It seems obvious really – stairs can be dangerous things, even for grown adults! But often very little thought goes into lighting them, and whilst there are many tried and true solutions, there are a few key things to keep in mind when thinking about lighting stairs to create the best result.
In the commercial world, staircases have their own standards for minimum light levels for safety, but in our homes, there are no rules. So use the following information to arm yourself, and make sure you end up with a stunning (and safe!) staircase in your home.
To make stairs easy to see, we need to create contrast.
I was speaking recently with a colleague who described a pure white space – white walls, ceiling, and pure white stairs – that had a coloured lighting display filling the area with light. Unintentionally the designers of the space had created an environment where no one could get their bearings. As an art installation, it would be dramatic, controversial, and thought-provoking. As a pathway from one level of a building to the next, it was a disaster! Everyone got stuck on the stairs. They couldn’t perceive the space, couldn’t see where to put their feet, and had no confidence to move.
Whilst it’s highly unlikely that any of our homes would end up so stark, it is a great example of how dramatically light can affect our confidence to walk forward through space.
CONTRAST – is this context, which is “light and shade” meaning – parts of an area that are brighter, and then the shadowed areas give us a sense of depth and space which allow our brains to navigate the complex task of walking up or down stairs.
It’s very important when you’re adding light to a staircase that you take GLARE from that light into account. Finding yourself blinded by a light as you walk upstairs is almost as disconcerting as finding yourself in a space like the one described above. In fact – if you made it to the Turrell exhibition in Canberra a few years back, you know exactly how confusing a space with no contrast can be.
So – light ideally goes DOWN to the treads – OR – it can come up from behind them – creating a shadow to walk on instead of a lit surface – the effect is the same for our brains, we can see the contrast and move with security.
Let’s start with down
We’ve all experienced “step-lights” – those little lights on the wall that throw light down onto the steps. They can be every tread, every 3 treads – depending on the specific light fitting selected, they can be placed just about anywhere. There are a few different styles – and we highly recommend trying to find lights that have glare control – and by that I mean, if you can look directly at the light when you look at the wall, it’ll probably be glarey and distracting.
The use of handrails
Handrails are a great place to hide the light, and with the prevalence of linear LED lighting, this can be accomplished in any number of ways. Important to aim for uniform light coming from a strip – as you will see it from some angles, and the dots just detract from the overall effect.
There are handrails on the market – usually for outside – with little “puk” lights in them – a few of these are actually made in Australia, and that is a great idea for outside where you want safety light, but perhaps not to draw too much attention.
Running linear light through every tread can look amazing! but be careful you don’t end up with stairs that look like they belong in a Casino! This comes down to making sure you use a good quality linear light, with an excellent diffuser, consistent light across the length (that means no dots!), and something that isn’t too bright.
You want to see the steps – not be blinded by them.
If you’re going to run light up a stringer, the same principle applies – and it’s great if you can use an angled light, so that you’re getting more light towards the wall, and less directly into your eyes.
If you want to get really dramatic with your stair lighting, there are lots of different control technologies available that can enable you to set brightness levels for different times of the day – and if you want to go all out, you can create dramatic coloured lighting displays that can tell a story with light, and totally transform the mood of your home with the simple selection of a program. Just remember to make sure it’s not all perfectly white, or you’ll end up with something that looks amazing – but makes it nearly impossible to move from one level of your home to the next!
Simple controls can make a big difference too. We’re big fans of using motion detectors for stair lighting. Stairs are somewhere where you always need your light, and it also helps with ensuring you have an energy-efficient installation as the lights aren’t on if no-one is in the area. We also always make sure there’s an over-ride switch. If the lighting on your stairs is a feature of your home, you want to be able to turn them on and enjoy them sometimes.
LED technology, used well, is very energy efficient. So if you’ve decided to go with step lights, the overall installation might only use 20W – which over a year, on 24 hours a day 7 days a week might cost as little as $40 – when you’re considering the safety of your family moving between levels in your home, it is also reasonable to consider leaving those lights on all the time.
So there you have it, a few things to consider, and plenty of inspiration for adding light to your stairs that is not only safe to use, but also a beautiful feature in your home.
All images via MINT Lighting and Pinterest
About Mint Lighting
Thank you to our guest contributor Adele Locke – Owner, Director, Designer of Mint Lighting. This article was originally published by MINT Professional Lighting Consultants and is reproduced with their permission.
Who is Adele? Growing up making light fittings in the family business, Adele has lived in a lighting world for most of her life. Her background spans from luminaire manufacturing and bespoke lighting design to large scale commercial projects, management, and architectural lighting design. Adele also works on small and large commercial projects, from retail to public spaces.
Some of her commercial work includes AAMI Park Stadium, University of Newcastle’s Great Hall, and Melbourne Airport.
She is the Immediate Past President (2017) of the Illuminating Engineers Society of Australia and New Zealand and is also a member of the Corporate Member of the BDAV Building Designers Association of Victoria.
A self-confessed (and publicly acknowledged) lighting geek, Adele is driven by a passion for well-considered, effective + inspirational lighting. She enjoys educating and training anyone interested in light – from architects to designers to electricians and homeowners. Adele is also often invited to be the keynote speaker to TAFE students, industry groups + associations, and special interest groups and is a regular teacher at Laneway Learning in Melbourne.