Your Guide To Outdoor Lighting: Selection & Best Practices

Outdoor Lighting Guide

When people think of home design they oftentimes associate the term with the home’s interior, rather than its exterior. A lot of time and money is spent creating a comfortable refuge, beautifully decorated to show off to visitors. What many people don’t realize is that the first impression of a home actually occurs before a guest even enters the home. That’s why outdoor lighting design should also be given the care and attention just as one would to the inside of their home. But lighting design is no easy feat for a novice exterior designer no matter how much interior design experience you may have.

So, before one even starts an outdoor lighting design project, a plan must be put together. There are many factors involved in the process, from the purpose of the lighting and the type of lighting needed to achieve that purpose, to the required ratings of the lights for safety and its installation. To add, the product that you choose should fit specs and be of good quality. There is a lot of information to cover, so let's get started.

TYPES OF OUTDOOR LIGHTING

When upgrading the exterior of a home, there are two areas that require different strategies of lighting design: outdoor lighting and landscape lighting. The location of the lights and its purpose dictate the type of lighting that should be used. While all of this information may seem overwhelming, the process isn’t as difficult as it looks. Just focus on one section at a time and you’ll end up with a beautiful lighting design to show off to everyone!

Wall lights

Outdoor lighting usually serves an accent or decorative purpose. Sconces and motion sensor lighting are examples of wall lights that serve this particular purpose. Motion sensor lighting is a unique form of lighting because no switch is needed. It turns on automatically by detecting heat in its field of view. All one has to do is program the light to turn on at certain times, which is usually at night. If you want to prevent the detector from reacting to a particular kind of movement, adjust the field of view to lessen the sensitivity.

Sizing and placement

Sconces are the usually placed next to the front door. They should be ⅓ the height of the door and around eye level. When using two sconces, place them on both sides of the door. Simple enough. Many people make the mistake of using small sconces. But remember that from 50 feet away they will appear too small. Allow people to properly see the decorative fixture and use large sconces. As for motion sensor lighting, it can be installed in the side of the step itself.

Pro tip:
Because motion sensor lighting are used outdoors, they are subject to wetness. Be sure to use bulb seals to block moisture from entering and damaging the light.

Ceiling and hanging lights

Ceiling lights, such as pendants, chandeliers, and flush mounts, serve as decorative fixtures. Some lights have chains and hang from the ceiling, making it much easier to adjust.

Outdoor Flush Mount Lighting

Sizing and placement

These lights should be ⅕ the size of the door’s height and centered  6 inches above the door. They can be placed on the ceiling above a door, porch, patio or deck. Make sure the light is in proportion to the area. If the space is big, then a large ceiling light is appropriate.

LANDSCAPE LIGHTING

Spotlights and floodlights

Although spotlights are located outdoors, they are in its own category because they concentrate on accentuating focal points. Spotlights are placed in greenery, pools, and on architecture. Because they shoot out a narrow beam spread of 45 degrees, spotlights are great for highlighting structural details. A floodlight has a 120 degree beam spread, making it an excellent source of outdoor lighting for driveways and big spaces. This is ideal for safety and security against intruders.

Outdoor Wall Spot Light

Sizing and placement

To install a spotlight, place a power pack near a GFCI outlet. Next, select an area; if a cable is needed then dig a trench. Dig a stake hole and place the light in it. Lastly, connect the spotlight to the power pack before connecting the power pack to the outlet. For floodlights, find a high point and locate a nearby power source. Cut a hole in the wall of the home and fit the light in it. Run the electrical cable through the hole and then connect it to the power source.

In-ground lighting

Similar to step lights, in-ground lighting fixtures are placed directly into the area. They illuminate walkways, driveways, and sometimes pools. It may also be used on trees and walls for accent lighting. LED is the best choice since it lasts longer. This eliminates the hassle of having to replace the bulbs, especially if it is pool lighting. LED lighting is also great for providing brightness.

In-Ground Well Light

Path lighting

If you want to guard against intruders or safely maneuver through an area, path lighting is the perfect choice. Because these lights act as a guide during the night, they should always be in working order. Therefore, it is recommended to invest money into good quality lights, specifically LED lights. That way they don’t have to be replaced for years. Path lighting are also great for creating a cozy atmosphere. This can be done by using a bulb that emits 3000K, resulting in a nice warm glow. There are LED lights with lower brightness that can still create that affect.

Landscape Path Light

Sizing and placement

Place these lights next to walkways, stairways, and in the backyard. You and your guests will be protected from hazards that may cause tripping and falling. They should be 14 inches high and one foot from both sides of the path.

Outdoor post lights

Sizing and placement

Another decorative option are post lights. In order to determine the number should be used in a specific area, measure the diameter of the light around the post. Then place a post on the outside of that diameter. As for its location, the height and the purpose of the post serve as guide as to where they should be installed.

Outdoor Post Mount

Outdoor ceiling fans

When one thinks of outdoor lighting, it is unlikely that ceiling fans will be part of that thought. Fans not only cool down an area, but they can also serve as a lighting source! There are certain fans that have built-in lights for the nighttime. LED lights are a practical choice, because of their low maintenance and are energy-efficient. Outdoor ceiling fans allow airflow in an open space and are typically used in patios or porches. If the main goal is to cool the space down, then wall mounted fans should be used.  However, be sure that the fan you choose also matches the style of the exterior.

Outdoor Ceiling Fan

A remote is a great accessory for an outdoor ceiling fan because it conveniently allows you to adjust lights and airflow. Aside from cooling down the outdoor area of a porch or patio, these fans can be utilized in areas that have both outdoor and indoor attributes, such as greenhouses or sunrooms. Ceiling fans circulate warm stuffy air while exposed to sunlight without having to deal with outdoor elements. They can also be used in garages, which oftentimes reach extreme temperatures due to the trapped heat.

Sizing and placement

To find the appropriate size for the fan, make sure the diameter matches the square footage of the space. If the area isn’t near a wall switch, then opt for a ceiling fan with a pull chain.

STYLE

Remember, lots of preparation is necessary before even buying outdoor lighting! Be sure that the style shows a common theme and matches the overall look of the lighting design. The exterior shows people who you are and how much you care about your home, and dictates whether the atmosphere would make guests feel comfortable. Don’t let people think that your home isn’t presentable in the inside just because it doesn’t look the greatest on the outside.

Modern or contemporary lighting

Choosing modern lighting depends on the building’s architecture. They are chic, sleek and often play with shapes. Outdoor modern lighting frequently has the look of indoor lighting and works great in outdoor entertainment spaces. Typically, the fixtures play with geometric designs, such as straight lines or round shapes. At times the lighting can be designed so that it is hidden or solely decorative rather than functional.

Accent Wall Wash

Farmhouse-style or barn lights

With its lights aimed downwards and exposed bulbs, farmhouse-style lighting offers a lot of illumination. If used on the exterior of a home, be sure to position the lights high on the wall. As the name suggests, these lights can be placed inside a barn or a garage.

Farmhouse Barn Light

Traditional lighting

Traditional lighting has a dated look, known for its lantern-style design. While modern lighting tends to be minimal, traditional lighting is more ornate.

Traditional Style Light

Mission & Craftsman

Mission or craftsman lights also have geometric designs but a traditional amber glow accompanies them. An American style of lighting, it blends both traditional and contemporary looks. Mission lights tend to have simple shapes and may be placed near windows since its illumination does not disturb the inside of a home.

Mission & Craftsman Style Lighting

KNOW YOUR RATING

Dark-sky rating

Dark-sky rating is the amount of brightness that the light emits. Light pollution may be an issue where the lighting is too bright, distracting from the overall lighting design. The lighting may also disturb your neighbors and even obstruct your view of a beautiful night sky. You can find out more about the causes of light pollution, and possible solutions on our blog.

UL rating

We all know that water and electricity don’t mix. Therefore, outdoor lights need to meet certain safety guidelines. Wet and Damp ratings are given by Underwriters Laboratories (UL rating) to make sure these safety standards are met. Outdoor fans should be able to withstand rain, corrosion and rust. Salty air ceiling fans are perfect to protect against the salty air of the beach. They are built with marine-grade components that prevent the rust caused by salt.

If a fan is going to be directly exposed to outdoor elements, then use one with a Damp rating. Some ceiling fans will have a cover and, thus, will not have direct exposure to wetness. A Damp rating is appropriate for these fans. All-weather blades and ABS plastic are great are great for high winds. Unibody fans, in particular, have sturdy blades to prevent breakage and other damage.

With the waterproof seal of the motor casing, moisture is kept out. As far as the motor of the fan, AC and DC motors are available. AC motors use a lot of electricity and are usually found indoors. DC motors converts AC power and uses 75% less electricity. However, the amazing thing about this motor is its performance is not affected! So not only does it cost less to power the fan, the DC motor is efficient and environmentally friendly. It is undeniable that this would be the best choice for an outdoor fan.

In order to maintain a safe environment, be sure to use lighting that is solely made for outdoors and has the proper UL rating. Ask yourself whether the area is likely to experience wetness.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

Purpose

Will your outdoor lighting be primarily used for security, decoration, or showing the details of the landscape? Think about how you want to achieve that purpose. If you want to use outdoor lighting for safety or security, path and floodlights are best. They eliminate the hazards of unlit areas and secure your home. We already noted that wall lights, post lighting, and pendants are great options for accent and decorative purposes. Make sure that the lighting design has the same theme throughout the exterior of the home. Get creative and play with perspectives that will catch the eye. If you would like to draw attention to certain aspects of the landscape, such as trees or other objects, use spotlight lighting. Be mindful of symmetry and the atmosphere you want the fixtures to produce.

Cost

Now, while cost may be an issue for many people, whether the outdoor lighting can last is extremely important. Rust, energy usage, or durability are some factors that will affect cost. If too much attention is given to cost and not quality, you may end up paying more in the long-run by frequent replacement of the fixtures. Do your research and try to find affordable high quality fixtures but don’t let that be the only determining factor as to whether you buy it. Additionally, UL rating should be incorporated in making your decision.

Powering your lights

Note the frequency necessary to power your lights. Low voltage lights are powered with 12 volts. These lights are not only energy efficient, but are also easy to install. Line voltage lights are powered by 120 volts and are typically used for lights requiring a great amount of power, such as floodlights. In order to protect wires and junction boxes, these lights need electrical conduits. Because solar-powered lights use sunlight as a power source, place them in areas where the sun will hit them. These lights are easy to install since they require no wiring.

Finding the right product

Research is extremely important, especially if you have never done outdoor lighting design. Take your time. Determine where you want to place a fixture, the fixture you want to use, and find the best product that will properly do the job and last long. Go online and look up the different options and find one that sells the outdoor lighting made for your purpose. Look at the specs. Does it have the correct UL rating? Most importantly, look at the customer reviews as they will dictate whether the product is worth the investment. Reviews will reveal information, such as whether it is durable or easy to install. Heed the advice of other consumers. You want your investment in time and cost to be worth it, resulting in an impressive lighting design that you will make you proud!

If you are looking for more information on outdoor lighting, we have curated some helpful resources, along with summaries for your convenience:


https://learn.livingdirect.com/outdoor-lighting-guide/
Article discusses different types of outdoor lighting, the factors to consider in buying them, with purpose, placement, and energy efficiency becoming a prominent focus. Dark-Sky rating is important in reducing light pollution and UL rating for safety. Accessories and features are dependent on the type of light. Dimmers, motion sensors, and timers are common accessories. Popular brands and their reviews are mentioned to assist the buyer in making their choice. Acclaim Lighting, Filament Design, Hinkley Lighting, Kichler, Sea Gull Lighting, and Progress Lighting are broken down and reviewed. Factors to consider include: style, purpose, placement, cost, size, brightness, durability, power, installation. Style should match the overall look of the exterior lighting and show a common theme. Purpose is the primary use of the lights - security, decorative, mood. If cost is an issue, there are many affordable fixtures, but whether they can withstand elements and weather should be considered. This is important in preventing costs of frequent replacement. UL rating should be incorporated when making this choice. If a fixture is too small it may not be seen in the distance, so don’t be afraid to go big. Brightness involves being mindful of the Dark-Sky rating. You don’t want the lighting to be too bright that it will disrupt the neighbors, obstruct a nice view of the night sky, or distract from the overall lighting design. Durability pertains to the wearing of the fixture due to elements and weather. Consider the lighting options ( low voltage lighting, line voltage lighting, etc) and using LED lights to minimize energy required to power them.

https://www.curbed.com/2018/6/19/17434700/outdoor-lights-house-ideas-tips-advice
Establish what you want to light first and then draw up a plan as to how to layer the lighting. Start with task lighting to brightly light up pathways and for safety from intruders. Focus on rating and use lights that are identified as outdoor lighting rather than indoor lighting so it will be able to withstand the weather and elements. LED lights (use 80% less electricity, lasts years) are the best type of bulbs for energy efficiency and they still provide the ability to use soft lighting rather than harsh. Provides tips on wattage: 60 watt minimum for exposed bulbs, 75-100 watt for shaded bulbs

https://www.grainger.com/content/supplylink-outdoor-lighting-guide
The focus is on choosing the best outdoor lights depending on what the lighting will be used for. Discusses the purpose of the lighting, the type of lighting needed for that purpose, and the best fixtures available to accomplish that purpose. It views lighting from a technical perspective, detailing what to consider and the installation process for each light. There are three ways to power your lights, depending on the building’s power source and the frequency of the need for the lighting - low voltage, line voltage, and solar-powered. Low voltage (12 volts), energy efficient, easy installation. Line voltage (120 volts), used for floodlights/high-powered lighting, requires electrical conduits to protect wires and junction boxes. Solar powered needs no wiring. Install where there is lots of light. Easy and good where no electrical power nearby.
Flood lights: consider desired brightness. Installation process: find high point, locate power source, cut hole in building’s location. Fit light and electrical cable through it. Connect to power source.
Landscape lights: floral/greenery/architectural features. 8-10 feet apart along pathways. Create a 3 inch trench. Insert low voltage electrical cable into it, bury 3 inches max. Connect cable to outdoor electrical outlet. Create holes with fixture’s stake, connect electrical cords and insert fixture into stake.
Motion sensor lighting: can be set to turn out during certain times of the day and not be sensitive to certain movements by limiting field of view. Adjust field of view angle to set distance range, keep bulb & detector at a distance to prevent setting detector off and prevent moisture. Use bulb seals and face them down to avoid water entry.
Spotlights: place power pack near GFCI outlet, select area and dig trench if cable needed, assemble spotlight, dig stake hole and place light in it, connect to power source then connect power pack to outlet. May be used for accent lighting of landscape

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