I’m five feet even, so even with a fairly low ceiling and the assistance of a Gorilla ladder with a built-in project tray I still always chicken out and call my condo’s maintenance department. I happily wait in that appointment window and pay their fee to change a light bulb. It’s so much cheaper than the box of light bulbs I will inevitably break at best, or hospital bill at worst, if something goes wrong. Because SCREW flush-mount ceiling lights to hell, that’s why.
Given my circumstances, any kind of ceiling light that burns out is a nightmarish prospect. But flush-mounts were just designed with extreme cruelty for short people and/or the not-very-handy among us. We can’t all be Bob Vila, okay? What do you even DO if you live in a typical detached house and don’t have a maintenance department to call?!
From a maintenance standpoint, flush-mount lights can be a nightmare depending on how your ceilings are set up and your overall handiness. People still opt for them over other types of lighting fixtures though because they can have a nice aesthetic quality if you pick the right one, but here’s why flush-mount ceiling lights are not as great as home improvement sites chalk them up to be.
Why Do People Opt for Flush-Mounts, Anyway?
Typically, flush-mount lights are dome-shaped or dome-like and as the name implies, are flush to the ceiling upon installation. So that’s the major pain right there: a dome can look pretty but once that bulb burns out, you have to get the dome off AND hold it steady getting on and off the ladder if you don’t have the benefit of professional handymen like I do. Good luck screwing it back on otherwise!
Ceiling lights, like any other aspect of home decor, run the gamut from simple and utilitarian to visually pleasing and utterly ridiculous. From an aesthetic point of view, flush-mount ceiling lights are a popular choice for all types of residential and commercial decorating because they can add a lot of beauty and atmosphere to a room. This is especially true of small rooms with low ceilings, a flush-mount light can really draw attention and make the room feel bigger.
Of course, adding a smart home system which is typically offered by new home builders, can add the ability to control your bulbs via an app. Even a plain old ceiling fixture can be made more elegant when you have the ability to dim the light to your specifications, or even change the color of the light completely.
But as they giveth, they also taketh. Especially if the fixture is WAY too big for the ceiling like this one.
I’d just be staring at the thing resembling a superfluous giant nipple that’s somehow gaping at all of us. In fact, these actually ARE called “boob lights” in the interior design industry. They’re a staple in households across America, like that bag of plastic bags or empty tin of Dansk butter cookies that now houses sewing supplies.
Flush-mounts are a popular choice because they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to find in comparison to other types of fixtures, and can often be installed without an electrician’s help if you already have an area wired. They’re pretty much just a step above just having a bare bulb light up the room. Nonetheless, the cheap or even frightening feel that a bare bulb presents are why flush-mounts are virtually always the first lighting fixture most people gravitate to. Even if that glass shade above could just be too big for the room it’s going in, it’s still a pretty fixture that could go well with the room’s look and feel. Compare it to this type of flush-mount and you get a vibe that’s less “I’m relaxing at home” and more “this is the kind of motel that charges by the half-hour”.
I can almost hear the roaches skittering to the vending machine that predates the Reagan administration.
There’s definitely advantages to flush-mount lighting though or else it wouldn’t be so popular. While they’re a nightmare to screw on and off when changing bulbs, one upside about this type of lighting is that you don’t have dust gathering on the opposite side like you would with a typical glass shade. And since the light is totally encased in the glass or other type of shade (flush-mount lights are virtually always glass, but some of them have crystal or fabric shades as well), you won’t hurt your eyes by having a bare bulb peeking through.
Got a fabric shade instead of a glass one though? Fantastic, now you got a fire hazard on top of potentially poor lighting. With any light fixture, you should always exercise careful judgment when it comes to selecting the correct light bulbs. But this is triply so for anything with fabric shades, especially if that puppy’s on the ceiling. You can diffuse a blazing lamp a lot faster than a ceiling fixture, but to hell with aesthetics: if you’re not risking burns from fabric shades, you’re risking that glass hitting your foot on a stepladder.
Flush-Mounts Don’t Let Light Properly Bounce
Your shade or dome of choice can either add to the look and feel of a room or take away from it, but here’s why these lights need to go like, yesterday: they’re terrible if the light is only coming in the room from one direction.
This picture is exaggerating the situation, the light goes in only one direction (mostly).
Think about how you can have a powerful air conditioner in one room but the next room could be sweltering if there’s too much wall or hallway, causing the air flow to get constricted. It’s a similar concept when it comes to lighting. Light is like this totally hyper Bulbasaur. It’s bouncy. It needs things to bounce off of!
Flush-mounts will be an incredibly hideous choice in rooms with high ceilings because the light is pointing down in one direction with no chance to really bounce off anything. It can’t reach down that far and if it has nothing to bounce off of, it’s going to make the rest of the room be much darker. So if you have a room with higher ceilings like a bedroom or living room, you’re not going to want a flush-mount unless you have a couple of them and who wants to get an electrician in there to muck up the ceiling for a lot of money when you can just get a semi-flush instead? They extend farther from the ceiling without a dramatically low drop that could feel like spotlighting the floor.
Omnidirectional goodness! And I could probably change the light bulbs in this without having to call the maintenance department!
Think of flush-mount lights as stud earrings, while semi-flush is like slightly dangly earrings (those pendant lights are shoulder dusters). Studs are fine as earrings, not in your ceiling. Even a nice-looking boob light is still a solitary uniboob harshly glaring down at you without bothering to light up the corners of the room. Do you want that depressing, glary uniboob that was on Home Depot’s clearance rack schlanking up your dream house? I DIDN’T THINK SO. DON’T MAKE BULBASAUR CRY.
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.