Lighting can make or break a home. Even if you build the most comfortable tiny house with interesting and homey design concepts, bad lighting can give the home a permanently uninviting vibe.
As the tiny house lifestyle is all about energy-efficient, off-grid, natural living, you will want to fill your home with the most energy-saving lights on the market: LED lights.
So what are the best ways you can use LED lights for your tiny house lighting needs? There are quite a few ways that LED can be utilized to light up your tiny house, from creative use of LED strips to under-cabinet kitchen LED lights. It’s all about understanding how LED lights work, why they are so much more flexible than other lights, and your tiny house’s exact lighting needs.
Lighting Your Tiny House: Starting with Sunlight
Every tiny house should be built with the intent to maximize sunlight, and achieving the perfect balance between sunlight and artificial light is ideal towards shaping the ideal modern tiny house.
Here are some of our favorite tips to make the most of daylight when planning and designing your tiny house:
- Window placement should be planned carefully, as you want to minimize glare and heat while maximizing the light coming into the house. Windows are typically better when placed close to the side walls of the home, as here they will bring in more light and less overall contrast. Windows placed in the center of the tiny house will end up splashing glare and contrast all across the floor.
- Don’t be afraid to go big with your windows, because you can always control the light coming in with exterior and interior shading. Exterior shading such as shutters or a fixed window overhang can block both heat and sunlight from coming in. Interior shading like Venetian blinds can give you maximum light control.
- Light typically comes downward into a home, so you will need to find ways to reflect it up to give equal light balance throughout the room. White or light-colored deep window sills and light shelves are perfect for bouncing light back up.
- If you are concerned about too much heat coming into the house, invest in windows with low-E glass.
- Any loft or raised area in your tiny house should definitely have at least one large window, or else it will feel like the gloomy part of your home.
But sunlight can only get you so far. When you want to start installing actual lights, your best choice of light is LED light bulbs.
Why LED Light Bulbs are Best for Tiny Houses
Tiny house living and energy efficiency go hand-in-hand, so what better light to use than the LED bulb? LED is perhaps the most efficient lighting solution on the market, lasting at least 25 times longer and using at least 75% less energy than other popular options.
It is estimated that the widespread adoption of LED lights can save the US $30 billion in energy costs by 2027, or the equivalent energy output of 44 electric power plants. But what exactly makes LED lighting different from CFLs and incandescent bulbs?
- Less Heat: Unlike other bulbs, such as incandescent bulbs that convert 90% of their burnt energy into heat, LEDs emit almost no heat at all. This means you can keep it lit without making your tiny house any hotter.
- Direction: Most lights will typically emit their light all around the bulb, meaning there is a ton of wasted energy in the directions where the light simply bounces off a wall or ceiling. LED has the unique factor of only emitting light in a certain direction, making these the best lights for directed lighting, task lighting, and recessed downlights.
- Light Source: LEDs are tiny, almost no bigger than a single dot of pepper. Despite their small size, they can still produce any color and any desired light intensity.
- Flexibility: LED bulbs and fixtures are made in all shapes and sizes, meaning you can design your lighting solutions in whatever way works best for your tiny house.
- Low Power Usage: The flexibility and range of the LED isn’t because LED thought of it first. The problem with older lightbulb technology is that they simply used too much power for simple installations, needing complex wire set-ups in tight spaces for any efficient power sourcing. But with the significantly lower energy requirements of LED bulbs, they can be run in tighter and smaller spaces (such as under cabinet lighting), as they can be powered by batteries instead. This means that lighting choices that used to be luxuries can now be afforded by anyone.
While LED lighting can be used for any purpose, some of the more common uses of LED bulbs in tiny homes include:
- Kitchen under-cabinet lighting
- Recessed downlights
- LED replacement bulbs (LEDs can replace up to 75 Watt incandescent white bulbs)
- LED holiday lights
How to Light Specific Rooms In Your Tiny House with LED
When designing the lighting plan for a tiny house, there are two essential lighting concepts that have to be considered: ambient lighting and task lighting.
Ambient lighting focuses on diffused light, better at lower settings that sets an atmosphere more than supports visibility. Typically, you will want ambient lighting in spaces where comfort is your priority, such as the living room ceiling or sleeping area.
Task lighting is the opposite: bright, clear white light that reveals everything for best visibility. This is best used in spaces such as reading areas, workstations, kitchen counters, and more.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of the LED lighting in specific rooms of your tiny house:
The bathroom doesn’t need much light outside of the mirror, so as long as your mirror light is visible, the rest of the bathroom experience should be fine. Try to use a single warm, bright light, just in front or above the bathroom mirror. This light needs to hit the shower area as well as any other small recesses your bathroom might have. A secondary LED strip could be installed near the floors tor nighttime bathroom use.
The ideal ambient lighting for your sleeping loft or other sleeping area is valance lighting, also known as recessed lighting or cove lighting. This is indirect lighting built into valances or recesses in your ceiling, or in a crook along the high point of the wall. This is great for your bedroom as it generally directs the light upward, allowing you to have light without any shining in your face.
Task lighting will also be needed here, for any late-night reading or in-bed work. This could be in the form of wall-mounted fixtures or bedside lamps with dimmers installed with them.
Most living areas should have a ceiling light over the center of the room, so that the light distributes across the living room equally, as it can be awkward or discomfiting if some parts of the main living area are darker or gloomier due to unbalanced lighting.
Kitchen and Dining Area
While LED strips are the popular choice for lighting up cabinets and drawers in the kitchen, you can also opt for tiny LED “puck lights”, which are even better for emphasizing task lighting right above important cooking stations. You will also want to have a ceiling-mounted lighting fixture in the middle of the kitchen, to distribute light evenly similar to the living area.
Here’s a great guide explaining how to DIY wireless LED puck lights for under cabinet lighting:
Tiny Home LED Lighting Solutions
In the right hands, LED strips can be one of the most interesting light fixtures in your home. If you know what you want to do with them, LED strips can solve almost any lighting issue you might have. Here are some of the simpler applications of LED strips in a tiny house:
- Along or inside the cabinets
- Beneath or above the kitchen shelves
- Around the back of the bathroom mirror
- Along the ceiling of the loft, right above where you sleep
- Along the staircase rails
What should you look for when buying LED strips? It’s important that you don’t pinch pennies while shopping for LED strips, because the build quality can vary wildly with strips, making the difference between strips that stay bright and colorful for years, and strips that start dimming before the first month is out.
If you go for cheap strips, it’s highly likely you will end up with LED strips that become dimmer and lose color quality in no time, so don’t be afraid to spend a little more for higher quality strips.
But the strength of the LED strip is in its flexibility, so the more adventurous you are with its application, the more you can get out of your strips. LED strips can be glued, soldered, taped, and essentially stuck to any surface, as long as you can still connect it to a power source. Here are some inventive lighting projects for LED strips you can try out for your tiny house:
Work Light (Task Lighting)
For this project (and most others when dealing with LED strips), aluminum is the ideal material, because its thin and light design allows it to wick heat away from the strips, preventing them from overheating and keeping them from dimming out over time.
By cutting out a line from a thin sheet of aluminum, and sticking the aluminum into two small blocks of cement, you can create the perfect frame for an arced LED strip. By building an arced LED strip, you can illuminate a flawless workstation, just in case anyone in your family is good with their hands.
An arced light creates a shadow-less lit environment, giving ideal visibility for the most delicate projects. Writing, homework, sketchwork, arts and crafts, and anything else can be done here with zero lighting issues with this task lighting solution.
Wall Mounted Light
For lights on the wall, you might think it is best to go with a light that was already built for wall-mounting; however, if you’re willing to put in the elbow grease, you’ll find that LED strips work just as great (if not better) when coupled with the right materials.
What you will need are acetate sheets, a sanding or polishing tool, and some aluminum. The acetate will act as the wrap-around for the strips, diffusing the light that they give off. To create the frosted look on the acetate sheets, you will want to sand them down on both sides with quite a bit of power. This will give them a less translucent look, making any light that passes more diffused.
Once sanded, the acetate sheets should be glued onto a base strip of aluminum, where on one side you have the LED strip glued, and on the back side, the wiring. You will end up with something that looks like this:
When mounted and lit, your LED strip DIY project will look like a modern, fancy installation in your tiny home:
12 volt lighting fixtures are hard to find. What should I do?
If you are specifically looking for 12v light fixtures for your tiny home, you might find yourself out of luck, as the 12v light fixture market has significantly fewer options than other types of fixtures.
However, what you should know is that the type of fixture you buy doesn’t really matter; as long as the bulb fits, any fixture can be used for a 12 volt bulb.
How do I choose the best set-up for tiny house recessed lighting?
The great thing about recessed lighting these days is that most lamping is already sold with integrated LED, meaning you don’t have to buy a separate bulb. To get the best out of your recessed lighting for your tiny house, you should know the ideal placement for this lighting, which is generally in the ceilings and in the walls.
Recessed lighting from the ceilings is known as recessed downlighting, as it focuses the light down, while lighting in the walls should be installed at an angled flange, to help control the direction of the light.
There are two parts of a recessed light: the housing and the trim. The housing is the hole in which the light is recessed, hiding the electrical parts and the source of light. The trim is what you see, and this is what makes the greatest difference between types of recessed fixtures. The trim determines the style and aesthetic of the recessed light.
Here’s a quick visual detailing how different trims will make your recessed lighting look:
Light Your Tiny Home Efficiently and Simply with LEDs
Unlike “normal” homes, a tiny house shouldn’t need more than a few lights, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring about it. Tiny house living is just as much about expressing yourself in the design of your house as it is about freedom and off-grid living, so why not make the most of every light in your home?
Figure out the best ways to use your LED lights and light up a tiny house unlike any other.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.