Crime Scene Do Not Cross yellow tape over a blurred out background of brown grass

Lighting Larceny


They are all around us, lurking in our homes and threatening to harm us every day and every night!  Be very afraid!  Stay tuned for updates!  Oh no!

I like to think of myself as the Evangelist of Light, spreading the good news that light- the first gift- can help us live better lives.  I want to focus on the five promises of light: light can help us do better, know more, feel better, focus clearly and adapt better.

But sometimes I am a little more of a gloom-and-doom kind of preacher, and today is one of those days.  Hey, I never noticed this before but “gloom-and-doom” is 50% lighting, like the gloomy morning outside with rain and clouds.  Hmm, where was I?

My team looks at countless electrical drawings that show lighting fixtures for new homes or remodels, and all of them could be better.  Most are not just missing opportunities but actively creating harm.  Here are a few of the most common pitfalls, some with links to other posts that go a little deeper.


We must love our carpet, because so much of our lighting is dedicated to making sure it is nice and bright.  Or perhaps we think our Roomba robot vacuum works better in bright light (it doesn’t).  Whatever the reason, there are an astounding number of recessed lights in homes illuminating the carpet around the living room, down a hallway or in a bedroom.  Why not shine the lights on the walls or tables?

A diagram of a cove light pointing up at molding on the left with the label "illuminated craftsmanship" and on the right the cove light is above the molding labelled "illuminated drywall"


Painted drywall is the cheapest surface in our room, less expensive than wallpaper or paneling or cabinets or art or furniture.  Somehow it has become trendy to spotlight the drywall in nicer homes, like hiding cove light above the nice crown molding to make sure we can all see the drywall seams.

A man from the chest up lit up with a completely dark background.


When I go to the sink in the morning to shave, it’s best to have deep shadows under my eyes that make me look awful and darkness on my throat where I place the razor.  At least that’s what it seems when poor lighting is placed above the sink that creates deep shadows but sure makes it easy to see the whiskers in the sink.

A modern kitchen with wooden cabinets and black countertops. There is a swoosh sculpture light above the kitchen island


This one happens so often that it is not really a crime anymore, like speeding 3 miles over the speed limit.  A row of recessed lights is often placed between the island and the kitchen counters, perfectly illuminating the floor and expertly crafting shadows wherever you wield knives and hot things.  It’s cheap and easy to install, so I doubt this one will go away any time soon.


On.  Off.  Imagine the pain from the sun coming up or going down instantly, like walking out of a movie theater at noon in July.  The pain is physical.  Our eyes need time to adapt- seconds and even minutes- but we put most of our lights on switches that give us two options: complete darkness or as-bright-as-we-can.  Too bad our eyes don’t like it, but switches are less expensive than dimmers.

A bedroom with two dressers on the left, a window, door way, bed and side table to the left. There is a ceiling fan fixture lighting up the room


The most common crime perpetuated against homeowners and tenants is Ceiling Fan Light Syndrome.  The cheapest way to illuminate a room is to put 3-4 essentially bare bulbs in the middle of the ceiling, like on a ceiling fan.  No matter where you sit, you will be staring at a bight source of glare.  And unless your furniture is clustered around the middle of the room, you will always be sitting in the darkest area.

A floor plan of a bedroom with four lights near each corner of the room


Like snake-oil salesmen of lore, 4CnF is sold to clients as an “upgrade” from Ceiling Fan Light Syndrome.  The idea is to keep the fan and spread the light into four recessed downlights, or cans.  This might cut down on the glare but typically just lights the floor (see Roomba the Robber above).  Read more on this malady here.

Wow, that was a little depressing to write and I need some good news.

Light is an amazing gift that can transform rooms, homes and lives.  Light can help us live better.  It has never been easier or more affordable to get amazing lighting in our homes.  Our scientific understanding of light and health is driving new design ideas and products.  Technology is rapidly advancing to make lighting more adaptable to our changing needs.

Light is a gift.  Do not let anyone steal it from you.

A very red, cloudy sunset

Light Can Help You