How to choose pendant lights to provide enough lighting

cathy725February 5, 2013

Hello! As my renovation looms closer, I'm trying to figure out lighting. We are planning to have recessed lighting in the kitchen area with pendant lights over the peninsula.

Do pendant lights provide good task lighting. If yes, then what size/type of pendants will provide the best lighting? My peninsula will be the main work area in the kitchen and I want to make sure there is good lighting for that area. My peninsula will be approximately 80" with upper cabinets at the far end.

What size of pendants should I look for (mini or regular).
What type of light bulb? Do they come in a variety of options (halogen, etc) or are they pretty standard?
How many should I have--2 or 3?

Thanks for any help you can provide. I've looked at hundreds of options but my head is spinning and I really need to look at function then look at form.

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I'm in the same boat here. Same measurements for my penninsula. Will you two or three seats? And, are you doing the step-up counter or keeping the counter one level? Also, what hardware color are you using on knobs, pulls? Are you planning to match your pendants to that same material? Those are all considerations for your lighting placement also.

Our demo starts next week and I need to figure lighting out too! I'll be following this thread for responses too. thanks for posting.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 7:29PM
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Pendant lights are accent lighting, not task lighting. They look best with 40-60W bulbs, but as they are not directional (downward), they won't be great as task lighting. Also, pendant shades look best with warm white (3000-3500K) bulbs, while the best task lighting is near daylight (5500K, though I really prefer about 4500K). I would recommend can lights (pot lights if you're a Canuck) over the islands. I've seen many decently lit kitchens that have no general lighting because island lighting usually spills over onto the floor and reflects off the island and floor, lighting the ceiling.

Also, remember that the darker your surfaces (counters, cabinets, flooring), the more general lighting you need because light will be absorbed rather than reflected.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 7:51PM
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Davidahn--thanks, that's what I was worried about. So cans not pendants for task lighting. Well, now I need to rethink things.

Rebecca--peninsula will be one level. Probably not going to have seating, although I'm leaving that open until cabinets are installed. If I put in seating, it will not leave much room in the "eat in" area, so I need to see the counters and then mock-up to see if I can do a small overhang for seating. I'd like seating, but not sure if it's feasible.

I'm doing satin nickel pulls. Dark (volga blue) granite with cherry cabinets and black appliances. I decided having ORB handles would be too much dark.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 9:46PM
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I would tend to disagree with Davidahn and his assessment that ''pendant lights are accent lighting, not task lighting.'' That has not been my experience in our kitchen, although I have an island, not a peninsula. It is ~27'' X 77'' and I have 3 mini halogen pendants above the island that provide excellent task lighting. This is my primary prep/work area, and I personally need a lot of light to see well to do anything.

Just another point of view.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 10:59PM
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We also have pendants for task lighting, but that's largely because we don't have cans. If you already know you're doing cans, you might as well use them for task lighting too, and just have some pendants for accent. If you do want pendants for task lighting, we've found that two 60-watt standard bulbs in evenly spaced pendants light a 7' stretch of counter nicely in our space. (I can't remember how low they hang--well above heads!) I have found that I rarely use them for task lighting, though, since our general lighting (three large 150-watt equivalent fixtures) provides enough lighting for all of our work spaces. I really only use the pendants as task lighting if I don't want to turn the main lights on at all, or need some extra light for a detailed task. More often, we use them as accent lighting; they're on dimmers and are very nice for leaving on late at night for someone coming home, if we're eating in the other room but guests may need to get up to get things from the kitchen, etc.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:05AM
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I see pendants over islands all the time, and they CAN work as task lighting. They're just not ideal due to the overly warm light colored by the shades. To work better for task lighting, you should use cooler white bulbs, which would make them less warm and appealing from a distance.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:20AM
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As you've probably already noticed browsing at lighting, there are tons of choices. It's kind of overwhelming! But if you want your pendants to function as task lighting then I would think you can do that if you select pendants that can accept a nice bright bulb. We are especially fond of LEDs so we limited our search to fixtures that can accept LED bulbs, which yield a beautiful light quality for a tiny amount of energy used. You can get LED lighting by either buying fixtures that are already dedicated LED lamps, like Bruck, or you can buy one that accepts a standard bulb and then use an LED bulb instead of incandescent or CFL.

As David pointed out, colored glass can change the color and quality of the light, so keep that in mind. So if you want the pendants to function for task lighting, then keep function high at the top of your list of requirements.

As for quantity, spacing and size, you can mock that up by hanging balloons from the ceiling. This works amazingly well!

Our pendants get installed today, so we are finally exchanging our balloons for the real deal.

Good luck with your search!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:38AM
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Thanks for the information. I will have to figure out what is enough lighting. I will definitely look into the led lights--thanks karin!

Leela--what is the wattage of your halogen lights? I have no experience with led or halogen, so I'm having a difficult time knowing how much watts for these types of lights. Going to a lighting store doesn't help because there is so much light you can't really tell how well anything would work alone!! (Or several together).

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:12AM
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robo (z6a)

Does this formula work? For specific task lighting in areas where stronger light is needed, multiply the area's square footage by 2.5 to find the needed wattage. A kitchen work island or a desk area where schoolwork is done are examples of task areas in your home. These same rules apply to every room or area in your home.

So -- 80" x 25" (counter) plus 80" x 42" (aisle) divided by 144 = about 38 square feet, X 2.5 = 100 watts.

That still seems kind of dim to me. That would be, like, 2 60-watt pendants. Of course, I like everything lit up like a ballfield at night. (I wonder if they sell those big banks of lights for home use?)

I would be tempted to put one pendant every 2 feet for 60 watts mini pendants, which would be 3 60-watt pendants. Or 2 100 watts regular sized pendants (which in your case I would still keep on the small side since your peninsula isn't giant).

And then depending on the pendant, if it obscured a lot of light (colored glass), the wattage maybe should be higher? If it's a nice frosted glass, very radiant, 60 would do it?

I don't like cold light anywhere in a kitchen -- maybe because I live in Canada! So I'll have warm white everywhere, as long as it's bright it's fine by me.

Cans come with their own problems because they can cast shadows and don't bounce light around the ceiling and walls.

Edited to add: for a medium base LED bulb, I have been very happy with the Philips dimmable "soft white" LED -- it looks TOTALLY crazy! Bright yellow on the outside! And it weighs a ton!

But it puts out a lovely light comparable to a bright incandescent. For once "compares to 60 watts" actually means looks like 60 watts! They are expensive so I try sneaking one in every couple of months or waiting for a $10 off sale. None have failed on me yet but it's only been about 8 months for my oldest one. If you hate CFLs as much as I do, it's worth a look.

Here is a link that might be useful: Thoughts about different types of ceiling lighting

This post was edited by robotropolis on Wed, Feb 6, 13 at 10:37

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:25AM
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Good task lighting or not: I think if you choose something like the RH Benson (solid sides and top, but reflective interior so all the light is reflected downward onto your work surface) it would be great task lighting. That's just a guess though, as mine are clear glass lanterns and the light goes up, down and sideways - but I still do find them adequate task lighting. The Benson is pricey but I've seen knockoffs at the big orange and blue stores.

Size: I like the 8"Wx10"H ones I have, and your peninsula is similarly sized to my island (75" long). Generally, odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye than evens. However if you go much bigger in pendant size, I would probably only do two. Make sure you mock it up with balloons!

Type of bulb: I have those old, clear filament ones in mine because the bulbs show and I wanted them to be pretty. I didn't think I'd like this look because of the afterimage once you looked at them, but I don't mind as much as I thought.

Hanging: Again, make sure you use the balloons before you start cutting holes in the ceiling. I blew three up to about the size of the pendants, tied twine to them, and hung them with painter's tape from the ceiling. It helped me tweak their placement quite easily before the ceiling holes were cut. The balloons also helped us decide on three pendants instead of two. Although I will say that my DH wanted to go with two and I wasn't quite sold on three, but now that they are up we're both glad we went with three. I hung my pendants so the bottom of each is 39" above the counter - I didn't want them obstructing our view to each other or out the window, etc. We have 8' ceilings.

I hope that helps. I looked at pendants a long time and it was frustrating and confusing. I ended up giving up and just put up $15 clearance outdoor lanterns from Home Depot, thinking I'd switch them out later if I wanted to. They throw the prettiest light/shadows on the ceiling though, so I don't think I will :)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:35AM
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I'll throw one more variable into the mix. Use lumens to compare the brightness of all the types of lighting. Wattage is confusing because all the different types of lights use energy differently, so watts doesn't actually tell you much (except how much energy you are using up). Lumens is a universal measurement of brightness across all types of lighting.

Halogen is an energy hog (as is incandescent). If that's a concern to you I would not choose a light that commits you to halogen for the life of the fixture.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:13PM
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Hi Cathy-

I totally agree with karin about halogen lights-they are energy hogs. That said, and I can't seem to find info on lumens, our pendants are 50W each. They are ~21'' apart and 33'' above the island (I'll attach a pic). They have a clear turquoise outer glass shade with a frosted white glass inner shade, so the light is well directed.

I agree that figuring out your lighting plan is difficult. We went through many iterations of choices before choosing what we did. I should add that we have the same lights over our bar area that are LEDs, and have under cabinet lights that are also LEDs. The halogens and the LEDs are all dimmable. We also have a skylight that of course helps in the daytime, even with our gray PNW winters (if there's no snow on it). All of this works for us in our relatively small kitchen. It really does help to mock it up, as well, after you decide the direction you think you want to go.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 12:31PM
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Just jumping in. Read through the lighting forums. There is a formula posted there that reads sqft divided by 35 lumens for a min. number of fixtures. After that, it is site and function specific. We are where you are in remodeling, and will most likely go the LED route. If you want to dim LEDs, you should use a 150W dimmer switch. Standard dimmers need more wattage running through them to operate properly.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. I think it will help me pick pendants and also figure out the lighting! I'll will be posting pictures as the reno takes place.

My hood arrived today! It's getting close!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 3:55PM
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I highly recommend LED bulbs; we have about 100 3.6W MR16-style LED bulbs in our house in 3" mini-can housings, all at about 4500K (neither warm nor cool white). Each gives about as much light as a 35-40W halogen bulb. Our 19 x 21' kitchen has 15 for general lighting, plus the following task lighting: 4 over our 13' counter with main sink; 8 over our 5 x 9' main island; and 4 over our 3'3" x 9' small island. The 72" wide range hood came with ten 40W PAR20 bulbs but light a 9' wide area including range and landings; we'll be replacing the 40W bulbs with 5W dimmable LED bulbs. This is a good amount of light, not too much, not too little. Well, in the range hood area 50W of LED bulbs (equivalent to about 500W of halogen lights) is actually too much light but it's dimmable, not that my wife will use any setting but MAX. (There are also 10W LED bulbs available, but my wife has no self control when it comes to light and WILL burn out her retinas if I let her.)

The standard medium base "Edison" bulb is not a form factor well suited to LEDs because while filaments (tungsten, halogen) are point sources and radiate in all directions, LEDs are VERY directional and have limited dispersion (15-60 degrees). Most LED medium base bulbs have more LEDs pointing outward with very few pointing up, some nearly exclusively point upward (downward in a pendant application). The distribution and "point" of the individual LEDs will affect whether the ambience (outward glow) or the task function (downward lumens) will work. Most pendant shades do have an inner white lining to even out the light distribution, and that will improve your downward light output for task lighting.

LED color is tricky as well, as many are very cool white and won't give you that warm glow you expect from the pendant shade. A warm white (3000-3500K) bulb will give you the best ambience, whereas a pure white (4000-4500K) will give you the best task lighting.

Another caution: pendants spaced too far apart look odd, but too close looks worse. I would recommend a spacing of about every 2-3'. Also, there should be ideally 3, or 4 max. Slimmer/smaller ones can be spaced a little closer and you can have more of them and still look fine.

There are metallic shades (if modern works for your kitchen) that will give you a lot more task lighting.

Here is a link that might be useful: Houzz Pendant Light Ideabook

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 4:42PM
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Agreed on the directionality of LED bulbs of the "edison" type (meaning the sort of bulb you screw into a common socket). There is one LED bulb by GE that is omnidirectional and radiates light in all directions. But they are $46 each! But for pendants you'll likely want the light to be cast mostly downward anyway. Bottom line is to keep that in mind and look at the width of the light "cone" in the specs.

For comparing lumens of different types of bulbs, I've used the chart linked below.

Here is a link that might be useful: lumens comparison chart

This post was edited by karin_mt on Wed, Feb 6, 13 at 18:53

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 6:51PM
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LED bulbs are still a specialty item and therefore stratospherically priced. Home Depot is bringing prices down to close to reasonable, but we're still overpriced. Search eBay for "E27 LED bulbs", as they are much more affordable direct from China.

Choose the type of bulb wisely for the effect you want:
- those that radiate outward will give the most light through the shade into the room, little task lighting
- those that radiate upward (downward for pendants) will give good task light but very uneven shade lighting (dark at the top, bright in bottom 1/3 to 1/2)
- bright white (AKA pure white) for task lighting, warm white for ambience

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:57PM
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