Every year electricity is becoming more and more an integral part of our homes, making our living easier and adding to our pleasures. And yet, as obvious as this is, the average home-owner is less informed on the details of this equipment than other parts of the house. The heating plant and the plumbing are generally understood better. It is quite a bit easier to visualize the water coming into the house through pipes than to think of the strange power of electricity coming through overhead wires or underground conduits.

For the insulated and sheathed wires, the safety switches and fuses, and the simple controls of this force, we pay only about two to three per cent of the total cost of the house. Our lives are protected from any of its uncontrolled antics, like setting fire to the house while we are asleep in the night, by carefully made equipment and standard methods of installation.

Regulations issued by the Fire Underwriters, known as the National Electric Code, are in part responsible for our safety. Inspection of the work by insurance inspectors, agents of the local electric power company, and sometimes city inspectors, has established a check on the work of the electric contractor that in general has protected our homes from ravages of fire caused by sparks of electric energy. Every home-owner should demand that the entire equipment, including service connections, wiring, fixtures, and electrical apparatus be inspected by a representative of the Bureau of Electricity of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and that no current be turned on until a certificate from the Board has been turned over to him. In large cities the department of water supply, gas and electricity also issues a certificate of electrical inspection. The local electric power company usually sends around an inspector to check up on the wiring before the current is let into the house. Safe materials must be used by the electric contractor if he is required to conform to the National Electric Code. Of course any system of inspection can break down, if the inspectors are bought off, or are incompetent, but I do not believe that there are many verified instances where properly certified installations have been the cause of fires.

1 Adapted from "What Home Owners Should Know about Electric Systems," Arts and Decoration, June, 1930. Reprinted by courtesy of the Arts and Decoration magazine.

Trouble and fires usually start from installations made to existing systems by amateur electricians like the local hardware dealer's son or some handy man about the house who has purchased cheap and unapproved equipment. Of all the parts of the house, the electrical equipment should be tampered with the least by the home-owner. It is disturbing to see what liberties people will take with electric wires, when they want to secure a light in some remote corner of a room, where no convenient outlet has been provided.....

For this reason, all new homes should be generously wired. An outlet in the middle of the room for a light or a few around the walls for side lights may be installed, but the most important ones are the wall outlets to which anything may be attached by merely inserting a plug. The finest method of lighting a home to-day is to have enough wall outlets so that portable lamps of different designs may be located at any point in the room without having to use electric wires more than six feet in length. The movable lamp, with its interesting base and artistic shade, is the only medium of home lighting that is flexible enough to allow shifting and changing until the best effects are obtained. People have discovered this to be true, and that is the reason why, when enough wall outlets are not installed, rooms are strung with wires.

Another type of outlet is very important to-day. It is called the power outlet. In many communities a lower rate is charged by the electric power company for current used to operate motors to run electric stokers and oil burners, washing machines, electric ironers, electric refrigerators, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, heaters, and the many other appliances that lessen the labor about the home and add to its comfort. Wisely have some of the influential executives of power companies said that the lower the rate can be made for the operation of such equipment, the more of these devices will be made and used, and the more current in the long run will be consumed by the public. Just at present though there is too much indifference on the part of some electric power companies to encourage the average home-owner in using power outlets in his home. Unless the home-owner is informed by the architect or builder, no effort will be put forth by the electric company to tell him to install two systems, one with a meter for electric lights and another system with a meter for power.

As it is true that a generous supply of light outlets should be located throughout the rooms of the house, so it is true that there should be plenty of power outlets. In general there ought to be one in the cellar to which the motor that operates the oil burner or electric stoker may be attached, one for the workshop bench in garage and cellar. In the kitchen there should be at least three, one for the refrigerator, another for an electric stove, and another for electrical food grinders and beaters. The laundry needs at least two; one for the washing machine and another for the iron and mangle. In the dining room and the breakfast alcove should be a power outlet for the operation of toasters, coffee percolator, table broilers, etc. In bathrooms a power outlet is useful for the operation of electric irons, curlers, massagers, water heaters, and similar devices. A general distribution of outlets through halls serves as additional source of power.

On an average the cost of each outlet for lights, including the wall outlets, switches, ceiling outlets, etc., is three dollars each. Power outlets usually run higher, being about four dollars each. For very little more, the wall outlets may be the duplex type; a type into which two wires can be plugged at once. This is worth while, since it provides additional places into which to plug lights. Flexibility of arrangement is the thing to plan for, and this improves conditions. After all, the good lighting of the home depends upon locating the lights in the proper place with reference to the furniture. As lighting is part of the decoration, and its success depends upon many things not possible to work out ahead of time, the wall plugs permit the shifting and adjustment of portable lamps to all parts of the room until the correct place is found for them. This cannot be figured out in advance in home decoration, and what is more, although a satisfactory arrangement of furniture may be found and it may be satisfying for several years, the desire for a change may creep into the mind of the lady of the house, and a complete shifting of the furniture may be necessary after a while.

[Note. - Progress in lighting: According to an estimate made by the National Electric Light Association from records of electric-light companies 19,430,000, or 67 per cent, of the 28,808,000 houses were wired and received electric service in 1929. At the beginning of 1929 electric service was supplied to 7.2 per cent of the 6,315,050 farms. In a paper prepared by a committee of the American Home Economics Association for the World Power Conference, June, 1930, the following statement is made: "Every city in the United States of 5,000 population or above now has electric service; 97 per cent of all communities between 1,000 and 5,000; 50 per cent of all communities between 250 and 1,000; and more than 25 per cent of all hamlets of less than 250 population.]


No hard and fast rules can be laid down as to what represents best practice in lighting the various rooms of a house; however, the following fundamentals should be observed: (1) Light should not be excessively brilliant or glaring. Extreme contrasts are objectionable. (2) Luminaires should be artistic and utilitarian in character. (3) Light should be toned to fit decorative schemes. The living room requirements: Medium intensity for general illumination with more brilliant light-sources for various points. The dining room: Good illumination on the table itself, soft but adequate illumination on the faces of the diners, a lower intensity of illumination through the remainder of the room. The kitchen: General illumination throughout with each work surface adequately lighted. The bedroom: A moderate intensity of general illumination throughout the room with higher intensity of local lighting at certain areas.

As lighting conditions that cause eyestrain depend somewhat upon the state of adaptation of the eye, it is difficult to define limits of these conditions. Excessive contrast, however, causes eyestrain. Usually when a room is considered overlighted the effect is merely glare from exposed light-sources. Unshaded light-sources should not be tolerated.


Caldwell, Frank C. Modern Lighting. New York: Macmillan Co., 1930. Lighting of residences (pp. 200-210).

Commery, E. W., and Webb, H. H. Home Lighting Fundamentals. Bull. 47 A.

Cleveland: National Lamp Works of the General Electric Co., 1928. Pp. 34. Edison Lighting Institute (comp.). Lighting the Home. Harrison, N.J.;

Edison Lamp Works of the General Electric Co., n.d. Pp. 35.

Discusses types of lighting for various rooms.

Eyesight Conservation Council. Eyesight Conservation Survey. Bull. 7. New York: The Council, 1925. Pp. 216. Principles of illumination (pp. 145-54).

Good Housekeeping Institute. House Wiring and Lighting for Service. New York: Good Housekeeping, 1930. Pp. 12. Gray, Greta. House and Home. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1923.

Lighting (pp. 124-30).

Hering, Oswald C. Economy in Home Building. New York: Robert M. Mc-Bride & Co., 1924. Suggestions for electric wiring (pp. 123-25).

House Beautiful Building Annual, I926. (Out of print.) Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1926. Electric wiring (pp. 115-16); lighting fixtures (p. 117).

Illuminating Engineering Society, New York. "Central Station Methods for Securing High Lighting Standards in Old Homes," Transactions, XV (December 30, 1920), 693-703. New York: The Society, 1920.

............. "Residence Lighting," ibid. (June 10, 1920), 268-82. New York: The Society, 1920.

Luckiesh, Matthew. Lighting Fixtures and Lighting Effects. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1925.

_______Lighting the Home. New York: Century Co., 1920.

National Board of Fire Underwriters. National Electrical Code, I930. New York: The Board, 1930. Pp. 256.

National Electric Light Association. Better Lighting. More Power to the Home Series, Booklet 2. New York: The Association, n.d. Pp. 32.

_______Wiring the House. More Power to the Home Series, Booklet 1. New York: The Association, n.d. Pp. 24.

National Lamp Works. Better Lighting in the Home. Bull. 47. Cleveland: National Lamp Works of the General Electric Co., 1926. Pp. 31.

"Outlets Where You Need Them," Small Home, July-October, 1930.

Perkins, Nelson S. How To Judge a House. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Committee on Wood Utilization. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1931. Pp. 85. Electric wiring (pp. 75-80).

U.S. Bureau of Standards. Measurements for the Household. Circular of the Bureau of Standards, No. 55. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915. Pp. 149.

Discusses measurements and cost of light, fixtures, principles, and reading of electric and gas meters (pp. 68-101).

Westinghouse Lighting Institute. The Framework of Home Lighting; Light Decoration; Home Lighting of the Modern Period; Making Shades for Light; The Style in Home Lighting. Home Lighting Course, New York: Westing-house Lamp Co., 1931.