Lighting or illumination is the deliberate use of light to achieve practical or aesthetic effects. Lighting includes the use of both artificial light sources like lamps and light fixtures, as well as natural illumination by capturing daylight. Daylighting (using windows, skylights, or light shelves) is sometimes used as the main source of light during daytime in buildings. This can save energy in place of using artificial lighting, which represents a major component of energy consumption in buildings. Proper lighting can enhance task performance, improve the appearance of an area, or have positive psychological effects on occupants.
A major reduction in the cost of lighting occurred with the discovery of whale oil. The use of whale oil declined after Abraham Gesner, a Canadian geologist, first refined kerosene in the 1840s, allowing brighter light to be produced at substantially lower cost. In the 1850s, the price of whale oil dramatically increased (more than doubling from 1848 to 1856) due to shortages of available whales, hastening whale oil's decline. By 1860, there were 33 kerosene plants in the United States, and Americans spent more on gas and kerosene than on whale oil. The final death knell for whale oil was in 1859, when crude oil was discovered and the petroleum industry arose.
An important property of light fixtures is the luminous efficacy or wall-plug efficiency, meaning the amount of usable light emanating from the fixture per used energy, usually measured in lumen per watt. A fixture using replaceable light sources can also have its efficiency quoted as the percentage of light passed from the "bulb" to the surroundings. The more transparent the lighting fixtures are, the higher efficacy. Shading the light will normally decrease efficacy but increase the directionality and the visual comfort probability.
Soffit or close to wall lighting can be general or a decorative wall-wash, sometimes used to bring out texture (like stucco or plaster) on a wall, though this may also show its defects as well. The effect depends heavily on the exact type of lighting source used.
The illuminated ceiling was once popular in the 1960s and 1970s but fell out of favor after the 1980s. This uses diffuser panels hung like a suspended ceiling below fluorescent lights, and is considered general lighting. Other forms include neon, which is not usually intended to illuminate anything else, but to actually be an artwork in itself. This would probably fall under accent lighting, though in a dark nightclub it could be considered general lighting.
The SI unit of illuminance and luminous emittance, being the luminous power per area, is measured in Lux. It is used in photometry as a measure of the intensity, as perceived by the human eye, of light that hits or passes through a surface. It is analogous to the radiometric unit watts per square metre, but with the power at each wavelength weighted according to the luminosity function, a standardized model of human visual brightness perception. In English, "lux" is used in both singular and plural.
In response to daylighting technology, daylight harvesting systems have been developed to further reduce energy consumption. These technologies are helpful, but they do have their downfalls. Many times, rapid and frequent switching of the lights on and off can occur, particularly during unstable weather conditions or when daylight levels are changing around the switching illuminance. Not only does this disturb occupants, it can also reduce lamp life. A variation of this technology is the 'differential switching or dead-band' photoelectric control which has multiple illuminances it switches from so as not to disturb occupants as much.