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Lighting Techniques that are right on Track and on BudgetLighting Techniques that are right on Track and on Budget September 4, 2009 By: Dean Gottesman

      If the mortgage crisis has you staying put for a few more years, there's an easy way to enhance your environment while adding value. Upgrading your recessed lighting or installing a track lighting system can brighten up any room; it's a technique that can make your space appear larger! This is not the track lighting from the 1960s and '70s, those clunky and chunky fixtures in black or white that became hallmarks of contemporary interiors. Now there are a lot more choices: track heads are smaller in size, available in traditional styles, and offered in a variety of finishes including brushed nickel and bronze to coordinate with appliances and hardware. These same metallic finishes are also popular in recessed lighting trims for the same reason.

    Besides coordinating seamlessly with décor, today's track and recessed fixtures provide supreme versatility. These lighting products come to the rescue when space configurations make it tough to illuminate all areas. Out of Sight = Clean Design. Recessed fixtures are generally preferred for general lighting in almost any room of the house. They are perfect for illuminating otherwise dark spaces where portables and direct-mount fixtures have limited capabilities and would visually clutter the design. Recessed lights offer flexibility in that they can be individually aimed. Square downlights in singles and multiples are a great linear look that was first made popular in retail and architectural spaces, but are now found regularly in high-end homes. Trimless recessed lights ensure that nothing protrudes below the ceiling plane, giving a minimalist look. Homeowners can rely on recessed not only when illuminating hallways and kitchens, but also to supplement other light sources in family rooms and bedrooms.

   There are two growing trends: an increase in finish choices and a preference for recessed, square shapes for an architectural look. To save on energy plus limit awkward bulb changes on the ceiling, consumers can buy compact fluorescent bulbs suitable for recessed fixtures. Placing the lights on a dimmer will further cut electrical costs and allow the user to vary the levels of light to create ambiance. Several lighting manufacturers are now offering LED-powered recessed fixtures and hanging pendants suspended from track for even greater energy savings over time. 

   Almost any room in the house is a candidate for a track system. Once relegated to applications such as hallways, recreation and family rooms, and basements, track lighting is now being employed in dining rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. Track lighting has changed from a mundane product category into one that is design-conscious and extremely flexible. The variety of fixture styles and lamping choices are diversified and available in an array of bulb options. One of my favorite applications is in renovation projects where the lighting placement is limited by the location of electrical service in the ceiling. Since the track allows for multiple fixtures in a linear configuration, it is possible to provide electricity to the track in one spot while allowing the fixtures on the track to reach many parts of the room. Tons of homes are built with one junction box in the ceiling, but the residents want to update the space to incorporate general, accent, and task lighting.

   If recessed lighting is not feasible without lowering the ceiling height, a track system is a nice alternative. Track systems have evolved into highly decorative and functional lighting solutions. The most common type is the monorail, which contains a single rail of electrified cable that can be installed either in straight runs or can be bent in the field for custom designs. The monorail provides the greatest flexibility and has an almost unlimited range of fixture options. With these new systems, the track becomes very much a part of the room's overall aesthetics. One of the advantages of the monorail is that you can attach both pendants and accent fixtures on it. Therefore, in a location such as a peninsula in a kitchen or a basement bar, you can place pendants above the work surface while creating spot lighting on objects in the room. I appreciate the monorail's flexibility. I like to use it in dining rooms, even if there's a suspended fixture over the table. Track adds downlighting and sparkle to table settings and can also be adjusted to accent sideboards, buffets, wall art, or sculpture. The decorative fixtures can then be dimmed so they're not glaring. Owners who invest in expensive automobiles are installing lighting systems that showcase their investment. Using both recessed and track lighting, designers are providing both proper light levels and color temperatures in these residential garages to make the spaces both functional and inviting.