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How can you create a home that is sustainable in the long run and pleasant to be in? Ida Magntorn, a Swedish journalist and author of The Sustainable Home (available April 12), asks herself this question with every room redesign. While thrifting furniture and forgoing unnecessary, aesthetics-only renovations are a good start, lighting and electronics account for 25 percent of household energy usage, according to Magntorn. In an excerpt from her book, below, she offers advice for making the most of that quarter, from the most eco-friendly tapers for candlelit dinners to how to hang your overhead LEDs

Nowadays it’s unlawful to produce traditional incandescent lightbulbs anywhere in the E.U. and U.K. [Editor’s note: While incandescent bulbs are still available in the United States, certain states (such as New York and California) have restrictions on general service lamps.] This is a good thing, as the technology has not changed much since the lightbulb was invented in 1879, with a lot of the energy being turned into heat instead of light. The LED bulb is the replacement that has proven to be most effective and gives a comfortable light. An LED bulb uses 85 percent less energy than an incandescent lightbulb and lasts 25 times longer, a significant improvement.

In the era of the incandescent lightbulb, you would calculate the wattage, which measures energy consumption, when choosing how bright a light should be. These days we calculate lumen instead, luminous flux. For a luminous flux of 300 to 500 lumen, you would need 40 watts for an old-fashioned lightbulb and only 3 to 5 watts for an LED bulb.

What Makes Lighting Comfortable?

Photography by Ida Magntorn

How we experience light is down to, among other things, the light’s color temperature and its color-rendering index. A low temperature will give a warm light with a large proportion of red tones, while a higher color temperature will give a colder, more bluish light. Different color temperatures are suited to different things. A cold-tone light will give better contrast and is therefore good in a reading lamp, for example. If you want the same type of shine as a traditional incandescent lightbulb, the color temperature should range between 2,700 and 3,000 Kelvin (K).

A Rundown on Light Sources

Photography by Ida Magntorn

As a rule, multiple light sources in a room will create a more comfortable environment, particularly during winter. It is a good idea to think seasonally here. How much natural light does the room get? The more daylight you let into your home, the less you’ll need light from lamps, which means less energy consumption. Remember not to switch lights on merely from habit and to switch lights off when you are leaving a room. Even with energy-smart lighting, it always pays to switch a light off when you don’t need it.

How Many Lights Do You Really Need?

Photography by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

On an average day, you will need between five and seven light sources in a room to make it feel comfortable. On the whole, it’s more important to have accent lighting dotted around different areas of the room than to have one large lamp on the ceiling.

  • Ambient or general lighting: This can be a ceiling lamp, but also daylight from a window.
  • Task lighting: For example, floor or wall lamps, or a reading lamp by a chair or sofa.
  • Accent lighting: By a bookshelf or gallery wall, for example.
  • Decorative lighting: Such as fairy lights or small lamps on a windowsill, sideboard, or chest of drawers.
  • Candlelight: Don’t forget this—it’s the best way to create a cozy ambience.

The Best Height for a Lamp

Photography by Ida Magntorn

When hanging a lamp over a dining table, the most important thing is that the light is comfortable and you don’t get blinded by it, which means avoiding hanging it so high that the bulb becomes irritating. You will also need to make sure it doesn’t hang too low and block the view of the person sitting opposite. The solution to this equation is that a good height is around 55 centimeters (21⅝ inches) from the top of the dining table.

A Note on Candles

Photography by Belle Morizio; Design by Alex Boudreau

The majority of candles are made from paraffin, which involves significant carbon dioxide emissions, and most also contain palm oil. Stearin, on the other hand, comes from animal or vegetable fats and is a cleaner and better choice. White stearin candles are the best since the colorants used in candles contain both metals and other chemicals. Vegan soy wax and beeswax candles are good options, too. The absolute best are Nordic Swan–labeled candles, which fulfill a number of strict requirements when it comes to soot, heavy metals, colorants, and fragrances.

Courtesy of The Sustainable Home: Easy Ways to Live With Nature in Mind (Pavilion Books) by Ida Magntorn. 

book cover
The Sustainable Home: Easy Ways to Live with Nature in Mind ($24)