Random question du jour, inspired by the thoroughly depressing airport Holiday Inn I'm writing this in due to a missed flight connection:

Why don't American hotels have ceiling lights? Every chain hotel I've ever stayed at has instead had a motley assortment of bedside, table and floor lamps.

What's more, instead of a single master light switch, there are individual switches/knobs to turn them on and off located next to the bulb, on the cable on the floor, on a switch on the side, etc, so you get to fumble around when turning them on and once more when turning them off.

And yes, I'm sure there are exceptions, but no, that doesn't make "you're wrong, I stayed at Motel Z in Bent Arm Pit, Wyoming once and they had a ceiling light!" an answer. I'm curious about the reason why: Lower ceilings so cheaper to build? Easier/cheaper to maintain? Fire code? Something else?

  • I have no idea, and I suspect that no definitive answer can be found, but generally people don't use ceiling lights in bedrooms or living rooms at home, and hotels probably want to try to "make you feel at home".
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 17:03
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    +1 but general question: do you read any of the trade association magazines targeted to hotels?
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 17:11
  • I have no industry knowledge bu have the feeling it is to make things feel more cozy. A ceiling lamp would have to be strong, while all the small lights give more lighting coverage while remaining dim, although I know this hotel in Wyoming.... ;)
    – Itai
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 17:31
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    @JonathanReez that's not it. Changing light bulbs went the way of the dinosaur, as commercial construction codes of the last 10-15 years say hardwired lighting must use energy efficient lighting with proprietary bases, which tend to have very long bulb life, and are likely to outlive their ballast or remodel. Especially if you want LEED certifications etc. Of course, plug-in light fixtures are exempt from that rule or cert. Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 22:18
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    Is it just US? I find this all over the world. It's very annoying as I too want a bright light that I can switch on and off easily.
    – Calchas
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 23:11

1 Answer 1


Why not ceiling lights?

In the USA most rooms must have a light switch. Builders lobbied an Electrical Code change to allow switching a receptacle instead of an overhead light. This saves the cost of running wire to a ceiling box, drywalling around it, and fitting an overhead light. (Especially when many hotels use construction methods such as prefab or poured concrete, which would make fitting a ceiling light very difficult). The cost of making some receptacles switched is trivial by comparison, since receptacles are already required. This is all about cost.

In this scheme, the homeowner or proprietor is expected to plug in a floor or desk lamp. Those have their own switches, making it possible to render the room switch totally inoperative. A homeowner is expected to learn a habit. A guest or first-responder is on his own.

This same Code (and economics) applies to hotel rooms.

A problem/convenience in hotels

A desk or floor lamp is just not enough light. (halogen torchiere lights were, but they fell out of style). Also, some people who share rooms or beds want to operate out of sync, one sleeping while the other burns a reading light, so it is common to provide a desk lamp on each side of a queen or king bed. Others also want task lighting at the provided desk or counter. When I travel with others, this is a blessing: we turn off the main light, my partner turns in, and I read off a bedside light -and don't have to get out of bed to turn it off.

At least one of the lights, must provide the statutory switched light. These, being commodity types, typically have a local switch also.

Your best practice in a US hotel is not to use the on-lamp switches at all, until you learn which ones are controlled by the light switches. Operate the light switches first; if that does nothing, then go for the on-lamp switch.

Also watch out when charging your devices; they often wire extra receptacles to be switched (or one of two sockets switched) - if you rely on those, they will stop charging when you turn off the light.

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    @JonathanReez sorry, I didn't write in a way which is clear to all people. I have done an edit to make it much more obvious that a code requirement aimed to cheapen homes also applies to hotels, especially where construction type would make ceiling penetration a nightmare. What are you looking for that would make it feel like it answers the question? Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 21:55
  • I don't really understand from your answer why a hotel can have a switch that turns on a floor lamp, but not one that turns on a ceiling lamp. If the cost of ceiling penetration is the issue, then I do understand.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 13:08
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    @JonathanReez it's technically possible, sure... But to switch receptacles it's just a matter of adding one more wire to the cable/conduit that's already there for the receptacles. With overhead lights, they have to blaze a new wiring route clear up to the lamp. Easy enough with Romex and wood joists in a home, but those are not used in hotel construction. So cost is more. Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 15:09
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    @Harper: Do most hotels have any kind of cavity between the ceiling of one room and the floor of the room above? Many hotels I've seen do all the piping and plumbing (including toilets and fire sprinklers) in the walls rather than the ceiling/floor.
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 21:53
  • @supercat yeah, he alludes to that when he mentions that most hotels use prefab or poured concrete building methods, which make adding ceiling lights very difficult. One alternative would be to use hardwired wall sconces instead of plug-in lamps, though... Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 0:30

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