Home office lighting should be your top consideration when setting up your home office. One of the benefits of working from home is that you can finally adjust the environment the way you want. The top thing you can change is the lighting. While a cube in an office will always have the bright fluorescent sky over your head, when you’re at your own desk you can set up lighting any way you want. However, while you’re setting up lighting for your personal preference, there are other considerations you need to make – eyestrain, comfort, and cost.
Through this article I’m going to talk about “warmer” and “cooler” light, so let’s go over what that means. You’re probably familiar with the spectrum behind light, which we see in every rainbow. As a result of how light is produced, it can tend a bit towards the reddish end of the spectrum, or towards the bluish end. The light is still “white,” but it will seem “warmer” (more towards red) or “cooler” (more towards blue). Color temperatures are related in “Kelvins” (or K), which is related to the temperature of an object heated to that temperature and the light it gives off. However, when discussing color temperatures there is no variation in the actual heat of the light – this is just about the color.
Some examples of color temperatures you might be familiar with:
- 1700K – Match flame
- 2200K – High pressure sodium (stadium) lights
- 2700-3300K – Incandescent light bulb
- 3000K – Soft white compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb
- 4100K – Moonlight, Xenon arc lamps
- 4200K – Cool white fluorescent
- 5000K – Horizon daylight
- 5500K – Noontime daylight, clear sky
What you use for your home office depends on your own preferences, but I’ve found that warmer lights help me relax more in the office, but it’s easier to read under a cooler light. So I’ve set up my office with warm fluorescent fixtures overhead for general lighting, and I use a cooler CFL bulb, although I’m looking at newer LED desk lamps.
Lamps are a quick and easy way to adjust the lighting in your office. There are two ways to think of lighting – task lighting, which shines light directly on your work space, and accent lighting, which adds light to your office to make the space warmer and brighten up shadows. For task lighting, you’ll want a desk lamp that can be adjusted to shine on your workspace without too much glare. Your best lighting options are a compact fluorescent light (CFL), halogen, or LED.
LED lighting is still maturing, but there are a number of LED task lights for desktop use. There have been a lot of recent improvements in providing a broader spectrum of color temperatures for LED lighting as well, so be sure to look at whether you would prefer warmer or cooler lights. The size and low voltage of LED lighting also makes it more flexible – for example, you could have LED light strips under your monitor for some accent lighting, or a lightweight LED task light mounted to your monitor. For a more involved approach, you could add crown molding with LED lighting on a variable control.
If you’re taking over a bedroom or utility room for your home office, you’ll likely start with desk lamps and standing lamps. If this space is to be your working space for a long period of time then you should commit to the space and install lighting fixtures to suit the space. An overhead fixture is a big help in both general work lighting as well as lighting up the office when you’re not directly working on your desk (everyone’s had to move to the floor to sort things before…). I have two 6′ fluorescent fixtures in my home office and I’ve never regretted having them. Fluorescent bulbs come in a few different color temperatures, so you might try a few different ones to see which suits you best.
A fluorescent fixture can be mounted on a standard ceiling light mount. If you don’t have a ceiling fixture, then it’s fairly straightforward to install one.
NOTE: Fluorescent fixtures will last between five and ten years. If the fixture starts to flicker, if you haven’t replaced the bulbs lately, replace them first. If you’re still having problems with the fixture flickering or starting slowly then you need to replace the ballast (the black transformer box – usually between the bulbs). A ballast is inexpensive and replacing it is as simple as securing the power and changing a few wires. Here’s a great how-to on replacing a ballast.
If you’re lucky enough to put your home office in a room with windows, then in addition to the view you may have a glare problem. To deal with glare you can either get a polarized window film (install yourself or you can have it professionally installed), or use window blinds. If you go with window blinds, wooden venetian blinds will block the light the best. If you like having the blinds open for light, but want to close them at a certain time of day due to glare, or at night for privacy, you might look into automatic blinds, which can control window blinds on a preset schedule.
If you don’t have exterior walls or windows, then you have four solid walls to stare at for 40+ hours a week. Adjusting your lighting can help ease that feeling of claustrophobia to some degree. I also recommend painting the walls – preferably a pattern to break up the walls a bit. But this article isn’t about painting…
If you want to break up the long flat boringness of empty walls, there are a number of faux window styles that can produce the effect of having a window. A traditional approach to faux windows is to use a mirror with a window frame around it, which creates the effect of a window to some degree. Another option is to have a painting or photo in a window frame with lighting around the edge. An emerging option that’s still a bit high-end is to have an inexpensive LCD screen in a window frame that has a dynamic image projected from a computer or small appliance. This site shows a walkthrough of how to use a bunch of old 15″ LCD panels to simulate a window.