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Lighting Your Coves and Crown Molding with LEDs

Lighting your crown molding with LED lights

Remarkable décor takes more than a few strategically placed pieces. It takes careful planning, the right arrangement and perfect lighting. Installing LED lights in your coves or crown molding can add an element of upscale style, a splash of fun or a fresh touch of charm; it’s all in your design.

Cove lighting is the upward lighting of a ceiling from below. (The contrasts with soffit lighting, which is the downward lighting of a wall or vertical surface from the ceiling.)

Superior Indirect Lighting: What LEDs Can Do for Your Space

The days of recessed incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lights are over. Design trends are leaning toward more sustainable, practical and cost-effective lighting, and LEDs are the perfect solution.

Because LEDs are easy to work with and are completely customizable, design firms and do-it-yourself types are snapping them up for residential projects. They’re ideal for creating a dramatic effect that allows light to wash down a wall (soffit lighting) or to illuminate an entire room by uplighting the ceiling, creating a fantastic variation from ordinary décor. This uplighting effect, usually accomplished by placing linear LED lights in crown molding or another horizontal plane below the ceiling, is called cove lighting.

These Aren’t Your Grandfather’s Lights

While the comforting glow of a 40-watt incandescent bulb is nice in some settings, it can’t do what LEDs can. LED bulbs are available as stand-alone lights, in bars of various lengths and in flexible rope configurations. Flexible rope LEDs are ideal for brightening room borders, particularly behind curved surfaces such as wall cutouts and coves.

“LED lights are versatile enough that they can be used nearly anywhere. Many of our clients want rope lights or bars installed in crown molding in family rooms, media rooms and kids’ rooms,” says Cheryl Zoellner of Arkansas Little Rock’s Metropolitan Decorating. “We’ve worked in gorgeous homes where displaying the highlights properly can only be done with LEDs.”

Brightness and intensity are factors in choosing the right lighting system, and in LED lights, those are calculated differently than they are with traditional incandescent bulbs.

“If you want a bright light, look for high lumens – you won’t even see watts,” says Zoellner. “LEDs consume less power than incandescent bulbs, so you’ll see brightness measured in lumens and descriptors when it comes to color. Dimmable LEDs give homeowners an even wider range of options.”

A 2,600-lumen LED light is as bright as a 150-watt incandescent light, but it’s powered with a sixth of the energy. When it comes to color, LEDs can provide warm, soft or bright light; light temperature is measured in kelvins, and lower numbers mean warmer light.

LED Lights in Coves, Media Rooms and Libraries

Art collectors have long known the benefits of installing LED lighting in coves and above beautiful pieces, and now decorators are using them to transform ordinary places into extraordinary retreats. When you want to avoid obtrusive light fixtures without sacrificing light quality, tucking LEDs into crown molding is the way to go. Crown molding with lighting effects transforms an ordinary room into a designer’s dream space that’s worthy of a magazine feature. The long lifespan of an LED light source makes for the best rope lights for crown molding, because once they’re installed, you’ll rarely if ever need to replace them. Linear LED rope lights and light bars, because of their low profile when installed properly, are exactly what you need for the ideal crown molding light fixture.

“Whether you’re highlighting a faux-finished wall or you want to create ambience in an entire room, I feel like LEDs are your best bet,” says Zoellner, whose creative partner specializes in decorative painting and art restoration.

Elegant crown molding with lights are frequently seen in upscale hotels, restaurants, and clubs, but because they can be installed relatively easily, they can be used by any homeowner wishing to raise their décor to a new level for an affordable cost.

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Expert Tips: Choosing the Best LED Strands for Your Needs

LED bulbs give off far less heat than traditional bulbs thanks to built-in heat sinks, so safety isn’t generally a concern. What you really need to consider is:

  • How bright you want it to be. Linear LED light fixtures such as rope lights, light bars, and tape lights have their brightness measured in lumens per foot. This provides and apples-to-apples comparison of how bright different types of LED linear lighting options will be. The total length of the run multiplied by the lumens per foot will tell you how much overall light output will be added to the room by the cove lighting. To understand lumens to the traditional watts: a 1,600-lumen LED light bulb is about as bright as a 100-watt incandescent, a 1,100-lumen LED is roughly equal to a 75-watt bulb and an 800-lumen light provides the same illumination as a 60-watt bulb. So if you install a linear LED product (such as tape light, hybrid light, rope light, or light bars) that emits 80 lumens per foot, and the overall linear run length of the crown molding around your room is 50 feet, that means the cove lighting will be giving off 4,000 lumens in total. This is about as much as five 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.
  • What color temperature – or what color – you want. LED lights are available in a wide range of temperatures, from warm yellow tones to bright whites. It is often recommended to avoid bright whites in residential settings unless they’re dimmable as the light they produce can be harsh and unflattering to people and décor. Whimsical pinks, electric blues and the rest of the rainbow are at your disposal when you’re working with multi color RGB LED lights, so if you really want to make a splash, consider coloring outside the lines.
  • The shape, direction and spacing you need. Some linear LED ropes comprise single-direction cones, which means that the light they produce only projects one way; others are omnidirectional, emitting light in all directions, which can be a better choice for crown molding. If you’re using an LED rope light and the bulbs are too far apart, you could end up with patchy illumination; make sure the bulbs are close enough to provide even coverage.


Below are some example illustrations of different crown molding and cove lighting scenarios using various light sources:

Illustration of rope light and tape light in a low ceiling crown molding application

Rope lights are an excellent choice for crown molding lighting in rooms where you desire a soft, gentle glow of accent lighting such as home theaters and media rooms. With the crown molding close to the ceiling, the light from the rope light bounces off the wall and spreads onto the ceiling a short ways. Brighter light sources such as low voltage tape light or line voltage hybrid lights provide a much more powerful lighting experience. They will provide a bright visual "pop" of light when the crown molding is near the ceiling. This is great for rooms such as living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens where there will be other ambient light sources (such as downlights or lamps) on at the same time, yet you still want to be able to see your cove lighting.

Illustration of tape light and strip lights in a high ceiling cove lighting application

The bright output of tape lights and hybrid lights is also great for rooms that have a high ceiling where the cove/crown molding is a good distance away from the ceiling. Due to the distance the light must travel before it reflects off the ceiling, it will not provide the same bright visual "pop" as in the previous low-ceiling application, but it can provide a desirable soft accent glow similar to a rope light in a low-ceiling application. Commercial-grade strip lights are high output fixtures that are commonly used in commercial projects where you have large, deep coves and high ceilings. The high lumen output of these fixtures makes for very bright accent cove lighting, even when all the other interior lighting in a space is fully illuminated. In addition, with a white or similarly reflective colored ceiling, a series of bright strip lights can even provide enough light output to act as the primary source of general lighting in some spaces.

Professional-Quality Installation, DIY Cost

Installing your own LED crown molding lighting is easier than you might think, particularly if you already have an outlet for the lights or you’re familiar with wiring schemes. Once you’ve found crown molding with the right recessed groove to fit a rope light strand, tape light ribbon, or LED light bars, you’re ready to dive in.

Before you start, cut enough triangular 2-inch wood wedges to space at 2-foot intervals along your ceiling. You’ll also need chalk, a tape measure and the hardware that came with your lights. A drill, finishing nails and a hammer will get the job done, and you can use wood filler to cover unsightly nail holes. Painting is the final step.

So that the light from each diode has enough room to blend together seamlessly into a continuous and smooth glow, and for the light to shine up into the ceiling, it’s usually best to install the crown molding a minimum of 7 to 8 inches below the ceiling. Chalk your measurement around the entire room and make sure it’s level before you even think about picking up the wedges. A straight line is the crucial difference between projects that look professionally done and those that look sloppy and haphazard. Nail the 2-inch wedges every 2 feet throughout the room; the bottom of the wedge needs to be flush with your chalk line. Place your crown molding against the wedges and make sure it’s level. Nail it in place and move on to the next until each piece is attached. Once that’s done, mount your lights along the top of your crown molding. It’s best to use the hardware that comes with the lights to ensure a secure fit. Then fill, sand, and paint.

In about a half-day, you’ve created an interior decorator-approved living space where you can bask in about 100,000 hours of perfect cove lighting.

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