In the first flush of excitement about designing your new bathroom, you may well focus entirely on the sanitary ware and overlook a crucial aspect- how to light space to the best effect.
Remember that the ‘first fix’ is the building work including putting in the services such as pipework and also the tubes and cables for the electricity. Only at ‘second fix’ do you install the hardware – and by then it is too late to be having second thoughts about where the lights will go, and what effect they will create.
Gone are the days when a harsh ceiling light, maybe also a strip light above the mirror, gave you an unflattering view in the mornings. There is no excuse not to light space sympathetically yet be able to carry out makeup, shaving or any bathroom task in the best possible light.
Unless your bathroom or shower room is unusually large, much of it will fall within the Zones where certain types of light are required. These are:
- Zone 0: submerged, inside the bath or shower or on a wetroom floor. Lights must be low voltage with a max of 12V and be rated at least IP67 as this is total immersion proof.
- Zone 1: over the bath or shower, to 2.25 metres above floor level. A 3oma residual current device (RCD) must be used to protect the circuit if the fitting is 240V.
- Zone 2: over the sink or around the bath or shower to 60cm away on either side and a height of 2.25m from the floor. A rating of at least IP44 is required
- Zone 3: anywhere outside zones 0, 1, and 2 where no water jet is to be used. While no IP rating is required, if water jets are used for cleaning purposes a minimum of IP65 on all fittings must be used.
That’s the basic information you need to know. Below we’ll explain these points in more detail.
Lighting in bathrooms is strictly controlled (because water and electricity are a potentially lethal combination) and there is a grading scheme for ceiling downlights, flooring lights or submersible lights that must be observed: this is the IP (Ingress Protection) rating. The IP numbers have two digits: the first relates to protection from dust and solid objects, but more relevantly the second deals with the degree of protection from moisture.
Typical high-protection types are IP44 (for use in ceilings over a bath): and IP65 (for use in ceilings over a shower tray or shower/bath). If jets of water are used to clean a bath, then an IP65 should be used above it too.
All of these fittings are flush-mounted halogen or LED units. Where possible they should be angled to highlight specific features or dark areas. They often incorporate transformers to operate on 12V power: allow headroom in a suspended or cut-out ceiling space for cooling, as halogens and transformers run hot. Pendants with exposed bulbs are not permitted.
Wall lighting for Ambience
Away from Zones 1 and 2 you can use wall lights as long as they are bathroom-safe, and they are the key to avoiding the dreaded shadows cast by overhead types. Diffused light is the objective, as is provided by the frosted Aurora or Edwardian lights: and it is excellent if you can incorporate dimming to change the mood for a romantic evening bath. (Be aware that some modern low-energy bulbs are incompatible with many dimmers and it is necessary to check out what systems will work with what bulbs).
Task Lighting – the Main Event
The key focus in any bathroom is going to be the mirror over the sink, which absolutely must be set up properly for good grooming.
The ideal is soft but clear illumination, and the way to achieve it is through distributed or diffused lighting from two or more sources. Try a low voltage frosted halogen light either side of the mirror at eye level. Better still, use a mirrored fluorescent bathroom wall light, an all-in-one unit that provides sensitive lighting to suit your morning mood. Or go for the Hollywood effect with a dressing-room make-up mirror surrounded by small lights (bathroom-safe ones of course).
Bathroom lighting must be fitted by a qualified electrician. There should be no switches or sockets inside the room (apart from a shaving socket fitted in a safe place): all devices must be hard-wired to switches or dimmers outside the room, or pull-cords may be used (away from zones 1 and 2) in the room itself. An RCB (residual circuit breaker) must be used to protect the electrical items.
So let there be light: let your bathroom glow: and you are sure to linger longer in your most private room.
For more bathroom lighting tips read ‘The Lowdown on Bathroom Lighting’.