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5 Easy Ways to Brighten Up a Gloomy Hallway

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We've all been in corridors that never feel bright enough. Even though there are plenty of light fixtures and a window, it still feels gloomy. Here are some design strategies to over-come this problem.

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The first area to look at is not the lighting at all, but the surfaces. What are the colors and textures of the walls, ceiling, and floor? Are they light and reflective or dark and absorptive? Changing surface finishes is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to really brighten up a space. Often a gallon of light colored paint will boost the brightness. When was the last time the surfaces and light fixtures were cleaned? Dirty surfaces and fixtures may absorb over 30% of your light! If you can't change the surfaces, such as with lots of brick and natural wood, then focus on electric lighting solutions to the problem.

130 V Lamps vs CFLs

Because they are on 24 hours a day, common area lights in apartments often have 130 volt incandescent bulbs in the light fixtures. These are long life bulbs, but they put out yellower and dimmer light than their 120 volt equivalent. A good alternative is a screw in Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL). If your existing luminaire will accept a CFL, the advantages of longer lamp life, lower energy costs, less heat, and more light will be yours! The wattage of the CFL should be no less than 1/3 of the bulb you are replacing to achieve the same light levels (20W = 60W).


Some fixtures have lenses that aren't very efficient at transmitting light. Changing the lens to one with a higher light transmittance may improve brightness but be aware that more efficient lenses for your fixtures may be difficult to find. Also, replacing high density lenses with clearer lenses can lead to glare problems.


In new construction (or if the above solutions aren't practical) take a look at new luminaires and placement strategies. Ideally, the new luminaire should have some surface brightness (translucence) but not too much or it will cause glare. Most of the light from the new fixture should reflect indirectly from a light colored ceiling.

The luminaires should be placed by the doors, intersections, and stairways. Don't forget to light the end walls of the corridor so that the user is walking toward an illuminated destination. This is a good place to have artwork for visual interest. Try using a variety of fixtures for different tasks. Mix glowing luminaires on the wall or ceiling for general lighting and more directed light fixtures (like track or recessed cans) on areas of visual interest. The directed lighting might be focused on objects like artwork, signs, mailboxes, and phones. These directed lights could be fluorescent track spots, luminous soffits, or recessed wall washers.

Daylighting and Glare

Surprisingly, the window at the end of a hallway can create more glare than illumination. The contrast ratio between the high intensity of daylight and the relatively dim interior can create glare problems, even on a cloudy day. The window image appears hundreds of times brighter than the light from the luminaires, yet the window only gives about 15 linear feet of useful light into the space. There are a number of ways of working through an existing situation using drapes, awnings, and window treatments but the best solutions incorporate architectural elements that maximize the light penetration while minimizing the glare. Pay close attention to the reflective properties of the floor, as shiny linoleum can really amplify the glare problem! This can be especially difficult for senior citizens, with aging vision and visual adaptation issues. Proper common area lighting can have a great impact on the appearance, function, safety, and maintenance of a building and should not be left as an afterthought.

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