Like most rooms around the home, bathrooms have proved to be perfect for downlighting. They provide a natural ambience that homeowners need in this unique space. In this article, we’ll be covering all you need to be about downlighting the bathroom, from aesthetics to safety. 

Recessed or surface-mounted?

The first decision is whether to have the bulbs recessed or mounted on the surface. Both types come with pros and cons.

Essentially, recessed bulbs (which are sunk into the ceiling) provide a smoother, sleeker appearance for the ceiling. The drawback is that they are more difficult to install, as you’ll need to make large holes in the ceiling fabric to accommodate them. That will also mean that you’ll have to use downlights that are fire rated the same as the ceiling itself.

Surface-mounted fittings are easier to install, as you only need to have a small hole to feed the wiring through, and some means of taking the weight. They can also be aesthetically pleasing, as you can choose your own stylish fittings and shades that are in keeping with the room’s look. They don’t need to be fire rated, either, as the integrity of the ceiling remains intact. However, they’re not to everyone’s taste, as they interrupt the smooth flow of the ceiling. If you have a low ceiling, they could even get in the way, especially hanging designs. They’ll also need dusting and perhaps even drying quite regularly.

There’s no right or wrong mount – it’s all down to personal taste and practicality.

How many downlights do I need?

Calculating how many lights you need for a given area is an important consideration when planning your bathroom lighting. A general rule of thumb is to have one downlight for every square metre of floor space, but this can vary depending on the specific layout and design of your bathroom. It’s always best to consult with a lighting specialist to ensure you have the right amount of illumination for your needs.

The beam angle of your downlights will also affect the overall illumination in your bathroom. Wider beam angles can help to spread light more evenly across the space, while narrower angles can create more focused lighting for specific areas. If you know in advance what kind of beam angle you want, that can influence the number of fittings you need. However, note that because of the nature of downlights, the beam angle can’t possibly be more than 180°, and in practice you won’t get anything over 120°.

Dimmable bulbs

Using dimmer switches and dimmable downlights can provide added flexibility and control over the lighting in your bathroom. There’s a time and a place for very bright lights in the bathroom. When you’re shaving or applying makeup, you probably want as much light as possible. And when you’re cleaning, it’s good to illuminate all those grimy tide marks and traces of mildew.

However, if you’re having a relaxing bath or shower, some warm, dim bulbs can help you calm down perfectly after a hard day. And if you’re the type who needs the odd 2-a.m. visit to the bathroom, it’s good to be able to avoid dazzling yourself in the process.

Colour temperature

When it comes to colour temperature, it’s important to consider how warm or cool you want your lighting to be. Warmer temperatures can create a more inviting and cosy feel, while cooler temperatures can provide more functional and energising light.

Safety around water and vapour

In terms of water safety, it’s important to consider the location of your downlights in relation to bathroom zones.

  • Zone 0 refers to areas inside the bath or shower tray, where only low-voltage (12V) lights with a minimum IP rating of IP67 are suitable.
  • Zone 1 is any area above the bath or shower up to a height of 2.25 metres, where a minimum IP rating of IP65 is required.
  • Zone 2 is an area 0.6 metres outside the perimeter of the bath or shower, where a minimum IP rating of IP44 is necessary.
  • Outside Zones are those parts of the bathroom that don’t fall into the 0–2 areas. You can use any IP rated electrics here, although there’s no harm in treating the whole bathroom as Zone 2 for extra safety.

Downlights away from the ceiling

Downlights can also be used in places other than the ceiling, such as under a wall-mounted bathroom cabinet to provide additional task lighting. They can help to illuminate wash basins and mirrors for added functionality and style. Take note of the zones listed above, however, as they’ll likely fall into at least Zone 1.

Style, ambience and control

Using downlights in the bathroom can enhance the aesthetics, comfort and functionality of this important space in your home. By considering all the elements covered above, your downlighting project should be a complete success, making your bathroom a sanctuary for you, your family and your guests.