Home Lighting Articles
Light Up the Night! Quick Facts about Outdoor
by: Debbie Rodgers
When the days start to get shorter, the darkness may drive us inside
from our porches, patios or decks. Don’t despair – outdoor lighting can
lengthen the day and dramatically extend the potential of our outdoor
The first step, as with any project, is to plan. How do you want to
use this space after dark, and what lighting will you need? Lighting can
be summarized in four categories:
- Security lighting is needed in highly vulnerable areas of your
property. Because it is bright and often motion activated, keep it
away from the living areas so that it’s not distracting. Alternatively,
have your security lighting on a manual on/off switch so that you can
override automatic illumination.
- Task lighting is for performing specific activities such as
grilling or walking safely up and down steps and along paths. You
should place task lighting between your eyes and the object that needs
to be lighted and should take care that it does not glare. An overly
bright light will blind rather than guide.
- Accent lighting adds drama or can highlight an unusual feature.
Uplighting, for example can illuminate an interesting piece of
statuary. Silhouetting, achieved by placing a light between an object
and a fence or wall, dramatically displays an unusual tree or bush.
- General or ambient lighting provides overall illumination so that
people feel comfortable and look good. The most magical of lighting
imitates what is found in nature – moonlight or starlight.
Moonlighting is produced by hanging lights in mature trees, pointing
downward to produce a dappled effect, as if the area were lit by a
full moon. The look of starlight can be achieved through the use of
flickering candles, sprinkled here and there throughout the space, or
by suspending tiny lights in the branches of a tree to create a
sparkling night time canopy. Of course, there are many other
attractive types of light – some just plain fun!
No matter what type of lighting you choose, it will be powered by one
of these sources.
- Fire is the oldest source of light and considered by some to be
the most romantic. Flames, produced by candles or oil-burning lamps,
are warm and flattering to faces, and have a hypnotic effect that
induces calm and relaxation. Firelight on reflected surfaces such as
ponds, mirrors and even gazing balls is a particularly effective way
to create atmospheric lighting and enhance the impression of light.
Try snaking a row of candles along a garden path or suspending them
in glass jars from branches. An array of tiki burning torches can add an
exotic touch to your patio area. Although torches are designed to
withstand a reasonable amount of wind, it’s best to provide as much
protection as possible to any open flame and never leave one unattended.
- Solar-powered lights are an easy and portable choice for outdoor
lighting. Some lights have a collector panel that can be concealed
behind shrubbery, while others contain their own energy cell and
absorb the sun’s rays even on a cloudy day.
- Battery-operated and rechargeable units are also wireless and very
portable while in use.
- Line-powered or hard-wired lights are connected to the electrical
system of your home. Weatherproof lamps may be plugged directly into
an outdoor socket. Wire for lighting that is further from the house
runs through buried conduits. The most permanent of outdoor lighting,
it is also the most expensive, sometimes costing in the tens of
thousands of dollars. It should be installed by a licensed electrician.
- Low-voltage units also connect to the electrical system of your
home, but are fitted with a transformer that reduces the electrical
current from 120 volts to a safer supply of 12 volts. Although they
are less durable than line-powered fixtures, they are also a lot less
expensive and are ideal for a small outside space where only short
cable runs are required. They are designed for an easy do-it-yourself
Whatever your light source, keep these tips in mind:
- Less is more in lighting. Be subtle: try to hide lights where
possible and use a low watt bulb.
- Avoid setting lights in straight lines up and down paths, drives
or patio edges. This “airport runway” effect is a very common error.
- Yellow lights are unflattering to both people and plants. Where
possible, install blue-white bulbs or purchase daylight-blue filters
for your fixtures.
- Position outside lights where they are easily accessible for
changing light bulbs. Investing in long-life outdoor bulbs will make
the maintenance even easier.
- With any unit requiring electricity, use the protection of ground
fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) on all outdoor circuits.
Don’t let the sun dictate the use of your outdoor space. Get outside
after dark and light up the night!
About The Author
Debbie Rodgers owns and operates Paradise Porch, and is dedicated to
helping people create outdoor living spaces that nurture and enrich them.
Visit her on the web at
www.paradiseporch.com and get a free report on “Eight easy ways to
create privacy in your outdoor space”. Mail to