Outdoor lighting tips
Outdoor lighting is an asset to your home. Not only can it increase your home's value, but the right lighting either boosts safety and security, creates an ambient effect for relaxing, or highlights a beautiful feature of your home or landscape. Use these tips to help you decide which type of lighting will give you the effect you're looking for.
Figure out how much lighting you need
When illuminating your sidewalk, driveway, or front door for security purposes, you'll want bulbs that are bright enough to light up the area. Use this handy calculation to get an idea of the wattage you need:
- Measure the square footage of the area you want to illuminate.
- Multiply that number by 1.5 to get the approximate wattage.
Get the right size fixtures
A wall-mounted light fixture should be about one-third to one-fourth the height of your door. When you see a fixture you like, do a template test before you buy:
- Using the dimensions and shape of the desired fixture, cut out a template from paper.
- Tape the template to the house and see how it looks.
Choose the right type of light: Save energy and save money
Many outdoor lights are LED because those bulbs are so energy efficient and last a long time. You have other choices as well. Use these features to decide what's best for you and the space you're lighting:
- LED. This stands for light-emitting diode. LEDs are small lights or a series of small lights put together to make a larger light inside a bulb. LEDs use up to 80 percent less energy than halogen or fluorescent bulbs, so your energy bill will be much lower if you use them. A 6- or 7-watt LED can give the same light as a 50-watt halogen, for example. LEDs also last years longer than the others too. The one drawback may be that they're going to cost more upfront, but you'll recoup that over time.
- Halogen. This lighting is more intense, whiter, and brighter than fluorescent. The bulbs also use more electricity than the others and emit a considerable amount of heat.
- Compact fluorescent (CFLs). These bulbs don't put off as much heat as halogen, and they give a cooler glow. They're less expensive and more energy-efficient than halogen too. Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so they can pose a health risk if broken. Unless they're rated as dimmable, avoid using CFL bulbs with your dimmer-switch outdoor lighting since this greatly reduces their lifespan.
- Solar. Solar outdoor lighting is the most energy-efficient of all because it has no effect on your electricity bill. No wiring is required, either, so you can place these lights in areas far from an outlet. Solar is not effective for security lighting, however, since it cannot get nearly as bright as electrical bulbs. Use solar as decorative lighting around your landscaping, pathways, and patios.
- Frosted bulbs. Bulbs with a frosted coating on the outside soften the intensity of your light, but they also extend the coverage area. A low-watt frosted bulb can have nearly the same effect as a high-watt clear-glass bulb, so they'll save on your energy bill.
- Motion sensors. Getting an outdoor light with a motion sensor also saves electricity. The light will only come on when it senses a person or animal approaching your home.
Find the color temperature you like best
The color of light is measured by Kelvin (K), which is a temperature scale. The higher the Kelvin, the closer the color is to natural sunlight. Look for Kelvin on the packaging of outdoor lights.
- 4200K – blue hue
- 3500–4100K – white hue
- 3500K and lower – amber hue
When you're lighting greenery, such as trees and shrubbery, use 4200K. The blue light makes the greens look greener. When lighting browns and tans, such as stones or your home's architecture, use 2700K since it makes the browns browner. When lighting darker colors, such as blacks and grays, use 4200K. Blue makes the gray grayer and black blacker.
Some helpful examples
- To highlight landscaping at the front of your house, use floodlights suspended from eaves.
- Accent the façade of your house by wall-washing with a floodlight. Shine it along the side of the wall at a sideways angle for a smooth, even glow.
- Light your garden or a path in your yard by placing lights in a tree or trellis. Face the light directly down over the area to illuminate it well. This is called downlighting.
- Brighten your whole yard with a large floodlight high up in a tree or on a pole. Angle it down toward the ground for a moonlighting effect, which creates shadow patterns on the ground.
- Cast attention on a fountain, topiary, or sculpture with silhouetting lighting. Place a spotlight behind the object, which creates a light-filled backdrop.
Keep these tips in mind
- Say "no" to light pollution. Make sure your outdoor lights aren't shining in your neighbors' windows, or yours either.
- Check light ordinances for your state, city, and neighborhood to see if there are any rules to minimize electrical safety hazards or ensure privacy for neighbors at night.
- Get damp-rated fixtures if they'll be covered, such as under an eave or patio, and get wet-rated fixtures otherwise.
- Keep it simple. If everything is lighted, nothing is special.
- Make sure your house is equipped with the necessary outdoor outlets or connections. If not, you can hire an electrician to install outlets (typically at right and left corners of newer homes) or use solar lighting.
- Install task lighting wherever you need to see well in the dark. All entry points into your home should be well lit, including doorways, garages, and your driveway. Task lighting includes floodlights, spotlights, and path lights.