How to Select Outdoor Lighting and Patio Lights
Modern outdoor lighting can breathe new life into outdoor spaces by bringing function and style to patios, entryways, outdoor stairwells, pathways and the landscape beyond the home. Wall lighting, ceiling lighting, path lighting and landscape lighting all serve a distinct purpose, illuminating spaces for outdoor activities, gatherings, safety and security and highlighting landscape displays. The most important aspect of outdoor lighting fixtures is the location rating. Each fixture, regardless of type, will have either a damp or wet location rating if it is appropriate for outdoor use. A damp rating allows for the fixture to be in the same vicinity as moisture, such as by the front door or under a covered patio — any location where direct exposure to water cannot occur. A wet rating allows for direct exposure to water, meaning the fixture does not need to be protected or shielded from wet weather.
Outdoor lights vary greatly based on their intended purpose. For example, pathway lights and bollard lights are designed to provide bright light for safety rather than aesthetics. Similarly, an outdoor pendant light offers an atmospheric glow that’s not always suitable for high-traffic areas. Wall sconces work well as accent lighting to highlight an architectural feature, like a door or arched entryway.
When installing any type of outdoor lighting, it’s a good idea to keep the surrounding environment in mind. Dark sky fixtures are designed to provide you with plenty of light that doesn’t disturb your surroundings. Places like coastlines and waterfront properties are more prone to corrosion from salt and water damage. If you live in these areas, it’s a good idea to take extra precautions to ensure that your fixtures hold up well.
Types of Lights
There are several kinds of outdoor lights, each with distinct purposes. Wall lights provide an accent light on the side of a home or patio, can showcase hanging artwork or objects and can illuminate front and back doors to guide guests at night. Ceiling lights provide a main source of light from above, illuminating dining tables, game areas, seating areas and other social gathering space such as an outdoor kitchen. Landscape lighting brings safety and security when placed near paths and along steps and, when placed throughout the yard, highlight plant arrangements and displays.
Outdoor Wall Lights
Outdoor wall lights enhance the home’s aesthetics, bringing accent light to walls to guide the way along the side of the home or to bring attention to hanging artwork and nearby objects. Outdoor wall lights illuminate dark corners, brighten doorways and make the general appearance of a home welcoming and warm.
Another term for wall lights, sconces encompass the majority of wall light designs, mounting directly to a wall to provide accent light.
A specific look of wall sconces, lanterns often offer a vintage appeal with clean metal lines and simple geometric enclosures with glass paneling.
Up and down lights provide directional illumination, either up, down or both, that splays across the wall, creating interesting patterns that can accentuate and enhance nearby objects.
Typically pointing down, barn lights provide a full glow from a wide shade. Many barn lights contain a lengthy neck that extends from the wall mount.
Outdoor Ceiling Lights
Ceiling lights encompass a number of lighting designs including chandeliers, pendants, flush and semi-flush mounts, linear suspensiosn and even ceiling fans with lights. These lights provide a full, downward glow designed to illuminate an outdoor dining table, game space or seating area. In the case of chandeliers or linear suspensions they can also make a statement and help establish the style of the décor outside the home.
Outdoor Flush & Semi-Flushmounts
Resting close to the ceiling, flush and semi-flush mounts provide a full glow or an accent glow to spaces with lower ceilings or limited space.
A stand-out and often statement-making piece, chandeliers bring luxury and glamour to the area, effectively lighting the surroundings while drawing attention and establishing the style or theme of the space.
Outdoor Pendant Lights
Often simple in design, pendant lights hang from above, providing a directional glow at the end of lengthy cords or bodies. These lights are effective as single units or in various arrangements and are often seen over kitchen islands or bars and counters.
Landscape lighting encompasses all forms of light away from the home. These can include lights along a pathway, out in the yard, by steps and stairways and even on posts illuminating spaces such as the corner of the property.
Bringing safety to the outdoors at night, path lights literally guide the way when placed along paths that traverse the yard or around the house. These lights are often small and stick into the ground on short stems, creating an ambient glow that may illuminate nearby arrangements but mainly light a pathway.
These lights announce the edge of a yard or the beginning of the property, often seen in the front yard near a driveway or along an entry path to the front door. These lights can resemble many styles including antique lanterns as they rest atop thick posts that mount into the ground.
Spot & Flood Lights
Designed for security and safety, spot and flood lights mount near the roof and shine downward, providing a wide and bright wash of light. These lights often contain motion detectors and can be adjusted to shine at particular locations.
Taller than path lights and shorter than post lights, bollard lights serve many the same purposes. They mount into the ground near paths and landscape displays to bring light and guide the way.
Deck & Step Lights
To help illuminate steps and stairs at night, deck and step lights often mount into surfaces as recessed lighting. Steps and decks become safer at night, ensuring no accidental steps from guests.
Frequently Asked Questions When Buying Outdoor Lighting
What are the best outdoor lighting ideas?
The best lighting options will be ones that provide a function to the space while expressing a feeling of warmth and coziness for relaxation outdoors.
How do I choose the right outdoor lighting fixtures?
Consider the needs of the space and where light is needed the most. Accent or full glows are also important. If you're looking to add light to your porch or entryway, our porch lighting 101 guide will walk you through our favorite types.
What are the different types of outdoor lighting?
Outdoor lighting is much the same as indoor lighting with wall sconces, pendants, chandeliers and flush mounts as well as table and floor lamps.
What are the benefits of LED outdoor lighting?
LED outdoor lighting will feature energy-efficient technology to save money and energy.
How can I create a well-lit outdoor space?
Create light layers in the outdoor space for a well-lit area. This includes a ceiling light, wall lights and accent lights such as a table lamp. Check out our favorite outdoor lighting tips in our guide on how to light your outdoor patio.
What are the top landscape lighting techniques?
Landscape lighting benefits from being hidden out of the way such as recessed lighting in the ground or path lights to illuminate the way for night walks. For a detailed walkthrough on landscape lighting techniques, check out our landscape lighting guide.
How can I make my outdoor lighting more energy-efficient?
Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a major step toward becoming energy-efficient outdoors. Consider timers on lights as well.
What are the safety considerations for outdoor lighting?
Location ratings such as wet or damp are important for the fixture not get damaged and become a safety hazard. Make sure all walkways are also clear.
How do I calculate the right outdoor lighting spacing?
Path lights should be ideally 10 to 15 feet apart. Lighting by the front door should be from 1/3rd to 1/4th the height of the door and 6 feet off the ground.
What are the best outdoor lighting brands?
Designer brands such as RBW, Artemide and David Trubridge are among the best selling brands for outdoor lighting.
How do I maintain and clean outdoor lighting fixtures?
Each fixture has specific cleaning needs. Consult the manual for details.
How do I illuminate trees and plants with outdoor lighting?
Outdoor spotlights and path lights work well for illuminating trees and plants. There are also lights that can hang from trees.
What are the best color options for outdoor lighting?
All color options are viable for the outdoors depending on the décor. A range of colors, metallic finishes and wood tones are all available.
How do I control outdoor lighting with smart home technology?
Most smart technology will come with an app for controlling the fixture.
What are the current trends in outdoor lighting design?
Eco-friendly and biophilic designs are in the top trends currently due to their relationship to nature and environmental impact.
What color temperature is best for an outdoor light?
Outdoor lighting is between 2500K-4000K. Warmer color temperatures work best for architectural elements and cooler temperatures for organic landscaping.
What is the best wattage for an outdoor light?
Eighty watts or fewer is best. Forty watts and below is for illuminating pathways and garden beds, while 40-80 watts is for driveways and walkways.
What does Dark Sky Rated mean?
Fixtures with a dark sky compliant rating will help minimize blue light at night. This reduces light pollution and the overall glow they put into the evening sky.
What does a light's UL Rating mean?
The UL rating is how wet an outdoor light fixture can get. Fixtures will be UL damp for exposure to some moisture or UL wet for full exposure to water. To learn more, check out our guide on dark sky compliance lighting.