Wall colours, lighting & efficiency: Advice from a designer

Jane Lockhart' home electricity consumption chart
Canadian interior designer Jane Lockhart's natural eye for colour was reinforced by a stint in Benjamin Moore's paint and colour lab. (Photography, Brandon Barré)

Paint colour can have a big impact on lighting efficiency: Jane Lockhart

With the spring home show season upon us in B.C., we ask interior designer and colour guru Jane Lockhart to share her top tricks for using paint colour to brighten a room, set the right mood — and save energy.

You've chosen the flooring, bought the furniture, and edited your accessories. Now it's time to find the perfect paint colour.

Do you choose a quiet, more restful hue like Grey Mist or Bavarian Cream, or a more fearless, intense shade like Buttered Yam or Mystical Purple? How about Energy-Saving Ivory?

Okay, Energy-Saving Ivory is not a real paint colour. But the truth is that certain paint colours can help maximize the efficiency of your room's lighting, while minimizing your energy costs.

"People don't always realize that paint colour can have a big impact on their lighting's efficiency and how they feel in a room," notes Jane Lockhart, principal designer at Lockhart Interior Design, and host and writer of the long-running W series Colour Confidential.

"Most of Canada has to endure long, dark winters, so many of our clients want lighter, fresher colour palettes," she says. "These tend to have more inherent solar reflectivity. They bring daylight into a space, so you don't have to use as many lights during the day. At night, they reflect more light around a room, so you need less lighting period."

See Jane live at the Fraser Valley Home and Garden Show in Abbotsford,  February 10-12, 2012.

See below the full  list of of spring home shows in B.C.  that will feature BC Hydro Outreach representatives helping you learn to exercise your Power Smarts.

Know your LRVs

Not all light colours are equally reflective, says Lockhart, whose natural eye for colour was reinforced by knowledge gained during an early career stint in Benjamin Moore's paint and development labs.

Found on the back of paint chips, a paint's Light Reflectance Value (LRV) rates its ability to reflect light away from a surface. The higher the number, the more light is reflected. Not surprisingly, white reflects 80% of the light, while black reflects a mere 5%.

"A paint with a higher LRV will transmit more outdoor light into a room and reduce the amount of lighting you'll need," she explains.

High reflectivity factors into one of Lockhart's favourite tricks for brightening rooms in northern or rainy climes: "Paint your ceiling white-grey with a tint of yellow — yellows have some of the highest LRVs. The combination will help brighten up your space by reflecting more light from above."

Don't be afraid of the dark

Lockhart never shies away from using darker shades to make a bold statement.

"Darker colours can help set a mood or create a cozier feeling. They absorb more heat from the sun, which can raise a room's temperature in winter. Even if the room isn't actually warmer, people will perceive it as warmer, so they'll tend to lower the heat."

With these deeper, more intense colours, the trade-off is between saving on heating bills and using more electricity for lighting.

"Your lighting has to work harder when a room is painted a darker shade, and you usually need more overhead light, which is a bigger energy-drainer."

To avoid the need for extra lighting, Lockhart often reserves darker shades for rooms that get less use or where clients want a cozier feel — like a bedroom, basement or den. Or she might add special mood or decorative lighting to dark-coloured spaces — pot lights above the fireplace or cabinet lighting in the kitchen.

"Clients are often surprised by how often they use only these lights — especially when they entertain. It creates some drama and saves electricity."

For indoor lighting, CFL and LED technology provide your best opportunities to save energy.  To ensure you are getting the most energy option, and a quality product, always look for the ENERGY STAR® label.

Put the light where you need it

black leather armchair and staircase

Putting the lighting where you need it helps boost efficiency

If you do opt for bolder, darker shades, Lockhart recommends adding more task lighting. This avoids having to bathe the entire room with less efficient overhead light or floor lamps.

"People's biggest complaint about a room is always about the lighting — either not enough or too much. We always say, 'put the light where you need it'."

This can include under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen for food prep, correct-height reading lamps in the bedroom, and desk lamps for homework and crafts.

"You'll be surprised by how little light you'll end up needing."

Become a dim-wit

Lockhart's strongest piece of advice, whether your paint is ultra-reflective or ultra-flat? "Put dimmers on your lighting. Our design firm is very militant about this. They're great in dining areas, living areas, even bathrooms. The more you dim, the more electricity you save — it's exponential."

Another favourite trick is adding sensors to bedroom, basement and bathroom lights.

"For some reason, people are reluctant to turn these off on their own — especially kids."

Mix up your bulbs

No matter which paint colour you choose, Lockhart recommends spending time choosing the right bulbs for your lighting.

All bulbs — from less-efficient incandescent and halogen bulbs to energy-efficient ENERGY STAR® CFLs and LEDs — burn at a certain temperature measured in degrees Kelvin (K). (As a yardstick, indirect sunlight through a window measures about 5500 K.)

"I like to use a mix of lighting temperatures in my residential designs," she says. "Colour reads better in a whiter light, but most people prefer a more yellowish light that burns from 2700K to 3000K for that warm, cozy feeling. The new CFLs are in that range, and they're very energy-efficient and dimmable."

"I still use halogen bulbs for pot lights, because they give off such a sparkly light — which gives more energy to a space — but I use these sparingly and always on dimmers. With regular screw-in LED bulbs arriving on the market, we're starting to advise our clients to use them in place of halogens."

So many factors go into choosing a paint colour — your personality, the desire to highlight a treasured antique, or inspiration from that fiery touch of red in a beloved throw rug. But whether your eye tends toward restful neutrals or fearless bolds — Bavarian Cream or Buttered Yam — you can get stunning room colour and save energy too.

  Exercise your Power Smarts at B.C.'s spring home shows

Look for the BC Hydro booth and talk to Outreach representatives at the following spring shows.

Outreach reps will be available in our on-site kitchen, living room or exercise room, where you'll be able to ride a bike and create power. It's all about exercising your Power Smarts.

  • Fraser Valley Home Show, February 10 – 12
  • Vancouver Home and Garden Show 2012, February 22 – 26
  • Nanaimo Home Show, February 24 – 26
  • North Vancouver Home Show, March 16 – 18
  • White Rock Home Show, March 30 – April 1
  • CHBA Central Interior Show, March 3
  • Salmon Arm Home Show, March 2 – 4
  • CHBA Victoria Show, March 9 – 11
  • West Kelowna Show, March 9 – 11
  • Merritt Home Show, March 16 – 17
  • Tri-Cities Home Show, April 13 – 15
  • Comox Valley Show, April 13 – 15
  • Kamloops Home Show, April 13 – 15