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Illuminate Your Space With These LED Home Lighting Hacks

You don't need to be an electrician or interior designer to the perfect lighting aesthetic for your room.

John Carlsen
5 min read
string lights along top of wall

Ambient lighting is an easy hack for making a room feel uniquely yours.

John Carlsen/CNET

The "big light," or ceiling light, is bright and practical -- ideal when you need task lighting to focus on work and household chores. But sometimes, you want a colorful, more inviting atmosphere during your downtime. So it's fitting to seek out accent lighting that feels like a candlelit dinner or the warm glow of a table lamp by your favorite chair.

Ambient lighting is different for everyone -- it changes along with your mood and current activity. This flexibility can take you as far as your imagination will go in choosing the best setup to fit your preferences. There's no wrong answer for how you customize your lighting. I focus on smart lighting in this guide, but you can apply these tips to any light type to help you find the perfect lighting vibe for your budget.

large cieling light

Are you ready to give the "big light" some time off?

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1. Assess the room to come up with ideas

The size and shape of a room sets the tone for your lighting choices, so it's time to get out the measuring tape. Note the room's rough shape and dimensions (width, length and ceiling height) on your phone or a sticky note. You'll refer to this often when exploring ideas online or at the store -- it certainly beats having to repeat measurements. If you want to encircle your room with a strand of accent lights, it's best to know how much to buy.

Next, snap a few reference pictures of your room from different angles. This helps you visualize how direct and indirect lighting might interact with your furniture and natural light from windows while making it easier to plan the installation.

blue light in bathroom

Color-changing smart bulbs are surprisingly relaxing during morning showers.

John Carlsen/CNET

I suggest keeping things simple with one or two sources of ambient light in smaller rooms. Consider swapping the bulbs in ceiling lights for smart bulbs with a tunable white or color-changing function. Likewise, you could opt for something like the Govee Floor Lamp or a moon lamp. While string lights, fairy lights and LED strip lights work well in small rooms, they're even better for spreading ambient light in large rooms.

2. Explore your options

You can find appealing lights on any budget, but complexity and great aesthetics usually cost more. There are so many lighting options available that we can't look at everything, but let's explore a few LED lighting options to help you find ideas.

String lights and fairy lights

You'll find a substantial selection of fairy lights under $20, with most string lights costing less than $30 per strand. This makes them great for broad coverage at a low cost. They're easy to hang on push pins or wall hooks, making them perfect for renters.

The biggest advantage of string lights is the bulb variety: sizes, shapes, colors and designs. Many outdoor string lights work just as well indoors, so there's no need to stick to indoor models if you fall for an Edison design. Try stringing them along walls if you have lower ceilings and across rooms with high ceilings. Placing mood lighting near the ceiling helps reflect illumination around a space.

Bargain hunters can save a ton of cash picking up string lights in holiday clearance sales after Christmas, just pay attention to the length and maximum number of strands you can connect. Retailers don't carry as many string lights the rest of the year, but you can always find them online for reasonable prices.

Fairy lights are a newer variation of the classic string light formula with tiny LEDs. While you won't find as many shapes as with string lights, fairy lights typically use USB for power, making them easier to fit into rooms where USB outnumbers standard outlets. Another advantage of fairy lights is the thin wire that blends better in a room.

In most cases, string lights with white wires blend better with indoor walls, but dark wires have a satisfying droop when hung in loops. If bare wires are too distracting, consider wrapping them with garlands like I did with two strands of fairy lights in my living room that I control with a smart plug.

ambient lighting in the living room

My living room has many accent lighting options, including fairy lights and an LED strip light.

John Carlsen/CNET

LED strip lights

LED strips have a certain sci-fi quality, making them irresistible to anyone who appreciates evenly spaced LED lights in clean lines and sharp angles. While you can find cheap LED strips under $10, they generally cost more per foot than string lights.

Most LED strips come with an adhesive backing that makes them easy to install, but removing them from a wall requires some patience if you don't want to damage the paint. If you don't mind spending a little extra, you can skip this problem using mounting brackets or an LED channel mounting system like Muzata.


I made DIY LED diffusers using printer paper.

John Carlsen/CNET

One common complaint about LED strips is some people don't like seeing the harsh light of individual LEDs. You can solve this problem by putting a diffuser over your LEDs, which scatters the light to be more uniform. Some pricier strip lights integrate a diffuser, like the Govee Neon Rope Light.

Chris Maher on YouTube gives an illuminating (no pun intended) DIY diffuser alternative using paper that's worth a watch if you don't want to buy diffusers. I decided to try it with my Govee RGBIC Pro strip lights. As a first try, it's not perfect, but the scattered light is great for reading in bed.

paper diffuser light

I made DIY LED diffusers using printer paper.

John Carlsen/CNET

Light panels

Light panels combine multiple flat, modular elements -- usually triangles, hexagons and squares -- that clip together in any configuration to build eye-catching decor for your living room wall. They make a statement at maximum brightness, but you can dim them for a more chill atmosphere. Each light panel uses a diffuser for even light distribution, so you won't need extra hardware to avoid harsh lighting.

Although strips of LEDs tend to work best where walls, ceilings and floors meet, panels thrive near eye level. The most common mounting method is an adhesive strip included with the panel. This simple installation comes with a nice bonus: You probably won't need a ladder or to move any furniture.

You'll find light panels on the high end among retail smart LEDs. While cheaper panel options are increasingly common, lighting kit options from notable brands like Nanoleaf, Govee and GE Cync often cost upwards of $100 or more for a handful of panels.

nanoleaf shapes above bedroom

Nanoleaf Shapes Triangles light panels.


3. Take the leap and experiment

Get your neurons firing about using ambient lighting at home to create a space that you enjoy—one that's uniquely you.

As a renter, I often opt for DIY workarounds that fit those limitations. I've spent hours scouring hardware stores for cheap alternatives to LED channel mounting. You'd be surprised at the usefulness of a little vinyl siding or tile cap moulding in a DIY lighting project.


I used tile divider molding from Lowe's as the foundation for my DIY Govee lamp.

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I'm not an interior designer, just a tech geek who loves experimenting with smart lighting. I shared what works for me, but it won't work for everyone. You could hire a local electrician for a pro install wall sconces, track lighting and chandeliers if that's what you want for accent lighting. Whatever you choose, have fun with it.