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Why Do Hotels Only Have Lamps (No Ceiling Lights)?

A luxurious hotel room with 2 lampshades.

Hotels are a peculiar place that can feel both familiar and alien at the same time. It’s hard to put a finger on all the differences, but one of the most prominent changes is the lack of ceiling light fixtures in most hotel rooms.

Profit is the primary motivator behind a lack of ceiling lights. Hotels are businesses, so they have to balance creating a product that people will want to consume with their costs. The design of the hotel influences both the initial construction cost and ongoing maintenance costs, so many hotel builders will forego ceiling lights to cut down on both.

Architectural Requirements of Ceiling Lights

A book and a glasses near a lampshade.

Avoiding ceiling lights severely reduces the amount of architectural work that goes into the ceiling space. Since hotels tend to be vertically stacked, the height of each room becomes a factor in its overall height. To allow enough room for the wiring, about 8″ of space is needed. For a five-story hotel, that means several feet of extra height just to install the ceiling lights.

The alternative is reducing the room height, and there is only so far that architects can shrink the room before it becomes cramped and uncomfortable. Modern homes tend to have ceilings between 9 and 10 feet. Older homes might have ceilings closer to 8 feet. Paying hundreds of dollars a night for a cramped room can generate bad reviews.

There are legal restrictions on how short a ceiling can be, too. Building regulations vary by state and city, but they frequently mandate minimum heights on habitable spaces. For example, Washington state requires a minimum height of 7 feet, while California requires an extra six inches. Few hotel designers will want to cut their room size to such a degree.

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Reduced Cost

Aside from the spacing requirements, extra work goes into creating that space. To keep things simple, many multi-story hotels use a solid slab of concrete that serves as both the ceiling of one level and the floor of the next. Adding the space for the wiring means a lower ceiling has to be added to each floor, increasing material needs and labor costs.

Instead, lamps plug into all of the other wiring and electrical work that has to be done. A fancy lamp might still be more expensive than a basic ceiling light, but similar qualities of light fixtures will be cheaper with a reduced upfront cost.

Ease of Maintenance

A man, replacing a bulb of a lampshade.

It only takes a few moments to switch a dead bulb on most lamps. The most difficult designs might need minor disassembly of the lamp shade and the securing mechanism for the bulb. A maintenance worker with a pack of bulbs can refresh the lights on an entire floor before their first break.

Switching out a bulb for a ceiling light will take much more effort. A step-ladder is necessary equipment, and a full-sized ladder may be needed depending on the height of the ceiling. Hauling the ladder around takes time, and it’s a harder task for maintenance workers with any physical limitations.

Variable Ambience and Aesthetics

A settee and lampshade with aesthetic design.

Ceiling lights are static fixtures designed to bathe a larger area in light. That makes them effective, but not very strategic. Adding a dimmer switch or a smart lightbulb will help some, but they are still meant for wider coverage by design.

Lamps have a larger range of sizes, and they are easy to move around a room. Table lamps on the nightstands or sconces by the bed add a softer light that is less likely to wake up other guests in the room. A larger standing lamp can brighten up larger areas like the table for activities that need ample lighting.

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Simplified and Cheaper Renovations

When the hotel decides to renovate, the lamps are far easier to remove or change. Just switching out the lamp shade can make for a dramatically different look. The hardest part is moving the lamps between floors, but a cart and elevator handle most of that.

Conversely, switching out ceiling light fixtures can take hours for each replacement. They are larger, heavier, and more expensive. Each one may need their own trip on the elevator. By the end of the renovation, the extra labor and material costs will significantly impact the benefits of the upgrade.

Electricity Costs

A woman holding a lampshade with a bulb design.

Depending on the type of bulb used, lamps can provide the light needed for a specific purpose at a lower rate of power usage. With the same size light bulb, there is no difference, but hotels will frequently use lower wattage bulbs to help guide their guests towards lower electricity use.

All of those gains can be lost if the guests leave on dozens of lamps while running their electronic devices, so it’s not as large of a driving factor as other benefits to lamp lighting. Although hotels don’t usually charge guests for electricity, you can help by being conscious of your light usage while staying at a hotel.