Outdoor lighting can make a statement, set a mood or transform even the most “cookie cutter” house on the block into a sophisticated abode or enchanting wonderland. If you admire how your neighbors have illuminated their yard – or look at photos of beautifully lit landscapes on home improvement websites and wish you could do likewise – The Paint Manager is here to guide you toward making it a reality!
You may have some ideas about what you’d like to do, but you need to have a plan before buying fixtures. First, keep in mind that there are three main types of lighting: safety, landscaping and accent. Determining the type of illumination that best meets your needs and budget is easier to break down from there.
Lighting for Safety
The purpose of this type of lighting is to deter prowlers and improve navigation at night to prevent trips and falls. Security lighting consists of floodlights installed on high areas of the home’s exterior, such as on eaves or above the garage to cast wide beams of light onto areas in which burglars might try to break in – such as the garage, back door or backyard fence entrance.
According to Manasa Reddigari and Kathleen Corlett in their article for BobVilla.com, “Your best bet for security is motion-sensing floodlights that mount to the surface of exterior siding or walls and contain two- or three-bulb housing units that go on only when built-in sensors detect movement in the area. Their intense light exposes prowlers and may fool them into thinking you’re home and on alert even if you’re not.”
Many brands of motion-detection floodlights are available – either as a stand-alone fixture, or as a component compatible with a consumer-installed home security system. Because they only activate when there is motion within a certain range – typically 70 feet away – the house and main outdoor areas aren’t constantly bathed in harsh, bright light. This makes it possible for other types of lighting on your property to shine, so to speak, providing the additional functional and decorative illuminative elements to create attractive effects.
After selecting the spots to place floodlights, the next consideration should be path lighting. As the name implies, it lights the way along walkways, paths and steps to increase safety. However, path lights can go far beyond the utilitarian to be attractive accent lighting. Our blog post – “Path Lighting Ideas for Safety and Beauty” – covers the wide range of styles and placement options, as well as the differences between and best applications for solar-powered LED and low-voltage hardwired path lights.
Whichever type you choose, research brands and models online to learn about features, materials, installation instructions, etc. There are path light kits for every budget. Some fixtures sell for $30; others cost $300 or more. Aesthetics, materials and craftsmanship all affect the price. Architectural path lights are at the high end. Although they’re out of reach for most of us, Ylighting provides idea-inspiring photos of such sleek lights in applications that can be adapted using more moderately priced fixtures.
You’ve undoubtedly seen front lawns with a straight row of path lights along both sides of the walkway to the front door – perhaps even your own! While they light the way safely, they offer little in the aesthetic interest department. Home Depot provides the following tips to explore the design possibilities:
- Path lights should be spaced approximately 10-to 15-feet apart. You may need more or less distance between lights depending on your use of floodlights and spotlights, or if you are lighting a short or narrow pathway. Solar lights typically need to be spaced more closely together: 6- to 8-feet apart is a good starting point. Extra tip: To achieve a nice warm glow, install path fixtures about 14 inches high.
- Try alternating which side of your path you place the lights on during installation. This will visually balance your walkway (and prevent the monotonous “runway” look).
- Path lights come in a variety of sizes, styles and finishes. Look for a style that complements the finishes in and around your home, like nickel, bronze, brass or matte black. Specialty colors like aged brass and oil rubbed bronze are available.
- Consider a path lighting set. A set of path lights can make your landscape lighting ideas come to life quickly and easily. Some sets also come with floodlights for a complete outdoor lighting setup.
Lighting for Landscaping
As you’ve just learned, path lighting can be an integral part of overall landscape lighting. The purpose of landscape lighting is – as the name implies – to highlight certain features of your yard in a way that visually unifies them. According to home improvement expert Jim Gorman in his article for This Old House, “Done right, landscape lighting makes the best of what you’ve got by highlighting your home’s architectural features and drawing attention to prized plantings and trees.”
Gorman recommends low-voltage lighting for most purposes. “Unlike 120-volt systems, it’s safer to work with and less costly to install. And though low-voltage lights receive one-tenth the power, thanks to a step-down transformer, there’s no limit to the effects they can achieve, from ethereal moonlight beamed down from a tree canopy to a subtle glow that washes over a low garden wall. More than just picking the right hardware, a pleasing lighting scheme is also about artistry.”
Types of landscaping light fixtures include the following, courtesy of Gorman:
Garden – Also ideal for use as path lights, garden lights have a canopy shade on top of a 18- to 24-inch post to reflect light down into planting beds. Gorman recommends placing fixtures no closer than 20 feet apart. “You want pools of light to guide your eye from one plant to the next, not continuous illumination.”
Wash – This throws out a soft, diffuse light ideal for brightening flat facades, privacy fences and garden walls.
Bullet – These versatile, compact fixtures are often fitted with bulbs that project a narrow beam – good for precisely lighting house features, tree trunks and garden structures.
Well – The bulb hides inside a waterproof housing buried in the ground, so you get light without seeing a fixture. Use well lights to illuminate the underside of plant foliage or graze the base of a facade or wall. They are available with either fixed or swiveling bulbs.
Downlight – These fixtures are usually installed high on tree trunks and branches, and can be aimed at lawns, paths, or the tree’s own foliage to create a moonlit effect. A long, cowl-shaped shroud around the bulb eliminates side glare. Gorman recommends choosing durable copper and brass housings with LEDs.
Flood – This typically casts a wider beam than a bullet – 40 degrees or more – and is brighter than a wash light. A collar minimizes side glare. Use sparingly to light up tall trees or wide house facades.
Lighting to Accent Outdoor Features
Does your yard have a fountain, statuary or arbor? Those lovely amenities shouldn’t go unseen at night! Use upward-facing bullet lights and well lights to illuminate them! In addition, the artful use of outdoor lights can define entertaining spaces – such as a patio.
String lights are economical, easy to hang and are available in a wide variety of styles so you can set the perfect mood. As Reddigari and Corlett write, “String lighting is soft, low-voltage accent lighting used to evoke a warm, intimate ambiance that’s especially desirable for entertaining. Hang string lights wherever the activity is – be it on the eaves of the home to brighten an outdoor kitchen or from the posts of an outdoor pavilion or gazebo to illuminate patio furniture.
“Look for waterproof, rechargeable, traditional battery-powered or solar-powered outdoor string lights (which usually come with a remote solar panel), preferably those with long-lasting LED bulbs. Such lights avoid the need for running extension cords across the yard, enable lighting in far corners of the yard without electrical outlets, and ensure that lights stay on safely even if spattered with rain.”
Our blog post – “How to Use Outdoor Lighting as a Home Improvement” – provides many other ideas for using string lights, lanterns and specialty outdoor lighting fixtures to create an inviting ambiance for evening entertaining.
Outdoor Lighting Installation – DIY or Hire a Pro?
This is a question only you can answer, as it involves several factors. If you’re planning to install simple solar powered lights that don’t require a cable and transformer, you can DIY. It’s as easy as planting a flower – perhaps even more so!
The general consensus is that the typical homeowner can buy a wired path lighting kit and install it him-or-herself. If you feel confident in your ability to take on this project, Home Depot provides a step-by-step instruction guide. However, not everyone has the inclination or physical capability to do so. Installation requires digging a six-inch trench and connecting electrical wiring. Hiring a professional electrical contractor or landscaping contractor who offers this particular service would be the better choice.
Our team of experts at The Paint Manager can not only install outdoor lighting, but help you plan the optimum illumination to achieve your landscaping goals and enjoy your Central Florida home even more. Learn about the many other residential services we offer, then contact us to discuss your home improvement ideas!