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Problem:

  • My living room needs more ambient light.

Constraint:

  • My living room does not have an overhead light fixture and I'm reluctant to drill holes in my ceiling.

Questions:

  • What are my options?
  • When choosing a light fixture, how do I ensure that it will adequately light the room?
  • If I don't want to thread electrical wires through the ceiling and walls, how do I connect my light fixture to the light switch?

EDIT:

  • I'm not 100% against drilling holes in my ceiling.
    • I said that I am "reluctant" to drill holes in my ceiling because I perceived the wiring to be difficult.
  • Thanks to those who have said "Wiring a ceiling light-fixture is not so hard."
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4 Answers

A standing floor lamp that emits light up will reflect light off the ceiling and create ambient illumination. However, it won't be connected to a wall light switch (unless you have or wire a switched outlet). I actually prefer standing lamps to overhead lights, since overhead lights can create harsh shadows (especially if there's just one bright one in the center of the ceiling).

As for the brightness: I like to use bulbs in the 400 to 1000 lumen range ("40 watt" to "60 watt" incandescent equivalent, if you're stuck in the 19th century mindset). I personally find anything brighter than that to be unnecessary—I'd rather have more lights than brighter lights. But that's really an interior decoration / preference question.

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I agree. We use two standing floor lamps in the "back" corners of the living room. They are about 5.5 foot tall with a marbled white glass bowl that allows full light to got up to the ceiling and defused light out sideways and down. The light reflects nicely off the ceiling and gives a nice subtle back lighting for TV viewing without glare or shadows. –  shirlock homes Oct 25 '12 at 10:19
    
Plug in wall sconces work nicely for this too. Depending on the design you get a mix of direct and indirect lighting. –  Craig Oct 25 '12 at 19:41
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The easiest thing would be a lamp with an external switch and a wireless remote control.

However, if you want more traditional fixtures, one product I know if is FlatWire Lighting Wire. It's 12V low voltage and installs with a thin strip conductors you adhere to the wall.

Picture

I should point out that cutting holes and running wire within a single room is not all that difficult usually.

I have no affiliation with FlatWire and I have never used their product. There might be other similar products available

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As discussed in other answers, it is not so hard to install switches and fixture boxes in walls and ceilings.

If you are determined not to do so, you can use surface wiring. This consists of a box that sits over an existing outlet box and then leads the power to other switches and fixtures.

surface box

Wire runs from this in a metal surface channel

wire channel

It can connect to a surface mounted fixure box

surface fixture box

You also can connect a switch in the line. There are also corner pieces that let you bring the wire to another wall or to the ceiling.

How much light is right depends. It depends on the size and shape of the room, the purpose of the room, the number and positions of the lights, and personal preferences.

A common method of dealing wiht this is multiple lights in multiple positions with dimmer switches (either wall mounted, built into the lamp or on a remote) to allow you to vary the output

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Its actually quite easy if you have some basic DIY skills and tools. I'm not a fan of floor lamps so I installed a ceiling light in our family room a couple years ago

I'll post a photo when I get home, but the jist of it is (for us anyways):

You'll need:

  • List item
  • An Old Work ceiling light box
  • An Old Work electrical box
  • Some wire and string
  • Your light fixture
  • Fish Tape
  • Standard electrical work tools and electrical tape.

Figure out where you will put the ceiling light and light switch by trying to figure out how the ceiling joists run. You can do this buy cutting a hole where you will put the light or possibly looking for nail / screw pops in the ceiling.

In our case, where I wanted to put the light, lined up with the wall attached to the dining room.

I cut a hole in the ceiling to fit the electrical box in

I then followed the joist to the wall and cut a small hole in the wall as close to the ceiling as I could get - you'll use this hole to fish wire into the ceiling. This hole should be big enough to get some tools into it. It doesn't need to be huge - 4in x 4in max.

Following the wall cavity down I cut a hole for where I wanted the light switch to go

In the hole you cut to fish the wire through, drill a hole through the top plate into the cavity of the ceiling.

Using a fish tape, put the tape into this cut out in the wall, then into the hole you just drilled through the top plate and keep pushing until the tape reaches the hole you cut for the light fixture.

Attach electrical wire to the fish tape and pull it back out - now you should have electrical wire running from the ceiling light hole to the cut out in the wall. Detach the fish tape and make sure the wire doesn't come out of the hole.

Put the fish tape in the hole you cut for the light switch, push the tape up to the cutout you made at the top of the wall and attach the electrical wire to it. pull the tape down and now your electrical wire is where the light switch it.

From the light switch hole, using a long flexible drill bit, drill down inside the wall, through the floor into the basement. Once you break through, DO NOT remove the drill bit from the hole you drilled. IE: don't pull out. Remove the drill bit from the drill and tape some string to the end of it. Now you can let the drill bit fall through the hole into the basement and the string should be attached to it. Make sure there is enough string so you can pull it out.

Go in the basement, find the drill bit and string, remove the drill bit and attach electrical wire to it. Go back to the light switch hole and pull the wire up from the basement.

Now all the fixtures have wire to them.

Get the electrical box for the light switch, pull the wires through them and install the light switch.

Cut a patch of drywall for the hole you cut at the top of the ceiling and repair the hole.

Install the ceiling electrical box and your light fixture.

Go in the basement and connect the electrical wire to power TURNING OFF the breaker for the line your attaching to first.

A little touch up paint and you should be done.

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