Home Improvement Idea: Pathway Lighting

Why?  Intuitive Use

Pathway lighting:

Pathway lighting is low level lighting that guides people in dark conditions. It is a small amount of light along a path for people to follow. The most common places that pathway lighting is needed are the pathways to the following:

  • Bathroom and toilet
  • Home entrances, both inside and outside
  • Hallways
  • Stairs

Intuitive use: 

Intuitive use is a principle of Universal Design (learn more here) that means the design element is easy to use, not relying on any skills or knowledge of the person using it.  A common example of intuitive use is a tea pot- nearly everyone who encounters a tea pot, even without having ever used one before, will hold it by the handle and pour.

Pathway lighting is an excellent example of intuitive use.  People who encounter pathway lighting will be guided on the pathway even if they have no knowledge of the pathway; pathway lighting relies on intuition.


This is a bathroom in a memory care unit.

The problem: The resident was struggling to find the toilet at nighttime, leading to increased confusion and falls.  She could not be convinced to turn on the lights at night.

The solution: Rope lighting was added around the vanity and toilet to guide her.  The lights relied on her intuition to follow the pathway to the bathroom at night.  She didn’t need to learn or remember to turn on any light, and the lights could not be easily turned off.

5 Ways to Achieve Pathway Lighting in Your Home

  • Night Light– the most familiar and easy to find option
    • Pros: Most people have them at home or they are cheap and easy to buy; easy to use; familiar to most people
    • Cons: Need to be kept on to work (people often turn them off); bulbs go out frequently (LED options last longer); can only be placed where there is an outlet
    • Who?  Anyone; use brighter or more lights for people with low vision
    • Where?  Most often used in bathrooms
    • Also consider other options that will plug into outlets, such as rope lighting or even Christmas lights.  Just make sure everything is well secured to prevent tripping on the lighting.
  • Glow in the Dark– can be put anywhere; most common options are tape and stickers
    • Pros: Can put in all locations (including unusual places like on toilet seats or stair treads); easy to order online; inexpensive
    • Cons: May need frequent replacing; very low level lighting provided; need light exposure to “charge” so can’t be used in locations that are mostly dark like closets
    • Who?  Most people; people with cognitive impairments or dementia; not appropriate for people with low vision
    • Where?  Bathroom locations; stair tread or threshold of doors; doorbells
  • Motion Sensor LEDs– wide variety of choices online
    • Pros: Lots of options for light strength, size, and shape online and some now in stores; can be mounted nearly anywhere; motion sensory features allow the LEDs to last a long time
    • Cons: Need batteries replaced or recharged; most do not direct the light well which can cause glare for people
    • Who ?  Anyone; use brighter or more lights for people with low vision (but be cautious with direction of the light due to glare)
    • Where? Anywhere; useful in places without outlets (such as closets)
  • LED Faceplates– becoming more popular
    • Pros: Easy to install (just a few screws); moderately priced for effectiveness; feel like an upgrade to a home
    • Cons: Limited to outlet and switch locations; low amount of light produced
    • Who? Most people; people with cognitive impairments or dementia; not appropriate for people with low vision
    • Where?  Most often used in bathrooms and hallways
  • Installed Lighting– the hardest to install, but most effective and customizable
    • Pros: Can be customized to home owners needs for placement and brightness
    • Cons: Requires a professional or skilled person to install; most costly; will need bulbs replaced
    • Who? Everyone; best option for people with visual impairments as the light can be bright and directed downward
    • Where?  Hallways and stairs; outside pathways to doors (also consider solar options to light outdoor paths where appropriate)

Looking for other simple and cheap home improvement ideas? Here are 10 Easy Home Improvements to do in 1 Day.

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