growing space include Philips Hue, Lifx,Taba Lumen, Osram Lightify,Cree,GE Link, and iLumi. Each is designed to replace your existing bulbs, and many can be controlled using a mobile app via a wireless network (not necessarily Wi-Fi). Some allow you to use the app to tweak the color temperature (or choose a wild alternative color to set a fun or festive mood) in addition to turning the bulb on and off and establishing schedules for the same.


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