Let there be Light!

“Let there be light…”  Kind of important.  It’s the first thing God did once he created space.  No matter how incredible an interior, it needs the right light to bring it to life.  For the most part, there are 3 layers of lighting used in a space.  Any well-lit funeral home needs spacial lighting, group lighting and focus lighting.  Let’s talk a little about each…

Spacial Lighting is the broad picture.  This can either be architectural (like recessed lighting) or a decorative chandelier.  It’s the lighting you need to move within a space.  It is general lighting.  It does not always mean a grid of recessed lighting in a chapel.  We don’t want your chapel ceiling to look like an airport runway.  It does however, allow for appropriate overall lighting within a space.  Enough to read.  Enough to walk down a hallway.  Enough to see the finger sandwich on your plate.  Spacial lighting is important as it lays the foundation for your space.  But if we stop there – the space is one-dimensional.  It has no texture and little interest.  This layer will no doubt have the most number of fixtures.  As we drill down in the layers, the less fixtures you will need.

The second layer of lighting used in a funeral home is Group Lighting.  Group lighting pays attention to the function of the space and how the furniture or equipment are arranged.  Let’s say you’ve got a conversational furniture grouping at the back of your chapel.  You want to draw attention to this area – this grouping of furniture.  We do that by lighting this space differently – adding table lamps, placement of chandelier, up-lighting behind a floor plant next to the grouping.  The purpose of this type of lighting is to set apart an area within the room.  It adds texture and interest to the space – another layer.  But we’re not done yet.  There’s a third and critical layer of light necessary to complete a space.

Lastly, a funeral home requires Focus Lighting.  This lighting has the most intentional placement.  Examples of this type of lighting would be recessed spot lighting that washes over stone to create texture.  It’s also task lighting under a cabinet in a lounge or business office.  It’s the OSHA approved lighting for your embalming table.  It’s casket presentation lighting.  It’s your spot or track lighting used in a selection room.  Critical lighting with critical placement.

So we know we need different layers of light but what type of fixtures will provide what we need?  And then there’s the whole conversation between incandescent, fluorescent and LED for interior lighting.  Here’s some info about recessed lighting that will hopefully help navigate the waters.

There are 4 basic components to a recessed fixture.  The housing (box that you do not see which holds all the electrical,) the reflector (which is the cone surrounding the bulb,) the trim (ring that you see and sits flush to the ceiling) and the lamp (or bulb.)   Many funeral homes already have recessed lighting but it may not have the right components.  If your ceiling is white, the reflector and trim should be white.  Note that if yours is not white and you want a DIY project, these items can be spray painted to improve the fixture.  And if your existing fixture has an incandescent lamp, that too can now be replaced with an LED bulb.  But what type of LED should you use?  LED’s are manufactured with a range of lumens.  From 2700k (k is for Kelvin) to 5000k.  You don’t want either of these.  The light from a 2700k LED bulb is too pink and will disproportionately color your space.  Some ads say this is the “warmest” light.  Well maybe, but it isn’t a good lumen level for your funeral home.  Nor do you want higher lumens like 5000k.  Some manufacturers call this “daylight.”  Accurately speaking, this is blue-light, like a dentist’s office.  It is for specialized tasks and does not endow a space with warmth.  After testing several lumen levels,  our go-to for spacial lighting is a 3000k lamp.  It offers warmth without too much pink and seems to be the closet to incandescent.  The downside is, it isn’t readily available in big box stores.  Most carry 2700k or 5000k so you may need to stock a few.  You certainly won’t have to stock as many LED’s as we used to with an incandescent bulb, because of the LED shelf life (usually between 25,000 to 50,000 hours of use.)  Please don’t forget that consistency is important.  If you’re going to use a 3000k LED bulb in one fixture – make sure all fixtures are 3000k.  It can be distracting to have different bulbs in a room.  Also keep in mind that as bulbs fail, they emit a different shade of light.  So, if you’re going to change one bulb in a chandelier, please change them all.

When we’re installing new recessed fixtures in a project, our go-to is a 6” LED module recessed fixture.  A 4” fixture is simply too small to emit enough spacial light a funeral home, and a 5” is more suited to a residential environment.  The 6” fixture shown below has an insulated, air-tight housing (on the left) that takes an LED module (on the right).  The module comes already lamped with options for downlighting or wall washing.  Notice the white baffle (type of reflector) and white trim.  Always white with a white ceiling.

While not going through all the fixtures used within a funeral home, I do want to highlight casket presentation lighting.  Everyone knows this is a big deal and fewer funeral homes are using torchiere lighting.  There are a couple tips I’ll pass along when re-doing your casket presentation lighting.  The number of fixtures and their placement is important along with the type of fixture you use.  We use 5 fixtures to create the right casket presentation.  One washes the wall and lid of the casket and is placed directly center in the ceiling, about 12” off the wall.  The second tier is for head and hands.  The third tier comes forward even more and floods the front corners of the casket.  This configuration of fixtures will give you the most out of your staging.  After all, the casket is the focal point.  Lighting here helps create that sense of honor and respect necessary for presentation.  This is a tried and true placement, tested in many funeral homes across the country and serving various cultures.  The lamping is another story.  When we used incandescent lighting, a director could simply use a red or blue bulb over head and hands.  Not so with LED’s – until now.  There’s a product that is becoming mainstream and comes out of the theater lighting industry.  It’s called tunable white light.   White light is comprised of pure red, pure blue and pure green.  Tunable white light allows the user to remove / adjust each red, blue and green to change the color of the light.  And… some allow you to dim or raise the amount of light as well.  So, if you have a difficult presentation that requires a lot of red on a Caucasian body for instance, tunable white light allows you to remove the blue and green to provide that “pink – rosy” tone you’re looking for.  The cool thing is, these adjustments can be customized to any presentation, no matter what ethnicity or condition.  It’s a game changer for casket presentation lighting.

I do realize that as soon as I post this blog – there will probably be something new on the market.  Just like cell phones, technology in lighting changes almost daily.  But for now, I hope this successfully explores your available options for a few lighting decisions.

Thanks for listening!

Tam Schreiner is owner & president of FFH design