How to Choose the Right Outdoor Lighting
Outdoor lighting is a critical part of the functionality and curb appeal of your home. Not only do you need to be able to access pathways, porches, verandas, and patios after dark, but you want a home that looks appealing from the street. A well-lit house is a safe house. And here are the types of outdoor lights to consider:
- Outdoor Wall Lighting
- Outdoor Ceiling Lighting
- Post Lighting
- Deck Lighting
- Outdoor Pathway Lighting
Finding the right outdoor lights for your house takes a careful evaluation of the areas around your home and yard, but it also requires an eye towards aesthetics.
What are Outdoor Lights?
Obviously, the answer is in the name – lights made to handle whatever is outside. To learn if a light bulb or lighting fixture is made for the elements, look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) safety rating.
A wet rating means it’s designed to handle the elements, whether snow or rain. We recommend a wet rating when installing deck lighting, pathway lighting, pole lighting, and wall sconces not covered by an overhang.
A damp rating means the light is designed only to handle moisture, fog, and high humidity. It won’t hold up to constant rain, snow, or spray from a sprinkler. As such, a damp-rated light needs overhead protection, such as a patio, porch or gazebo. Outdoor lighting fixtures also have weather-ready finishes capable of handling great swings in temperature as well as moisture.
Illuminating the Types of Outdoor Lights
Every outdoor lighting fixture has a purpose, be it functional, decorative, or both. By understanding how these exterior light fixtures work within your outdoor spaces, you can achieve a functional and secure home with the type of aesthetic appeal designed to attract eyes from the roadway.
Outdoor Wall Lighting: Decorative & Functional
Outdoor sconces are perhaps the most common type of outdoor lighting. Placed at entryways and along walls in areas where there is high foot traffic, outdoor wall lighting is both practical and stylish. In addition to providing a clear view around your house, you can use them to emphasize architectural focal points, such as arch ways, brick and stone cladding, and more.
Available in a variety of lighting angles and coverages, the direction of the wall light has a purpose. Down-lit outdoor sconces primarily highlight entrances and pathways near the home’s architectural exterior. You can use down-lit lights for decorative purposes, but they are primarily functional.
Up-lit sconces are primarily decorative. You can use these lighting fixtures to create a decorative wash of light and shadows to enhance your home’s after-dark aesthetics. Some outdoor wall lights shine in both directions, creating a functional and decorative lighting design.
Functionally, outdoor wall lighting applications contributes to safety and security. While most outdoor wall lights use bulbs between 100 to 400 lumens, security lighting designs typically use between 700 and 1400 lumens. This type of lighting blankets an entire area in a bright light, like driveways and backyard decks, leaving no shadows for burglars to hide.
Outdoor Ceiling Lights: Illuminating Patios & Porches
While many homes rely on outdoor canned lights or recessed lights to fill out their outdoor ceiling lighting, thanks to their affordable functionality, there are a wide range of designs available. If you’re looking for style, outdoor chandeliers and pendants are gaining in popularity and are excellent for adding some flare to your exterior. Sophisticated outdoor flush mounts are an excellent midrange option as well.
For front porches, outdoor flush mounts are a popular choice because they boost curb appeal while remaining unobtrusive. However, chandeliers and pendants are great for high-ceiling porches. It’s more common to use chandeliers and pendant lighting in back patio areas and verandas given the more personal setting compared to a front porch. And since these fixtures aren’t seen from the roadway, you can get away with more austere or adventurous styles, as these types of lighting fixtures are aimed more towards ambient decorative lighting over functional lighting.
Post Lighting: The 360-Degree Yard & Garden Lantern
Pole lights are personalized versions of street lights – heavy-duty, often cast-iron fixture attached to tall pole to illuminate a general area. Typically, you purchase the pole and the lighting fixture separately, though with the same finish. And most often, post lighting is installed in the front yard near where the driveway meets the walkway to the front door so that the lights large coverage area spans both areas, but post lights are also used to illuminate gardens and landscape.
Most pole lights provide 360-degree coverage, which is why they often have between one and four light bulbs with lumens between 120 and 3500, depending on how much area you want illuminated. They also come in a variety of sizes and shapes, though most are based on a classic or rustic lantern style. On the smaller range, pole lights are the size of a standard hand-held lamp at 6” x 12”, but the large options are more than double this size.
Deck Lighting: Creating Ambience for Entertaining
If you enjoy backyard parties or relaxing outside after a long day, don’t forget about deck lighting
Since decks are typically made of wood or vinyl planks, creative deck lighting produces interesting shadows and contrasting washes, providing the ideal ambience for entertaining. Deck lights come in a variety of styles and sizes, ranging from the subtle, nearly invisible step lights to the bold carriage style post cap lights. You can use very dim lights with under 100 lumens or go for a bolder look by using 100 to 200 lumen bulbs on post cap lights to cover large outdoor areas.
Outdoor Pathway Lighting: Providing a Runway for Your Yard
With bulbs ranging between 12 and 100 lumens and close to the ground installation, pathway lighting combines a functional view of the path while also providing a decorative ambience. When used effectively, it can also create a more aesthetically appealing look to your front yard than pole lighting.
Outdoor pathway lighting is often the easiest and most affordable outdoor lights to install. The most popular pathway lights are either solar lights or battery powered. You simply stick the light into the ground near the path, allowing you to easily move and replace the lights as needed. And since these lights are not bright, the ambience along the path is often used to romantic affect.
How to Choose the Perfect Outdoor Lighting
There isn’t a hard rule for choosing the perfect outdoor lighting. It requires careful evaluation and planning of your exterior spaces. As such, start by evaluating the functional needs of your outdoor spaces – what outdoor areas need lighting for safe accessibility and security. This helps you know where to put lights. Once you’ve covered the functional aspects, turn your eye towards the creative – how can you enhance the after-dark image of your home and yard.
Start with a Purpose: Evaluate Your Exterior Spaces for Functional Lighting
Walk through your yard at night and assess every part of it, from the doors to the backyard corner, grading each area from accessibility and safety.
To evaluate for accessibility, start with the areas of the highest foot traffic – driveways, steps, sidewalks, walkways, and side paths. Any area where someone walks needs to have lighting bright enough to provide safe footing. In addition, an outdoor wall sconce near where your garbage and recycling bins are stored is helpful for ensuring safe access when taking the trash out. Finally, consider adding an outdoor wall light or outdoor flush mount near every entrance to the house.
From a safety standpoint, light is a deterrent. Thieves are less likely to enter a house through a well-lit entrance. While this includes sliding glass doors, garage doors, and the front door, it also includes windows. By placing lights strategically near ground-floor windows and easily accessible second floor windows, you create a home a thief likely passes by in favor of a darker one.
For entrances, exterior light fixtures with a high lumen output and a bright white color temperature help create the clearest picture of the area. However, these lights are harsh when used too often, so consider placing softer lights near windows, using down-lighting at an angle that doesn’t interfere with interior ambience.
If you’re not comfortable with your exterior being lit up after you turn down for the night, you can consider motion detector flood lights. These bright lights are designed to cover a large area and the motion detector only turns them on when needed. That said, motion detectors are often fickle, turning on when a cat strolls by or a branch shakes in the wind, so be careful with the sensitivity settings and the aim of the lights to minimize the light bleeding in through the windows.
Considering Energy Costs
If you’re concerned with saving energy as you install outdoor lights, there are ways to increase energy efficiency and keep electric costs lower. Consider solar lights as a top option. Since they rely on solar energy, these lights don’t require an electrician to tap into the electrical grid. And while solar lights are often expensive, the installation costs are relatively minor in comparison.
You can also consider LED lights, which are 75% more energy efficient than a standard incandescent bulb. Similar to solar lights, LEDs have a higher up-front cost, but since these bulbs last longer and use less energy, they are more cost effective over time.
Highlight Curb Appeal
After evaluating your home for functional lighting, you can assess ways to improve the curb appeal. By considering the shape of the house, the curves and angles, and how the light and shadows play into it, you can create a home that’s as pleasant to look at after dark as it is during the day.
Consider ways to use up and down-lighting in interesting ways. Both create shadows while highlighting a specific area of the house. The contrast in light and dark makes the house more interesting to look at.
Subtle outdoor wall lights accentuate the lines of your home. Landscape lights are excellent for creating backlighting for trees, knolls, and water features. In addition, using low-voltage pathway lights is excellent for creating a soft ambience for all the common walkways.
In addition, consider the style of the fixture. You want to make sure the fixtures have a consistent style that matches the exterior of your home. For example, cast iron lamps are excellent if you’re looking to achieve a farmhouse style.
With some careful planning and consideration, you can achieve functional outdoor lighting that makes your home and yard stand out from the rest of the houses on your street.
Frequently Asked Questions About Outdoor Lighting
Do you need special bulbs for outdoor lights?
Like the light fixture itself, the light bulb should have a UL listing for damp or wet areas. In most cases, the light bulbs package clearly shows that it’s approved for outdoor use.
Are LED lights good for outdoor use?
Yes. LED lights are an excellent, energy-efficient option for outdoor lights. Not only can they create the same level of brightness achieved with incandescent bulbs, but the energy cost is way lower in the long run because they have a much longer life span and use much less electricity. That said, as with any light, you need to make sure it’s received a UL rating approved for wet or damp areas.
What is the best material for outdoor lighting fixtures?
Brass is the ideal material for outdoor lights, especially for coastal areas, because it holds up to even the harshest of environments. In addition, brass patinas very well. However, it’s the most expensive material.
Aluminum is affordable but doesn’t handle the elements as well as most metals. Stainless Steel is a great mid-range material. It looks great and is protected from corrosion by a chromium oxide coating. However, it requires a lot of cleaning and maintenance to maintain its appearance.
How to choose the best sizes of outdoor lights?
The size of the lighting products is largely determined by the type of outdoor lighting you want to achieve.
For wall sconces and carriage lights, a fixture that is between 6” and 12” wide is ideal, especially when placed at least 6” from a door frame.
For chandeliers and pendants, a 12” to 20” light is the best option, depending on the height of the ceiling or overhang. Also, chandeliers installed over outdoor tables should be at least half as wide as the table.
It’s a good idea to make sure lamp posts lanterns are approximately a quarter the size of the post or pole.
The best size for pathway lights varies according to how much area you want to illuminate.
How many lumens do you need for outdoor security lighting?
With security lighting, you want to eliminate dim areas as much as possible. The minimum range for flood lighting applications is 700 lumens, but you can go much higher. With standard incandescent bulbs, the higher the wattage, the higher the lumens. As such, you can go with the maximum wattage as well.
Do LED lights attract bugs?
It depends on the type of LED light bulb. Most insects are attracted to the visible UV and infrared light from the sun and moon because they use this to navigate. However, most insects don’t see yellow light (around a 2700K color temperature). As such, some manufacturers make LED light bulbs and incandescent bulbs in this range called bug lights. Both types attract fewer bugs than lights with a broader color temperature.
Some bugs are attracted to the heat of light sources. And this is where the LED bug light has an advantage over its incandescent cousin. Since energy efficient LED lights don’t heat the surrounding area as much as incandescent bulbs, it attracts fewer bugs.
How much does it cost to install outdoor lighting?
Most experts suggest planning for installation costs between $50 and $150, not including the light fixture. But this depends on many elements – the type of light, the location, how much prep work is required, and how much the average electrician charges in your geographical area.
Installing a freestanding light post, for example, is often the most expensive because it’s labor intensive, requiring underground pole supports and wiring. Alternatively, most pathway lights are cheap and easy to install because they don’t require a professional and don’t usually require tapping into the electrical grid system, requiring you to simply stick the light into the soil.
What is a good wattage for outdoor lights?
For standard incandescent lights, anything under an 80-watt bulb is ideal, especially if you’re concerned about energy use. However, since wattage directly correlates to brightness, consider the purpose of the light when looking at wattage. That said, modern outdoor LED light bulbs are far more energy efficient, allowing the same brightness while using far less energy.
What color temperature is best for outdoor lighting?
For most modern outdoor light sources, you want to stay in the 2500-4000K range, as this produces a warm, inviting light not unlike a fireplace.
When lighting landscapes, like trees and bushes, a light in the 3000-4000K range is best because it allows the natural colors of the plants to shine through more effectively without being harsh. This range is often called moon lighting because it mimics the effects of moonlight.
What are the best outdoor floodlights?
Floodlights have the single purpose of covering a large area with a bright white light. You want to use flood lights with a very high lumen output, and fixtures with two lights on adjustable arms is even better to cover more ground.
However, there are multiple types of floodlights and purposes. Whether you’re lighting a sports court for night time tennis matches or blanketing a driveway to deter break ins, the best flood light depends on how you intend to use it. For security purposes, a dual-light fixture with motion detectors is an excellent option.
Metal halide bulbs have been a popular bulb for sports court flood lights because of their brightness and high color temperature, making visibility excellent (which is why they are often used to light stadiums). But it’s worth noting that metal halide bulbs take a long time to warm up and cool down, and they are prone to shatter from heat.
Do LED lights work in cold temperatures?
Yes, LEDs are made to work in the cold. They are less likely to break in lower temperatures and they don’t lose energy efficiency. Since LEDs don’t produce heat in the same manner as other light bulbs, the bulbs aren’t subjected to extreme swings in temperature that cause standard incandescent bulbs to break and wear down.
What does “dark sky rated” mean?
A Dark Sky rated bulb means the light emits less blue light, leading to a reduction in light pollution – the reason stargazing is much better when you’re camping in areas far away from cities and towns. Using Dark Sky rated lights in conjunction with strategic placement is the best way to minimize your homes impact on the overall light pollution as well as minimize light spillage onto other properties.
What are “dusk to dawn” lights?
These lights remove the hassle of remembering to flip a switch to turn on or turn off a light. Rather, they use a light sensor to automatically turn on at dusk and turn off at dawn.
Taking the Spotlight
Shining a light on your home and yard provides safety, security, and curb appeal. There’s no reason why you can’t have a home that shines like a jewel while deterring break-ins. We have a wide range of outdoor lights to choose from. If you want help designing the right type of lighting for your outdoor spaces, check out our online room design or consult with our designers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 855-483-2629.