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Reflecting on LRV

Have you seen the letters “LRV" followed by a number on paint chips? It stands for Light Reflectance Value and is a measurement of how much light a color reflects and, conversely, how much it absorbs. LRV can help you evaluate various characteristics of color before you order or paint a test sample on a board or wall.

What is LRV?

LRV is a consistent measurement that runs on a scale from zero to 100, with zero being absolute black and 100 being a perfectly reflective white. A higher LRV rating means more light is reflected. Conversely, a lower LRV means more light is absorbed. So how can you use LRV when planning and specifying color?

Designing with LRV in mind

LRV gives you a reference as to how light or dark a color should look when it's on the walls. Be sure to look it up, because you can't always tell based on just looking at the color — particularly if all you're working with is a paint chip.

50 percent on the LRV scale is the midpoint, which means the paint is a mid-tone color. It's also the recommended guideline for interior walls. Below 50 percent, the color is darker and absorbs more light than it reflects — ideal for media rooms and bedrooms. Above 50 percent, the color is lighter and reflects more light than it absorbs — best for areas where reading will occur.

LRV and Green Design

Light colors can cut cooling costs. If you have a light color on the exterior of a home or building, it's like wearing a white shirt — surfaces stay cooler. Darker colors, on the other hand, absorb light so surfaces become warmer — raising air conditioning costs.

Also, when you have light colors on the inside of a home or building, less lighting is required because the light is reflected. Rooms with dark walls need more lighting because less light is reflected — which can mean higher electricity bills unless you have natural lighting from outside.

On the other hand, high LRV colors can create over-illumination and glare. This can irritate the eyes, lead to eye strain, and even cause headaches, fatigue and stress. So always be careful not to make the glaring mistake of specifying a high LRV color in an area that receives a lot a sun or light.

Let LRV color your decisions

It's difficult for any designer to know exactly how a client will react to a color when it covers hundreds of square feet of wall space. However, by tracking and studying how different LRVs work in an array of spaces, you can build on your experience and knowledge and get a good idea regarding what colors to recommend (or advise against) for various environments.