Staircase lighting is one of those things that can dramatically transform the feeling of a room instantly. Many people think that staircase lighting will be massively expensive and as a result do not give the idea that much thought. Well we are here to tell you that it is not only the rich and famous that can afford staircase lighting – and this is why you should consider it.
Here is our ultimate guide to staircase lighting which will guide you through all the options – the things you must know, and the things you must not do.
Where do you want your staircase lighting?
By the stairs right…? Lol (Joke!). There are four main types of staircase lighting. Each creates a dramatically different effect, and have their own set of pros and cons.
Tread Level (Foot Level) Staircase Lighting
Think of staircase lighting and this is usually one of two things that comes to mind. These are lights that are mounted at foot level and can create very dramatic effects. The lights are essentially embedded into each step.
They can be placed at the side of the step angled inwards to create dramatic sweeping beams of light and shadow. This is a particularly nice effect with carpeted stairs, as the effect creates an almost “showroom” feel to the area, without becoming too contemporary. (However if contemporary is what you are after – they can equally be used to create that feeling, just not usually with carpet).
They can be placed in the front of the step to create a uniform and clinical look.
And, If your stairs allow. They can be placed under the slight lip that some staircases have. Which creates an incredibly attractive down lighting effect of the steps. This is particularly attractive in converted basements which typically have dark corner stairs. The combination of the down lighting with the shadowy corner is an incredible combination.
Wall Mounted Staircase Lighting
The next main option is wall mounted lighting. As the name suggests these are spotlights that are embedded into the wall with varying frequency to illuminate the entire staircase. They are far less dramatic than tread level lights, but are still a unique and attention grabbing feature – certainly better than ceiling lighting.
The main issue people have with wall mounted stair lights is that they can look a little unsightly in the daytime when they are not in use. This can be mitigated by putting them near tread level – but they are still usually visible.
Ceiling Mounted Stair Lighting
Ceiling mounted lighting essentially boils down to spotlights above your stairs. While they can create an attractive effect – they are not what most people would consider “staircase lighting”, and their appearance is far less dramatic than other types (for a price that is in the same ballpark as wall mounted lighting).
A fourth (less common) option is to use under stair lighting. Unless you are getting a new staircase, or building a new home – this is usually not an option (unless you are lucky!). However this creates perhaps the most dramatic effect of all types of staircase lighting.
A slight gap is left between the stairs and the wall, allowing light to seep through. Certainly an ultramodern look that will grab people’s attention. Spiral staircase lighting is particularly effective if lit from underneath on each tread. From the bottom it can create an almost chandelier type effect which is very dramatic.
How easy is it to replace the lights?
Maintenance is an issue that is often overlooked in staircase lighting. While most people opt for long life LED bulbs – they can and do break (however occasionally that may be). If your lighting is fully flush to the stair treads it may be an issue to replace them.
This can often involve removing part of the step to access the back of the light. It sounds dramatic – but you would be surprised how often this can happen.
Wall lighting is easier to replace as it does not have to be flush to the wall, ceiling lighting is just as easy (as long as you don’t mind navigating the stairs with a ladder).
Will they look right?
It can be surprisingly hard to get the correct look out of your lights. This is less of an issue if you are going for a contemporary modern look – as this is the effect that is almost generated by default. The clean sharp lines of the stairs combined with the dramatic beams of light and subtle shadows can really be quite stunning.
However if you are looking to install staircase lighting in a country home or somewhere you do not really want the contemporary look – you can run into issues.
As mentioned above, carpeting works best at alleviating the contemporary look as it softens the square sharp lines. The best option to keep the homely feel is to usually go for angled tread mounted lights, with soft yellowish LED’s that are not too bright. Because as you will see below – choosing the right bulb is just as important as choosing the right location for your lights.
What color light to do you want?
You will be hard pressed to find staircase lighting that is not lit by LED bulbs. Mainly due to their very low energy consumption and incredibly long shelf life. Unfortunately LED’s do not come in a huge range of colors (at least in the white spectrum), so tinted glass covers are usually in order.
As a rule of thumb – the whiter the light, the more modern your lighting will make your home look. Ultra white LED’s can create a futuristic almost spaceship like effect when combined with the white stairs. A modem art gallery comes to mind when combined with hardwood stained stairs.
If ultramodern is not your style, then various levels of tint can be applied to make the light turn into softer shades of cream and yellow. Brightness is everything here, the brighter the LED’s – the more modern your home will look. Keeping a reasonably low amount of lumens is the best option to keep a homely feel.
You can even get crazy with it if you like! Perhaps you are lighting up the stairs to a man cave or a child’s play room (is there a difference between the two?) Green, red, blue, orange, whatever colour you want can be obtained – and the results speak for themselves.
Wireless Staircase Lighting
As you can see there are quite a few options available, all of which are reasonably large projects to undertake. But because we live in the future – a solution is here. Wireless staircase lighting allows you to get the effect you want – without the construction work (cost) that is traditionally associated with it.
They obviously have their benefits – the main one being that you do not need to make any major modifications to the walls and floors of your home to lay down wiring. However they are battery powered. Which will mean replacing batteries reasonably often with daily use.
You will also have to manually turn all of the lights on one at a time, when you want to use them. They are usually push button activated and you simply push the light in to turn it on.
If this is something you are prepared to do, or you only wish to light your stairs when you have guests over, or on special occasions, then perhaps it is not too much of a hindrance. But if you are planning on using them daily – you will probably wish you had gotten hardwired lights.
Many people like to use their stairway lighting to act as a nightlight. However the issue can be that stair lights that are just bright enough when people are awake – can be far too bright for use as a nightlight. For this reason it is possible to get a dimmer switch installed so the intensity of the light can be adjusted at will – it is a minimal extra cost that is highly recommended.
A timer can also be incorporated into the switch which can let you automatically program when you want your stairs to be lit up. Some advanced systems even allow you to control both the brightness and the timer from an app on your phone.
How do I go about getting staircase lighting?
If you are going for wall mounted or ceiling mounted lights, the process is much the same as any other project – call an electrician. They will have experience in light fitment, and there is not really that much specialised work that needs to be done (regardless of what specialist lighting companies will tell you). As long as you do not go for super high wattage with the blubs, and have a good idea of what style and density of light placement you like by looking around online – it is fairly straight forward.
However for tread level lighting you really do need to call out the professionals… Obviously it is much easier to install tread lighting into a staircase that is being replaced (or even easier if you are building a new house). Retrofitting tread lighting into a staircase that was not designed for it can be a tricky task if not impossible.
Lighting professionals will advise on you if it will look right, spacing, brightness, wear, maintenance, and a few other factors that are a little out of the scope of this article.
So there you have it, our complete guide to staircase lighting. Did we miss anything out? Do you have any comments or questions? Please leave a comment in the box below!