How to Landscape Lighting: Your Guide to Outdoor Lighting

During the fair the weather, often times our focus turns from inside to outside activities like landscaping. Whether you’re just starting out with a complex and elegant landscape design, just adding some small details, or looking for new ideas, we have some outdoor lighting tips for you.

Tip #1: Before you plan, change or enhance your current outdoor space, take a moment to explore your yard at night. Consider how and when you will use those spaces during that time. This pre-planning stage in the beginning will help you make the right decisions.

The Quick Basics of Lighting

Your eyes need less light outdoors than when you're indoors to see casted lights, shadows and pattern; this makes it particularly important to plan accordingly when lighting pathways and outdoor spaces; using the basic principles of layered lighting is a good starting point:

  •  Overall light - provides illumination for a whole room or space
  • Task light - used for a specific purpose like lighting a path.
  • Accent light - draws attention to an object or specific area. This is usually accomplished with spotlights or floodlights.

Tip #2: Any fixture used outdoors should be rated for "UL wet location" use. 

Consider the potential Lighting Issues You May Face

Outdoor lighting issues aren’t the same as indoor light- let's explore some of the issues you may encounter when lighting your outdoor space:

  • Reflection is less an issue outdoors because most surfaces are dark, so they do not reflect light well. But positioning and shielding will be more important in outdoor lighting in order to prevent glare.
  • Glare is a result of too big or too bright of light; which can be blinding because it reflects directly in people's eyes. So exterior landscape lighting needs to be particularly sensitive to direct versus indirect light. Direct outdoor landscape light, such as a down-light located outside a side entry door, will brighten mostly the object it is directed at and little of the surroundings. Indirect light reflects on the surrounding surfaces to create a soft wash. So placement is clearly a key aspect of good outdoor lighting.

Let’s Talk Bulbs
It’s also important to consider the variety of bulb you will use in your outdoor lighting. Let's explore some bulb options for your outdoor lighting fixtures.

  1.  Incandescent bulbs emit pleasing light, but are high energy consumers and offer a shorter life span than other options.
  2. Halogen bulbs are more efficient versions of incandescent bulbs. They generally have a longer life span and less energy consumption.
  3. Fluorescent bulbs are now available in a more aesthetically pleasing colour ranges, have a longer life span and consume less energy.
  4. LED bulbs are more expensive, but this increased cost is balanced out by their long life span and low energy consumption.

Landscape lights that are located near a building with electricity can easily be integrated into the building's wiring system. Whereas solar landscape lighting will use the sun’s energy to power the lights.         

Outdoor Lighting Placement Tips

While lighting can be placed almost anywhere, here are some spots we consider essentials:

1. Pathways: A well-lit path is like a warm welcome mat,  and adds a layer of safety. This illumination is an extension of your generous hospitality to visitors, and makes walking safer. Having an overly illuminated path isn't necessary; try adding down-lights to prevent glare, which could be blinding to visitors. Or try using Individual lights down the pathway to create an aesthetically pleasing look to your path.

2. Entryways: Lights can be placed above, or to the side of any entry doors.

3. Driveway: Place low-voltage landscape lighting options along a driveway.

4. Stairways: Place lighting on the risers or the treads for stairways; steps should always be lighted for safety reasons.

5. Patio or deck spaces: Lighting can be used in these spaces to highlight specific task areas like outdoor kitchens or cooking spaces, and railings and seating areas. Up-lighting, which is harder to achieve outside, can be used on a deck or patio to send light upward on an umbrella or deck "ceiling" for an attractive indirect effect.

6. Pergolas, Gazebos, or Trellises: Lighting highlights an interesting built element in the outdoor landscape and creates a super trendy appeal.

7. Architectural Features: Use outdoor landscape lighting to highlight a “feature” wall by washing it or grazing it. Washing is when a wide beam of light is aimed at a wall from a few feet away. This creates interesting highlights and shadows and can be used to accent to nearby plants.

8. Be Sure to Avoid Light Pollution

Too much light, or incorrectly installed lighting creates unwanted light pollution that shines into indoor rooms, diminishes the view of the stars, creates glare, and most importantly wastes energy and money.

Tips to avoid light pollution:

  • Take time to position lights- Position lights at night and check where they shine. Be sure to adjust if necessary.
  • Use bulbs shields - Use fixtures that have reflectors and shielding to help concentrate light to specific areas.
  • Lower the wattage. High wattage creates a harsher light, and does not improve aesthetics or  safety. Using low-wattage bulbs are often enough to provide illumination.
  • Control the light. Use timers, controls, dimmers, or motion sensors to turn on lights only when needed and turn them off when not in use.

Start with these simple directions and you have all the ingredients to build an aesthetically pleasing outdoor space with beautiful lighting. Need great fixtures for your outdoor space? We do free design lighting consultations and carry a great selection of trendy lighting solutions. 


*Source: Better Homes and Gardens