Of 18″ Wheels and 4″ Downlights

I want you to buy my car. It is white, has 18″ wheels and a hybrid motor, and I want you to pay me $50,000.

Pretend that you do not know much about cars, so you ask the friendly clerk at a nearby tire shop. It turns out that they can also sell you a white car with 18″ wheels and a hybrid motor. Here’s the kicker…the tire shop choice only costs $5,000.

Do you have enough information to make the right choice?

Of course not. You do not know how big my car is, how fast it can go, whether it has two doors or four doors or no doors. You do not know if it is easy to drive or has comfortable seats or a good safety system. You do not know if it has a good warranty or is made by a reputable company.

You have no way to compare the $5,000 model to the $50,000 model. They have the same statistics, so why pay more? Wouldn’t it be unwise to do so? So why do we blame consumers for choosing, time and again, poor lighting that harms them in the long run?

Buying lighting is often like buying a car under the circumstances above, only you are stuck with lighting for as long as you own your home.

Let’s dig in a little deeper to the details.

Here is a little secret: my car comes with a steering system and is capable of going 500 miles on a tank of gas. The $5,000 model, well, does not come with a steering wheel. You have to hope it is pointed in the right direction when you get it, and that you never want to turn around or go some other place. And mileage? The cheaper option will get you 50 miles per tank, not 500.

As we fill in the gaps, you may start leaning towards a different option. Sadly, the general population does not have the time to learn what they need to learn about lighting.

Lighting, especially recessed downlights, is most often chosen based on size, color, and whether or not it is LED. Do you want 3″, 4″, or 6″? White, bronze, or silver? LED, incandescent, or hybrid?

So you ask your electrician, the tire shop clerk who will work on the lighting, what they recommend. “Most people buy 4″ these days, hybrid is a safe option, and white is the most common.”

I can offer you the same, but my option costs $500 instead of $50.

For better or worse, light is an incredibly complex phenomenon that impacts nearly every aspect of our daily lives in ways most of us do not even begin to understand. We need to know more to make a recommendation that puts the right light in the right place at the right time.

We need to know how ceiling heights, cabinet locations, and the material of the countertop. We need to know how old you are and how long you plan to live in the home. We need to know whether you read in bed on an iPad or on paper. We need to know if you exercise at 5:00am and work until midnight and if the walls are painted or papered or clad in stone.

We also need to know more about the car, er, light itself. We need to know its degrees of adjustability, its beam angle options. Ideally we would review its TM-30 report and investigate its CBCP. We would look at vertical illuminance and horizontal illuminance. We would review near field, far field, and foveal vision impact. We might recommend slight adjustments every hour of the day.

Oh, and somewhere along the line we need to know if you want white, bronze, or silver.

Please do not buy a car based on wheel size, and please do not buy lighting based on aperture size. Please do not buy a car based on your tire shop’s recommendation, and please do not buy lighting based on your electrician’s recommendation.

There is more to light than size and trim color.

4 thoughts on “Of 18″ Wheels and 4″ Downlights

Add yours

  1. As bad as it sounds, most people are followers. Followers in clothing fashion, food trends, automobile trends, and housing design. The reason builders still build with a “money side” (the side that faces the street) is to echo the grand old nobility (i.e., property owner) manor homes of Europe and England (who followed the Europeans) – showing off wealth to whomever came to their front door. So why have recent concepts like electric vehicles, Passive House construction, and better interior lighting not become mainstream? Because the cultural influencers have not adopted it as mainstream. Old TV programs like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” introduced mainstream (middle/lower class) audiences to how wealthy people were currently living, and several design trends followed – like 2-story entry areas with chandeliers. Where are the cultural influencers (for interior design) today? Architectural Digest? Dwell? House Beautiful or Better Homes and Gardens? Here is where you need to focus your game-changing talent for lighting. Show the before/after as they truly are (not with the “before” in black/white with outdated furniture and the “after” in perfect color with attractive furniture). Go back to your current satisfied clients to make up a portfolio to present to the influencers. Offer serial instructional submissions. If the Rich and Famous follow, so will the rest of the world.


  2. David, well said. There is an enormous vacuum where there could be a public demand for better lighting that will likely remain unchanged until the HGTV crowd and similar influencers recognize the opportunity. Now if I could just get them to the table….


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