Electrical cabling and lighting are an integral part of interior design and need to be worked out early in the design process to ensure that all wiring can be installed during the construction phase. Well-designed lighting makes a home comfortable, functional and attractive to the eye. When lighting is done well, it will certainly furnish a room.
It isn't until you start building a new house or embark on a huge renovation project until you realise how much goes into building and how complicated electrics can be. I had dabbled in home improvement before, but the current house we live in was by far the biggest project, involving a major overhaul of all the essentials, including electric cabling, the focus of this blog.
In this blog I give you tips on what electrical and lighting aspects to consider when building or renovating your home. I will also give you a handy electrical checklist to save you time figuring out your electrical needs for your project.
Why Do you Need a Reflected Ceiling Plan (RCP)?
An electrical plan (or reflected ceiling plan, RCP) is essential. The purpose of a detailed electric and lighting plan is to create different layers of lighting in an interior. These layers are formed by functional as well as mood lighting that fulfils all your possible lighting needs. It's important to think about how much light is needed and where the light needs to come from to design a balanced and comfortable interior. Too much spot lighting can create an airport feel, too little or the wrong light distribution gives an irregular light that might be too bright in some places and too dark in others.
What is even more essential, is that YOU design the plan for your electrical and lighting needs (which may or may not involve the help of an expert). Do not rely on the builder or electrician to tell you where to put your electrics. You can't assume they know what you want or need for the lifestyle you want. Also, they are technical experts, not design experts. They know how to wire the place to perfection, not necessarily how to get the perfect vibe for what you're after.
Further to this, please check what wiring and electrical preparation is included in your electrical quote. For example, I found out the hard way that my builder only included 4 downlights in my kitchen extension electrical quote. That's right, FOUR. Despite me explaining my vision for the space, and supplying an electrical plan. The finished space has 12 downlights in the main space, 3 downlights casting a shadow over the exposed brick wall, one pendant over the island, 2 pendants over the kitchen bench, one low pendant in the reading corner and under mount kitchen cabinet lighting. Guess how much this extra work costs me? And that was only one space in our entire home being renovated.
Plan Your Electricals BEFORE you Close off Walls and Ceilings
Luckily I did a walk through BEFORE the walls and ceilings were being closed off with gyprock and stucco, else it would have been far worse. Taking an electrical walk-through of your house with a builder before the gyprock goes up is essential, and a great way to get the best lighting plan for your home. This will save you costly fixes after the fact.
What You Need for an Electrical Walk Through
Gather all your ideas.
Chances are you have Pinterest boards full of them. Go back through your images of spaces you like and hone in on the lighting in those photos. Can you identify where the lighting source is located and what type of fixture is being used? Jot down your notes and bring them.
Print out a floor plan and sketch in your anticipated furniture layout. Don’t just look to the ceiling for placement of downlights. Mark walls that you might use for hanging art and highlight dark corners that could benefit from additional light. Bring your floor plan, tape measure, permanent markers and a note book.
Walk. Don't run.
Walk through the home room by room, and allow plenty of time. Compare your marked-up floor plan with the actual structure to make sure your preferred light fixture is possible in that location. Pretend to use the space as you intend in the future. What are you actually going to do here? Where do you want to turn on the light when you walk in? Do you need hotel switches? Do you need task or ambient lighting? What other fixed appliances are there that require electricity? Do you need extra power points? At what level? More on these practical matters later. The important take away here is to really invest the time into planning your electricity and lighting plan, or you might regret it later.
Look at Architectural Details.
Look for architectural features like ceiling coves, niches, arched ceilings or deep overhangs. Is there anything particularly special in your home that requires extra attention? For example, I wanted to illuminate my exposed brick wall made out of salved uneven bricks. At night the shadows create an amazing effect and I am very happy I did insist (my builder thought it was an odd idea, go figure). I didn't change the lighting of my dining room as it would have involved risking the 150yr old ornamental ceiling. But in hindsight I would have liked to add wall spotlights that would highlight this amazing historic artwork.
When a recessed downlight is placed over the aisle between the kitchen counter and the island, where will it cast shadows when you are chopping up your food? Too often fixtures are installed in the wrong place because ceiling geometry is considered more important than what you are doing with the chef’s knife. Creative lighting solutions can greatly improve workspaces and add ambiance too.
Document and Verify.
Make sure you take detailed notes on your floor plan, so you can refer back to them later. Ensure your builder understands exactly what you are after and includes it in the electrical quote. Go back when the electrician has done their job and make sure everything is exactly as intended. In an ideal world, you prepare a professional reflected ceiling plan to communicate all your lighting and electrical needs, including the types of switches, the location of wiring and outlets and any other electrical needs. I learnt how to create professional RCPs while I studied interior design at the Interior Design Institute.
What to Look out for when you Plan for Electricity and Lighting
Alright, you are about to get started with your electricity and lighting plan and are all set to go, and do a walk through with your builder. It's easy to get overwhelmed. So what do you look out for? Let me give you some pointers to keep in mind.
Don't go overboard with lighting.
It's surprisingly easy to overdo it with lighting in a home, particularly with downlights. There are practical guides to work out how much lumen you need for a space of a certain size but I would personally say trust your gut. Ask an electrician and they will probably happily install many downlights in the ceiling, symmetrical and in an orderly fashion. But is that what is required for that particular space? Again, consider what you want to use the space for and avoid your home looking like an airport runway.
Layer your lighting.
Look at lighting as an opportunity for design, not solely as a necessity. Lighting can make or break a space. It's no wonder that lighting is a profession in itself with experts elevating it to an art form. If you are unsure about getting it right, hire a professional.
There are so many options in lighting these days, the world is your oyster. By using a mix of lighting solutions, you can create a much more ambient and interesting home. Consider:
track ceiling lights
linear strip lights
Consider the height of the room. If you use a closed dining table pendant for example, you won't light the ceiling above and cause a dark spot. Is that intentional? Great! Do you have a fantastic ceiling? Don't.
It can be very useful to automate your lighting. And I don't necessarily mean all the smart lighting options that are currently flooding the market. A simple sensor light can do the trick. Small thoughtful details like this can make living in your home more comfortable.
These sensors could be driven my movement or by natural light. Areas you may want to have lights on a sensor include:
at your front door — for safety and convenience
laundry — as your hands will often be full holding baskets of clothes
pantry — for similar reasons but with shopping bags
toilet night light — to avoid the need to turn on bathroom lights in the middle of the night
garage — to make getting out of your car more comfortable
driveway — for when you come home in the dark
New "smart" products, devices and home services are becoming increasingly popular and relatively affordable. Don't be afraid to research them, embrace them and include them in your plans. Nowadays, you have products for home security, temperature control thermostats, voice activation, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, only to name but a few. However, local electrical building regulations must always be observed, so make sure you look at them too.
Personally I like the old school ways of simply flicking the switch. I also do not see all members of my family getting their phones out every time they want to turn a light on or off, and then not flick the hard wired switch to lose all connections. Having said that, I do use smart lighting to set certain scenes in my home, and for certain ambiance automations. If I were to build a home from scratch, I would certainly smart up my home (with back up features). Recently, switches with bluetooth capability have hit the market. This makes it possible to automate all of your lighting from your phone without the need for a centralised electronic unit.
Plan for your Power Points.
You need to plan where the power points will be. More importantly, now that we are attached to computers, phones, and tablets. Therefore, you must have enough power points around your house for charging. Depending on the size of the home that you are building you need to have an idea of where your power points are and how many you need around the house.
Some of the places you can have power points are at the bathroom above the counter. Also, have some in the lounge room for chargers, lamps, and the television cabinet. Also, you need power points in the bedroom, kitchen for your appliances, and the home office for your scanners and printers. Plus, consider hallways, garages, and outdoor entertainment. Place power points where it is most practical and make them discreet.
Heating and cooling.
Plan for heating and cooling depending on your needs, and geographical location. Do you want aircon? Leave the design to the professionals but involve them early so you can plan where the controls go, The same goes for the thermostat. It’s a good idea to decide early what kind of technology you intend to use in your home so you know exactly what control panels you will have, and can decide on the most practical and least obtrusive place to position them.
In this day and age it is impossible to consider a home without internet. Plan accordingly and optimise your signal everywhere in the house. Plan the installation and all the necessary things you need to apply for your network. Consult with en expert to guide you with your network will be helpful to ensure you get what you need in your home.
Do you need extra security?
If the answer is yes then now is the time to plan for the appropriate systems. Security comes in all sizes and shapes depending on your needs. Make sure you do your research.
Consider the design of your switches and wall panels.
They don't need to be plain white! Lighting switches have come a long way and there are some truly stylish options on the market now. There are plenty of new colour options available too. So you can find switch plates that will complement your interior scheme.
Plan for later, if budgets are tight.
Is there something you'd really like, but it would simply break the bank at the point of building? At least make the provisions for it so when you can afford that particular feature in the future, the install is easy. For example, I knew I wanted an electric window treatment for my huge skylight in the kitchen but couldn't afford it at the time. But I did ask the electrician to prepare the wiring for it so I could hook it up when I eventually would install it (which we did, a few years later).
We also ensured we upgraded the electrics so that in the future it would allow for an induction stove to be installed (which required a seperate electrical group). Again, I am happy I did because when a few years later our gas stove died, and we decided to go for induction (in anticipation of the new gas rulings coming into play in the future) it was an easy install and we did not need to break open our floors.
Use this Handy Checklist when Planning your Electricity and Lighting
Building a house involves lots of decisions. An electrical checklist will save you money by helping you identify where you want lighting, outlets and wall switches placed during construction. That's because it's much cheaper to move electrical boxes and wiring when the walls are open. As I mentioned before, once the walls are covered, the cost to make changes goes up significantly.
This electrical checklist will save you time figuring out what electrical changes you want in the house you're building. It probably doesn't cover everything as the possibilities are ever changing but combined with the pointers given above it should give you a good starting point for your reflected ceiling plan.
Kitchen electrical checklist
Appliance placement – Be prepared to give your electrician a plan for your kitchen cabinets and appliances. Make sure to note EVERY appliance, including things like a garbage disposal or separate ice maker, that require their own outlets. Have you considered the exhaust?
Hidden power points – You can hide kitchen wall power points under the upper cabinets. This will leave you with clean walls for any type of backsplash you want. Do you want to hide appliances in cabinetry (like I do for my toaster, coffee maker and microwave)? The plan for power points inside the cabinets.
Under cabinet lighting – If you spend lots of time in the kitchen chopping, mixing and more, you might benefit from extra lighting under the cabinet. I also like turning on these lights dor a dimly lit kitchen (mine are on a dimmer) in the evenings.
Kitchen island power points – Essential for when you want to use appliances on the island (think of the mixer when baking a cake). You can hide these under the island overhang or use a pop up outlet that deliver power to a kitchen island and disappear when they're not needed. I have one of these (with a double power point) and I love it. We use it all the time. My only regret is that I didn't specify the colour and the standard was stainless steal (which sticks out like a sore thumb on my marble work top). Make sure you check this.
Pantry outlets – With more cordless devices, you'll want to add one or two outlets in your pantry for recharging a dust buster, cordless vacuum and other gadgets.
Bathroom electrical checklist
Lighting over vanities – Vanity light fixtures should never be placed right above you as you won't like the shadows it will produce on your face. It's terrible for applying make up for example. Instead choose for lights above the mirrors or sconces on the wall next to the mirrors.
Drawer or cabinet power points – I have power points in my cabinet for my hair dryer. I even let it plugged in so I can just take it out when i need it and store it away instantly, without it looking messy. You can also add them to the top bathroom drawer for an electric shaver, or any other electrical gadgets you use in the bathroom.
Vanity power points - Do you have an electric toothbrush? Think about where you want to plug it in. You can install a shelve just above the power points (or integrate them) for a clutter free bench.
Heated towel racks – I couldn't do without in winter!
Under floor heating - Plan in advance and talk to an expert. But heated tiles are lovely underfoot when you live in a cold climate.
Mechanical ventilation - Check local building rules. But where I live mechanical ventilation is mandatory for every new build or renovation. Plus, it prevents the bathroom from steaming up.
Bedroom and closets electrical checklist
Ceiling lights – Do you want the bedrooms to have ceiling downlights or perhaps a pendant? Consider functional versus ambient lighting. You may want to include options to set the scene for a romantic night but also for more menial tasks such as making the beds or vacuuming the space.
Ceiling fans – Do you want the option to use ceiling fans which need support for the added weight and fan vibration?
Bedside hotel switch – Nothing is more annoying then jumping into bed, being totally comfortable and then realising you need to get out to turn off the lights. Use a hotel switch next to the bed to control all lights.
Sconces – Do you want bedside lighting with sconces to free up nightstand space that lamps would use?
Power Points next to the bed (regular and USB) – Do you charge your phone overnight on your bedside table like I do? Do you have a built in bedside lamp or do you use a table lamp? Consider how many power points you want on each side of the bed. You can also find a variety of outlets that include USB ports. Keep in mind the latter require a transformer and could break the bank (my electrician quoted me upwards of 80 euro for the install). You can get them cheaper, just do your research with regards to the quality.
General power points - When in doubt, always install more than what you think you need.
Closet power points – Where do you iron/steam your clothes? You might do this in your closet if you had an outlet there.
Living Spaces electrical checklist
Ceiling lights - Consider functional versus ambient lighting. Plan for ways to light up the space for when you need it, but also to create cosy corners and general mood lighting.
Type of Switches - Consider where you want to place your light switches and what type of switch the use. Consider dimmer switches to control the ambiance. Also use hotel switches for open plan living, to control the lights from either side of the space. Think about the hardware you want to use for the most stylish effect.
Placement of switches - Make sure that the light switches and outlets on the pocket door walls are discussed with the builder and electrician prior to installation, as there may not be enough space in the doorway for the switch. Don't place switches right behind the door opening, you won't be able to reach them when you enter the room.
Power Points - Consider where you want to place plug in lamps but also where you may want to charge devices. Also consider where to plus in the vacuum cleaner (of you don't have a cordless one) to clean the room. At what height do you want the power points? Try and hide them as much as possible. Would you like to use a floor lamp in the middle of the room? Consider floor outlets that are concealed when not in use.
Power Points for your entertainment – Not only will you need outlets for your television, you need to plan for other boxes like cable, gaming and more. I use about 8 power points near my television and wished I had planned better. I also wished I had a way to hide them from plain sight.
Built in TV cables - Do you want to hang your television? Place the cables in the wall.
Data cables for your entertainment - My TV runs through a data box. Wifi can be patchy. It's generally better when you can plug straight into your data cables. Why not allow for it?
Dining room pendant / chandelier – Creating a furniture plan early is worth is as you want to place the dining table light exactly above the table (which might not always be in the centre of the room).
Built in sound system - Love music? Consider building in a sound system throughout the house.
SMART systems - Plan for SMART systems if you want to use them and determine where you want to place the controls.
Thermostat / Aircon - Where do you want the controls? Discuss with your installer.
Under floor heating - Plan in advance and talk to an expert.
Study electrical checklist
Power Points – Home offices need lots more outlets than other rooms. Consider what you need close to your desk and plan accordingly. Place the power points close to your desk. Allow for USB charger cables. Consider the printer, if that's placed elsewhere. Do you have an electric standing desk like I do? Make sure you have a power point in the right spot to plug the desk into, without it being a trip hazard.
Data cables - Seems an obvious one for the study. Make sure you have great internet coverage.
Task lighting - Good lighting in your workspace is important. These days it's not only important that you have sufficient light to work efficiently, it's also important that work relations see you properly during an online meeting. Ceiling lights placed behind you cast a shadow which leaves your face in the dark, during an online call. Solve this with wall sconces or a desk light.
Utility Rooms electrical checklist
Hallway light switches – Make sure you have light switches at both ends of a hallway.
Entry door light switches – Each door that leads into a closet, pantry, attic/basement or garage should allow you to turn the lights on before you enter this space.
Extra laundry room power points – Don't just plan for the washer and dryer. I have extra outlets in my laundry room (above the work space) for my iron and the chargers of the kids smart devices (they charge their devices here overnight as I am one of those terrible mothers that doesn't allow phone use overnight).
Mechanical ventilation - Check local building rules. But where I live mechanical ventilation in the laundry is mandatory (although not reinforced for older buildings) for every new build or renovation.
Home automation panel – Most homes today depend on technology so make sure you identify a place to keep all your electronics organised.
Staircase – Plan for a hotel light switch at both the top and bottom of the stairs. Alternatively you could chose for sensor lights which work well too.
Security system – If you're planning to add a security system, decide where you want to place the hardware. Even simply door bells these days are often hard wired. Make sure you allow for them.
Solar panels – If solar is a possibility (or a possibility in the future), make sure you prepare for it.
Exterior electrical checklist
Lights for exterior stairs – Outdoor stairways need a light switch that can be controlled from inside the house. If these are automatically activated by a motion sensor, the switch is not required.
Light switches at exterior doors – Each exterior door ideally should have switches to control both an interior light and exterior lighting. The door from your house into the garage should be treated as an exterior door.
Front door lights – Consider how you want to light your front door and think about functionality and curb appeal. A sensor light could be useful and avoid fumbling for keys in the dark. I don't have front door lighting, but I live directly on a busy street, with a street light right in front.
Patio lighting – You can add ceiling lights or a fan to a covered patio plus wall sconces depending on the size of your patio.
Outdoor kitchen and other features – Indoor outdoor living is a thing. I like treating the garden as any interior living space. By planning ahead, you can have your house wired for an outdoor kitchen, outdoor TV/audio, or anything else you may wish to have in the garden. This will save you time and money when you add these features.
Motion sensor lighting for safety – One common practice to place a motion sensor based light over your garage door(s) or garden back entry. This will alert you to both foot traffic and a stranger pulling into your driveway.
Walkway lighting – Lighting along walkways provides ambiance for visitors, along with safety for anyone entering/leaving your home at night.
Landscape lighting – You can have lots of fun with landscape lighting. It can be used to showcase your favourite home features, trees and shrubs.
Power Points – Make sure you have a couple of power points in your garden or on the exterior if your home to plug in tools to avoid dragging extension cords from the inside of the house. Think about chain saws, high pressure hose etc.
Automation - my garden lights are on a timer and set to go on and off at dusk and dawn. Other than it looking nice, it's also a nice feeling to know it looks like someone lives there, even when we're not home.
(Tip: print this blog post for ease of use!)
Create Your Reflected Ceiling Plan like a Pro
When I handed over my electricity and lighting plan to my electrician he was dumbfounded. He said he never received a plan like that from a client before and mentioned how much easier it made his life. He knew exactly what to do, and what I had planned for each space. We did a walk through, made some tweaks, discussed the various options for light switches, hotel switches, hardware, transformers, USB hubs and the sorts of things he knew much more about than me, and together came up with a final plan.
When unsure about creating your own electrical plans, do not hesitate to hire a pro. You want to get this right, as it's hard and costly to change when you get it wrong. I am very grateful for taking the time to study how to create electrical plans, as it made my life a lot easier (and that of the people I hired to implement). Even then I got it wrong at times! Let's not mention the shower downlight that was placed EXACTLY above the shower head, at only 5cm distance, shall we?
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