Home Lighting for "Aging In Place"

More than 90% of the population age 65 and over say that they want to stay in their homes as they age.  Statistics are showing that this is becoming more and more common and is referred to as, “Aging in Place”.    Another statistic is that the home you are living in at 60 is most likely the one you will stay in.  When you consider that most of the homes people are living in were built in the 50's, 60’s and 70’s with very little consideration for someone to successfully age in this space.  It is understandable that there can be numerous things to look at to determine how a home can meet the current needs and those in the future.  The impact of lighting as we age, in my opinion is not given enough consideration.

Many homes that people are living in have low ceilings and few windows which can create even darker inside spaces.  Heavy draperies, overgrown shrubbery, dirty windows all decrease the natural light that can come into a home.  Isolation, depression, loss of appetite, sleep problems, falls, lack of Vitamin D synthesis, broken bones, sleep issues, safety and so many more issues can be influenced by lack of appropriate lighting.

Light cords and extension cords are a fall risk, as well as the task of changing out a light bulb.  Inadequate lighting for tasks in the kitchen and in bathrooms can cause injuries.  Lack of contrast on steps may result in missed steps.  Inadequate or poorly aimed exterior lighting can result in shadows and the inability to clearly see someone at the door.  There are also many activities that people look forward to enjoying as they age, crafts, puzzles, reading, sewing, the list goes on.  These all require appropriate lighting to be enjoyed.

I hope that the importance of adequate and appropriate lighting will be considered as important as other home modifications that are made to ensure successful Aging in Place.

A Lighting Question

Even as a NAILD certified Lighting Specialist 1, lighting can be confusing.  There are so many considerations to keep in mind when choosing the appropriate lighting for a room.  This became evident when my husband and I were at a restaurant this week and I was introduced to the wife of someone my husband knew.  When she found out we were in the lighting business she had a question for me.  They are in the process of remodeling their kitchen and is wanting to create a light fixture out of old metal egg baskets.  She was curious as to the best light source to use.

The pros and cons of the incandescent:  this is what you might consider the typical light bulb.  Using this bulb you have total bulb illumination, so some of the light will be going thru the basket and creating a shadow on the ceiling.  If you want to use a shade inside the basket to prevent this you need to be aware that 90% of the energy in this light source is given off as heat, so it will need to be an appropriate material.  This light source has the shortest life of the others and therefore you will need to get the ladder out to change this more often.  A plus for this light source is that if you want to use a dimmer it will work well.

CFL’s or Compact Fluorescent Lights – these are the curly q's.  This is my least favorite light source for use inside a home, as it has a warm up and cool down time, which means that when you turn them on they are not bright immediately and are not dark immediately when turned off.  A major consideration for where you use this lamp.  It also would cast shadows on the ceiling and does not dim successfully.  This light source is best when it is left on for several hours at a time as frequent on and offs will shorten the life.  This light source contains mercury so you need to be careful if it breaks as well as with the disposal of this lamp.

LED’s- this light source is changing almost daily.  You can get this lamp with the diodes projected in the direction you are wanting so it won’t cast a shadow on the ceiling.  In an exposed fixture you will want to consider the “look” of the light, they are now coming out with LED’s that resemble the A19 standard shape of the incandescent.  LED’s may not dim successfully with a standard dimmer, and unlike the incandescent when dimmed the light “color” may not change to a warmer hue.  The LED is a great source of light to be able to install and leave it, as it has a long life.  The LED lamp likes a cooler environment, the light will be brighter and life longer, the life will be shortened substantially if used in an area with excessive heat.

These are just a few of the basic considerations, although important things to think about as you install new or replace existing lighting.  Cost for most of us is also a consideration with LED’s being more of an upfront investment although they will save you on replacement costs as well as energy charges.  I didn’t have a simple answer for her when she asked, hopefully I did give her some things to consider.

Lighting Safety Consideration


Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their lighting until you flip a switch and the light doesn’t go on.  For many of us this is a nuisance although one that can be fixed with relative ease.

 Now consider you are older, live independently, or have some mobility concerns and your hallway light doesn’t come on when you flip the switch.  It is evening time and to be able to see to get to your bathroom and bedroom you need that light, which is burned out.  The steps to change the light include, getting the step stool, having a replacement bulb on hand, climbing the step stool, being able to unscrew the burned out bulb, install the new one, climb back down the step stool and return it to the closet or garage.  There are many points in this process that could be dangerous and be the cause of an injury.

If this bulb is a regular incandescent this is a process that will be repeated with frequency as this hallway light is used.  What are the choices to limit the need for this change out?  CFL’s – the curly q lights do have a longer life, although it is shortened with frequent on and offs, it does have a warm up time to reach its full light output, it also contains mercury so if it is broken in this process is a hazard requiring special clean up and disposal.  The most important consideration for me when using a CFL is if this is a transition placement where I will want full light when I turn on this light- a hallway, stairway, bathroom, garage, front door are all places where I will want light immediately so not where I would use a CFL.  LED’s are now becoming more economical to purchase, they are a major energy saver when compared to the incandescent and they have a life of 10-20 years.  This is a choice that most likely will eliminate the need for a change of this light for as long you are living in this home. 

If you have an older loved one or someone with mobility concerns who is living in their own home a switch in the lights that are essential for their safety to LED’s would be a very good investment in their safety and security.