When planning for your landscape lighting, the first thing to do is to step out and walk around your yard at night and imagine how and when you want to use our outdoor spaces. For your home exterior lighting, a little would go a long way. This is because out in your yard, your eyes need less light to see and appreciate the shadows and patterns.
Types of Lighting
How you see light during the day is not the same as how it is seen at night time. It is important to remember this difference when planning to illuminate your pathways and other outdoor spaces, although certain lighting principles remain true, such as the general layers of lighting based on function which apply to both indoor and outdoor lighting:
- Overall lighting – provides general illumination for the entire room or space.
- Task lighting - used for a particular purpose, such as lighting a path.
- Accent lighting – highlights an object or area, such as spotlights or floodlights.
There are certain light bulbs that work best for outdoor lighting. Although incandescent bulbs emit a warm cozy glow, they consume more electricity and give off heat. A better alternative to these would be halogen bulbs which have longer life span and consume less energy. Fluorescents now come in a wider variety of colors, consume less energy, and last longer. LED bulbs are more expensive, but they have the least energy consumption and longest life.
Outdoor Lighting Issues
Although reflection is more of an indoor lighting concern because most of the surfaces outside are dark and do not reflect light, positioning and shielding are important considerations to prevent glare. Glare happens when a light source is either too bright or too big. This becomes a concern when it reflects directly to people’s eyes because it can be blinding.
There should also be extra care when choosing whether to use direct or indirect lights. A downlight provides direct lighting and placing this outside a side entry door will illuminate mostly the spot that it is directed at and not much of the surrounding areas. On the other hand, indirect lighting creates a soft wash as it reflects on the objects surrounding it.
Different areas in your yard would have specific lighting needs depending on their individual functions:
Paths: Having a well-lit path does more than just welcome guests, it provides illumination to visitors to ensure their safety. Very bright lights are not required. Prevent glare by using downlights.
Entries: Position your wall sconces at each side of your door or place a light fixture overhead at the front, back, and side entry doors.
Driveway: Low-voltage landscape lighting or solar lights lighting are great lighting options along a driveway. Not too bright and energy-efficient.
Steps: Lighting the steps is primarily for safety purposes. Lighting may be installed on either the risers or the treads.
Decks or Patios: Lighting can be used to illuminate specific task areas on a deck or patio, such as a kitchen or cooking spot, as well as railings and seating areas. Uplighting, which is harder to accomplish outside, can be used on a deck or patio to send light upward on an umbrella or deck “ceiling” for an indirect effect.
Gazebos, Pergolas, or Trellises: Use outdoor lighting to highlight interesting elements in your landscape.
Architectural Features: Highlight a wall with the use of outdoor landscape lighting by washing it or grazing it. Create a wall wash with a wide beam of light aimed at a wall from a few feet away. When you add lighting to graze a wall, this creates remarkable highlights and shadows. Both washing and grazing provide accent lighting to plants.
Outdoor Light Pollution
When there is too much light or when exterior lighting is not installed properly, light pollution may be created and this might go through indoor rooms, create a glare that may even blind people temporarily, wash out the view of the starts, and also waste energy and money. Here are thing you can do to avoid light pollution:
- Make sure that you install your outdoor lights properly. Position your landscape lights during the night so that you are sure that they are placed in the proper areas. Always check their position.
- When choosing outdoor bulbs, opt for light fixtures that have reflectors and shielding so light is concentrated where you want it.
- Use lights with low wattage. Lights with higher wattage emit harsher light without improving your landscape’s aesthetics or increasing your home’s exterior safety. On the other hand, using low-wattage bulbs can provide sufficient outdoor illumination and even save on energy.
- Use smart lighting. Lights with dimmers, controls, timers, or motion sensors will also lead to energy efficiency and financial savings as lights will only turn on when needed.
Keep in mind these basic details about outdoor landscape lighting, so you can more effectively plan for your own home’s landscape illumination with greater confidence and knowledge on which lights to use and where.
Joan Silver is a known lighting expert from Capitol Lighting and a fan of all things “lighting”. She currently provides customers and designers with robust information on their lighting needs.