Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lighting Considerations

Seeing the photo of the "restored" basement in my previous post reminded me of just how few light fixtures I had in the basement ceiling.  
Yes, I know there are exceptions, but I've seen more than enough model railroads lit with nothing more than a couple of bare bulbs on a pull chain fixture to know how little we as model railroaders think about lighting before starting a layout. 
I thought there was sufficient recessed can lights situated over the planned layout when I started. Remember, the railroad was planned and built as a double-deck layout. I lit the upper level with the aforementioned installed can lights (equipped with daylight LED bulbs) over the railroad and the lower deck with a seemingly endless string of thin profile (and pricey!) under-cabinet light fixtures. You can see the result by looking at the lower deck to the left of Bernie: 
The result was sufficient and even lighting for both decks but when I removed the upper deck the layout suddenly looked dark - those can lights just weren't shedding enough light on things, and the backdrop wasn't helping. 
Early shot of the peninsula under existing light. At least Jeff's sneakers are visible!
So I installed two-tube fluorescent light fixtures, wiring them to the recessed can light fixtures. Over time I added more and more lights where I could (being careful not to exceed the capacity of the circuits). 
Again under existing light. The fluorescent light fixtures were an improvement! 
They certainly shone sufficient light on most of the railroad, but there were still places where the layout was noticeably back-lit - especially in Waterbury. 
The aisle-side wall of the cannery in Waterbury was always buried in shadow.
The problem was the lights were over the peninsula and the finished ceiling (to the left of the peninsula in the overall view above) encased some duct work, resulting in a kind of valence that cast shadows and caused some extremely noticeable back-lit areas in spots.  
A few weeks before I took Christine out shopping in Gainesville (a trip that included "let's take a look at those new houses ...")  I'd actually purchased an LED track light fixture - and planned to install it over the aisle just in front of Waterbury to see if that addressed the back-lighting problem.  
I never installed the track light (it's currently packed up in storage) - but I'm determined to avoid some of the cobbled together solutions from the previous layout. 
As we approach the rough wiring phase of the new house project I've been thinking about layout lighting. Three considerations: 

(1) Making sure there's sufficient, even light 
(2) Ensuring the fixtures are placed to prevent, or at least minimize back-lighting
(3) Distance from the light fixture to the layout.

To address the first two, I'm having the builder install extra can lights over the layout area - but I have a feeling they won't be sufficient. At least know how to get more light onto the center of the layout, although this time I'm going to use some better looking fixtures and try to arrange them with some sort of order so they don't look quite so hodge podge. 
Some of the local guys have had some luck with strip LED fixtures - these pump out huge volumes of light, weigh practically nothing, and stay cool. I might even be tempted to play with adjusting the colors of the LED fixtures to produce nighttime effects -  ("Moonlight in Vermont"?). Not unlike this layout (left) from the Portland NMRA National.
 I'm also placing a number of can lights above where I think the layout aisles will be - hopefully that will address the back-lit problems - and if not at least they'll be sufficient connection points to hard wire other light fixtures. 
Item #3 is a unique one for tall basement ceilings - ours are nine-foot ceilings - so the light has be strong enough to actually reach the layout surface!

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