Lighting Lessons

Basements in homes whose lot is sloped to allow walkout basements can have abundant light. But when illuminated only by small, ground-level windows, basements can be dark and uninviting. A first step is to clear away shrubbery from existing window wells to make the most of what natural light is available. If the basement is served by a steel bulkhead, a door with glass lights can be installed at the bottom of the steps and the bulkhead doors left open, at least in good weather. Similarly, replacing any solid doors in the basement stairwell with glass doors also may help to increase the amount of natural light.

Yet these steps are rarely enough, and remodelers usually add several basement lighting circuits. In basements with plenty of headroom, track lighting can be attractive, even if it used only as accent lighting. But when the ceiling drops to the 7-ft. range, ceiling-mounted fixtures are more likely to be bumped or broken. Fluorescent fixtures can be recessed into a drop ceiling, but they can give a basement an overlit office look. As a result, builders frequently turn to recessed incandescent lighting. "Can" lights are unobtrusive and can be fitted with either spot or flood lamps, and when put on a dimmer switch, they make lighting more flexible than other options.

Lighting by itself uses relatively little electricity, but other amenities may be power hogs. A sauna or steam room may require 40 to 50 amps, quickly maxing out main electrical panels that are marginal to begin with. And upgrading a 100-amp panel to a 200-amp panel can cost $1,000.

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