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Choosing Lighting Pendants

Lighting pendants (or pendant lights if you prefer) are a good lighting choice because of their versatility. They're great for both task and ambient lighting but offer a terrific opportunity for adding some decorative flair, something recessed lights don't necessarily possess.

Pendant lights might look simple but there are several things you should know before falling in love with that blown glass fixture you saw at the lighting showroom.

For example, pendant lights don't always have to be hung as separate individual lights since there are several mounting configurations to choose from.

There are differences too in the voltage rating among pendant choices. Understanding how this can impact your options is important before you do any shopping.

Then there are other considerations to ponder and things you should know about so that when it comes time to choose, you'll make the right choice and you won't have to make a return trip to the lighting showroom.

The Important Things To Know

Before making any choices about lighting pendants it'll help to understand some basic information about them. First and foremost is the subject of your home lighting design. You want to be sure the space you're illuminating has sufficient lighting and the right kind of lighting as well.

Task lighting is needed in order to be able to perform certain specific functions in the home, be they cooking, washing the dishes or getting ready for work in the morning. Lighting pendants can be placed at specific locations to illuminate the areas where those tasks are performed.

Start With Your Mounting Configuration

There are several methods for hanging lighting pendants -
  • Monopoint
  • Multi-point canopy
  • Monorail

Monopoint pendants are hung from a single point canopy (the canopy is the decorative plate that covers the electrical box on the ceiling). In other words monopoint means a single light fixture suspended from a single point canopy.

pendant lighting pendant lighting
Monopoint and Multipoint Pendant Lights

Multi-point lighting pendants are made up of several light fixtures that hang from one canopy. The canopies used for this kind of pendant lighting have several points from which the fixtures hang. These kinds of canopies can be round, square or take the from of a rectangular bar.

Monorail pendant lights are suspended from a track that is attached to the ceiling. This kind of pendant lighting is akin to track lighting except monorail lighting pendants have many decorative forms and can be suspended from the monorail track by thin wires or rods, similar to monopoint pendants.

The lines tend to blur between pendant lights and monorail lighting systems. That's because the monorail track is viewed as sort of a "delivery system" that can accommodate varying types of fixtures, including hanging pendants. Consequently, you might see pendant lights lumped in with monorail lighting systems when shopping for lights or the converse. It depends on the source and the retailer.

Monorail light systems are also different from traditional track lighting in that the rail is suspended from the ceiling whereas track lighting typically has the track attached directly to the ceiling.

Before you choose your pendant lights decide on which mounting configuration you want to use. Monopoint pendants are versatile and you can buy and install as many as you need. Multi-point pendants work well where light needs to be focused, like above a table, similar to a chandelier. Monorail lighting pendants offer a modern look and can be designed with bends and curves to place the light exactly where you need it.

Line Voltage & Low Voltage Pendants

When you shop for pendant lights you might notice that there are two types of fixtures with respect to their electrical rating: line voltage and low voltage.

Line voltage simply means that the pendant uses the same electrical power that runs to your other standard light fixtures and outlets.

Low voltage fixtures on the other hand operate on reduced voltage. In reality, they're wired into your home's electrical circuit but the standard line voltage is reduced (stepped down) by means of something called a transformer.

pendant light canopyDomed Canopy To Accommodate Transformer

"What do I care?" you say. Well, you might fall in love with a particular pendant light but you (or your electrician) will need to understand whether it's a line or low voltage fixture and if it's compatible in your home.

Here's why it's important: those transformers that step down the line voltage are usually placed in the electrical box that the pendant hangs from (inside the ceiling) or the pendant's canopy (which is on the outside of the ceiling surface). If there's enough room in the electrical box the transformer will be put there. If that's the case, you can use shallow/flush style pendant canopies if you so desire.

However, if there's not enough room for the transformer in the electrical box or the ceiling the transformer has to be placed somewhere else. For these situations there are domed canopies made to accommodate the transformers.

It may not seem like a big deal but when you shop for pendant lights, you have the option to choose which style of canopy you want (flush or domed). If you choose low voltage lighting, you may have to go with the domed or larger canopies to accommodate the transformers. If your eyes glaze over at this point, check with your electrician or someone at a lighting showroom before you choose your fixtures to be sure you choose pendants that will work for your particular situation.

Pendant Light Height Is Not Set In Stone

Search the internet and you'll find a number of answers to the question "what is the right height for my pendant lights?" In reality, there is no established standard. There are guidelines and those guidelines should be balanced with some common sense.

pendant lighting

General guidelines for pendant light height range from about 28 to 34 inches above a countertop or roughly 72 inches off the floor. One variation to that is to put pendants 30 to 40 inches above a kitchen island countertop and about 28 to 32 inches above a dining room table.

The basis for the slightly higher elevation above the island countertop is that most kitchen islands are designed with some functionality that requires standing, like cooking at a range or washing dishes in a sink. You don't want the pendant lights so low that you're staring at them as you wash the dishes. On the other hand people are seated at a dining table, making the slightly lower pendant height more appropriate.

Publisher's Comments

There's no need to obsess about this. Do what works best for your situation. When my pendant lights were installed over the kitchen island, the electrician held one at different heights so that I could assess how they'd feel.

I'm the tallest member of my family and we chose a height that is above my eye level, ensuring that most people in the 6-foot plus height range wouldn't be staring at the pendants as they stood at the island. As a result, our lighting pendants measure 34.5" from the bottom of the fixture to the top of the countertop.

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Available Choices & Options To Look For

Getting to know pendant lights is as easy as surfing some online retailers or visiting a lighting showroom. And while there are countless varieties to choose from here are some key style and design points to get you familiar with what's out there.

  • Adjustable Pendant Lighting
    This can be a tricky one - there are true height-adjustable pendant lights that exist where the level of the fixture can be moved up and down. These types of fixtures are also known as "retractable" pendants or "pull down" pendants. Other names include "rise and fall" pendants, or "counterweight" pendants. These last two types employ a counterweight that's affixed to a chord/wire that the pendant hangs from.

    The other definition of "adjustable" lighting pendants means that the mounting height of the fixture can be adjusted at the time of installation. In other words, the wire or rod that the fixture hangs from can be cut to the desired hanging height. After that however, the height can only be shortened and not lengthened. These kinds of pendants are not truly "adjustable" after installation (you can't pull it down and push it back up).

  • Hand Blown and Stone Fixtures
    Some of the neat decorative styles of pendants you'll find are the hand blown glass fixtures. These are one-of-a-kind lights that can make an artistic statement with your lighting design. There are also stone pendant shades that give off a distinctive glow and look unique regardless of whether they're illuminated.
  • Flexible Monorail Pendant Lights

    monorail lighting

    Some monorail lighting systems are easily bendable by hand allowing you to effectively use space by putting the lighting exactly where you need it. You could bend the track around a corner or incorporate an S-curve into your lighting plan.
  • Recessed Light Conversion Kit
    Do you currently have recessed lights that you wish were pendants instead? Take advantage of the recessed light conversion kits on the market that are basically screw-in pendant lights. These lighting pendants are made to adapt to an existing recessed light fixture. A decorative canopy plate covers the recessed light hole, turning your old recessed light into a pendant light. Simply do an online search for "recessed light conversion kit" to find makers of such products.
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Considerations To Think About Before Choosing

There are countless styles of lighting pendants that run the gamut from beautiful to whimsical, with some being downright quirky. It's all a matter of taste. But before you get ready pull out the credit card, keep these considerations in mind so that you choose wisely.

  • Lighting Pendants As A Style Statement
    Pendant lights are visible fixtures unlike recessed lights that are tucked away. Choose a style that you'll be happy with for some time to come rather than a trend statement that might be something you'll be clamoring to change 2 years from now.
  • Extra Parts May Be Required
    When you shop for pendant lights make note of what exactly you get for the quoted price. Some fixtures don't come with all the parts that are necessary. For example, you may have to buy the canopies separately.
  • Low Voltage Vs. Line Voltage
    On average, line voltage fixtures will be less expensive than low voltage lights because you're not paying for the transformer. On the flip side low voltage lights usually use smaller light bulbs which allows for smaller fixtures, something that can be desirable with pendants lights depending on your tastes.
  • Solid Shades Vs. Translucent
    Lighting pendants with translucent shades cast some light outward in addition to downward. Conversely, pendants with a solid shade and just an opening at the bottom will act more like a spot, lighting the area below it. It's a matter of preference but sometimes the glow produced by a pendant with some transparency adds to the mood and decor of a room.
  • Consider Adjustability
    Look to see if the lighting pendant you choose has some capacity for adjustability upon installation. In other words, can it's mounting height be shortened (you can usually shorten a pendant's drop height, but not lengthen it).

    Some lighting pendants are hung from solid metal rods and in some cases they can be cut. Pendant lights hung from flexible cords can usually be cut (usually referred to as "field cut") to the proper length too but not always. There's also the option with some pendants for "perpetual" adjustability which was described above.

  • Think About Energy Efficiency
    Let's face it - we buy pendant lights that we like and look good. But keep in mind that LED and fluorescent lamps are more efficient than incandescent lights. If you're looking for green lighting pendants shop by first looking for the more efficient lamp categories and then find a decorative scheme you like within those groups.

    From an efficiency standpoint, LED is the most efficient (but can be spendy) followed by fluorescent and then incandescent.

  • Think About Materials - Particularly In A Bathroom
    Lighting pendants, or any light fixtures for that matter, that have to live in a bathroom with a lot of steam and moisture need to be made from good materials and be rated for this type of environment. When you shop, look for products rated for "damp locations" as defined by the Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Don't buy fixtures with cheap finishes as they won't hold up in tougher environments. In this case, you usually get what you pay for.

Pendant lighting offers one part of an effective and decorative lighting plan. If you want more help on the subject of lighting, check out our web page about home lighting design. It'll help identify the key concepts that are important in making sure your home has the right lighting plan.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Recessed Lighting - Find out what's important when it comes to choosing recessed lighting.

Home Lighting Design - Good lighting is something that shouldn't be overlooked in any remodel or new home design. Find out how to use lighting to good effect in your home.

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