A Comprehensive Guide to Outdoor Lighting

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Your Floor Plan for Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting literally illuminates your backyard landscape. But effective outdoor lighting—meaning, lighting that is both decorative and practical—isn’t as simple as putting a few fixtures in the ground here and there. Effective outdoor lighting is carefully planned lighting. In this comprehensive guide to outdoor lighting, we examine:

The Outdoor Lighting Advantage: 5 Key Benefits

Here’s why properly planned outdoor lighting is such a great idea:

  1. Enhance security. Outdoor lighting helps deter burglaries, vandalism, and other crimes. One study found a “dramatically significant correlation with crime at night” in unlit areas, and an equally significant reduction in night crimes where there was outdoor lighting.
  2. Add to your property value. Curb appeal creates good impressions, which add to the value of your home. Outdoor lighting draws attention to the features of your yard’s landscaping.
  3. Extend your living space. No need to go indoors after the sun goes down, because your yard doesn’t get dark when you have outdoor lighting.
  4. Be eco-friendly. You may think outdoor lighting wastes energy. Think again. Modern outdoor lighting is energy efficient. It’s also quiet, so you can enjoy the outdoors without the constant buzzing from old-fashioned halogen lights.
  5. Set it up with ease. Unlike with interior lighting, if you put an outdoor light somewhere and decide you don’t like it there, in many cases it’s relatively easy to move it somewhere else. That said, if your outdoor lighting design includes any significant trenching and/or permanent fixtures, consider consulting an experienced electrical technician who can help you plan proper placement as well as provide safe installation.  

How to Plan Around Your Lifestyle

Outdoor lighting highlights backyard spaces, adding welcoming character. Every lighting plan is unique, depending on the size of the yard and the landscaping. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Walk around your yard to identify areas for extra illumination and sketch out a map (it’s just a sketch; don’t stress if it doesn’t look like an architectural drawing). Be sure to take into account the environmental conditions as well as the aesthetic—you might want to avoid putting outdoor lighting in spaces that easily flood after rainstorms, for example. 
  • Consider various lighting techniques, such as downlighting, accent lighting, and spotlights. 
  • Make sure you take into account the power you’ll need for the number and type of lights you’ll get. In some cases, you may need to install outside electrical outlets. If you don’t want to install extra power sources, plan how to best make use of the power sources you do have. (Keep in mind, though, that you can always get solar powered lights that don’t require electrical outlets.)
  • Weigh the practical and decorative considerations. Outdoor lighting design is a reflection of your personal style and the architecture of your home.  Think about where you and your family spend the most time outdoors. 
  • Finally, set a budget. Expect that you are likely to exceed your budget, but if you aren’t willing to spend more, consider where you can cut back if necessary.

Outdoor Lighting Design Features

Types of outdoor lighting fixtures to consider for your plan include:

  • Pendants. Best suited for porches and covered patios with high ceilings. Be sure to place it where it can be seen and appreciated, but where it is also out of the way so anyone walking by is not in danger of hitting their head. 
  • Wall sconces. Usually placed slightly above eye level to avoid glare or shadow. Best near an entryway, door, or window.
  • Ceiling lights. Obviously, you need a ceiling for these. Great for a covered porch or patio, or possibly even an overhanging eave.
  • Post lights. You don’t always need to put a post in; you could put a post light on an existing fence. If you want to light up an area such as a walkway or driveway, this is a good option.
  • Flood lights. We know “flood light” doesn’t bring up a cozy and warm feeling, but many of today’s flood lights are stylish. If you have a spot where people aren’t likely to congregate, where you still want outdoor lighting for security, your basic flood light is always a good choice.
  • Landscape lights. Installed close to ground level, so as to light up footpaths and garden features.  
  • Vintage Edison Bulbs. As the name implies, these look like the very light bulb invented by Edison, with highly visible filaments, but with greater energy efficiency. 


Outdoor Lighting Styles

Everyone has their own personal decorating style. Your outdoor lighting reflects that. In most cases, you want to achieve a consistent look (i.e., a modern house has modern outdoor lighting; a traditional home has traditional outdoor lighting). That said, if you’ve got the eye for it, an eclectic combination can probably work as well. Whether you want something basic or highly creative, or anything in between, it’s your space and your choice. Perhaps the only restrictions are how you intend to use your outdoor spaces and how much you want to spend. 

Getting the Right Outdoor Lighting for the Right Outdoor Environment

As important as style is in considering good outdoor lighting design, so also is the type of outdoor lighting to use. Consider the following:

  • Solar powered. No electrical power source required. Worried about cloudy days? Solar lights store collected sun power in batteries to draw on when sunlight is not optimal. 
  • Photoelectric. Sensors activate lighting whenever it gets dark or cloudy. You can set photo cells to come on at certain light levels. This can save energy so that lights only come on when needed, as opposed to using a timer that turns lights on whether necessary or not.
  • LED (Light Emitting Diode). Ninety percent more energy efficient and longer lasting than incandescent lighting.
  • Energy Star. Outdoor lighting certified as energy efficient. 
  • ADA Compliant. Satisfies certain design standards as well as brightness, as set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Title 24 Compliant. Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations sets out specific requirements to meet, to achieve energy efficiency and reduce consumer costs. 
  • Dark Sky Compliant. Shielded to keep light directed at the ground rather than adding to light pollution.
  • Motion sensors. These turn on when movement is detected. Particularly good for doorways and other areas where sudden lighting coming on can deter trespassers and intruders. Consider pairing with security cameras.
  • Security cameras. Okay, not actually outdoor lighting, but if you’re planning outdoor lighting, it’s a good idea to think about where you might want a security camera as well. A good example is a doorway where parcel packages are typically dropped off. A security camera can tell you what happened to any package that didn’t stay on your doorstep.

Equally important is to consider your outdoor environment. Avoid placing lighting where lawn mowers and weed whackers could easily cause damage. Similarly, avoid exposure to direct rainfall, wind, and water, unless the light is specifically designed as water- and wind-resistant.

What type of wildlife is in your yard? You might want lighting to scare off coyotes, but on the other hand, you don’t want harsh blue lights that can potentially harm animals (including humans). Do you have turtles in your backyard? Believe it or not, there are turtle-friendly light fixtures that are shielded with a wavelength of 450 nanometers. Newly hatched turtles perceive outdoor lighting as natural sunlight, which could interfere with their ability to find their way back to water.

Ongaro and Sons: Your Outdoor Lighting Experts

Ongaro and Sons electrical technicians can help you optimize your outdoor lighting plans. In particular, we install outdoor electrical systems that satisfy local code requirements and, most importantly, ensure the safety of your family and visitors to your home.

Contact Ongaro and Sons today to schedule an appointment to discuss your outdoor lighting  needs. We promise to shed light on outdoor lighting that satisfies your budget and your design expectations.