How To Choose Outdoor Lighting

Written by: Erica Spangler

Outdoor Lighting Types

Wall Lights

Common Areas:

Front Door, Back Door, Either Side of Garage Door

Lighting Style:

Ambient, Safety

Wall lights are the most traditional option for outdoor lighting to illuminate a porch, driveway or garage area.

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Ceiling Lights

Common Areas:

Porches, Outdoor Sitting Areas

Lighting Style:

Ambient, Task

Consider an alternative to wall lights and go with a ceiling light; this option can also complement wall lights.

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Pendant Lights

Common Areas:

Porches, Outdoor Sitting Areas

Lighting Style:

Decorative, Safety

Outdoor pendants have become very popular, especially over front door porch areas.

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Post Lights

Common Areas:

Either Side of Driveway, Walkways

Lighting Style:

Decorative, Safety

For a statelier look and feel to your landscape, consider post lights for balance and depth.

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Flood Lights

Common Areas:

Top of Garage, Side Yards, Back of House

Lighting Style:

Accent, Safety

For a general lighted area, consider flood lighting; this is one of the best choices for safety and security lighting.

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Landscape Lighting

Common Areas:

Gardens, Decks, Porches

Lighting Style:

Accent, Decorative, Safety

Use landscape lighting to illuminate your walkways for safety and to show off your yard’s design.

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Outdoor Lighting Techniques

Up Lighting

  • Light points up
  • Design lighting
  • Highlights home’s details, trees, or any other larger structure or plant

Down Lighting

  • Light points down
  • Security or design lighting
  • Illuminates your front door or the look of your home

Ambient Lighting

  • Light points in all directions
  • Security or task lighting
  • Works in various exterior areas, but especially well near exterior entrances

Grazing

  • Light points either up or down
  • Design lighting
  • Light points directly up or down on an interesting surface, especially a rock or brick wall

Silhouetting

  • Light points upward towards a wall
  • Design lighting
  • Light directs towards a wall behind a large tree or object to show off the object’s silhouette

Shadowing

  • Light points upward towards a wall
  • Design lighting
  • Light directs towards a wall in front of a large tree or object to show off the object’s silhouette

Moon Lighting

  • Light points up and down
  • Design lighting
  • Light points up and down through a tree or natural canopy to offer the feel of a moonlit night

Spot Lighting

  • Light points either up or down
  • Design lighting and security lighting
  • Meant to illuminate a specific feature or area

Sign Lighting

  • Light points either up or down
  • Design lighting
  • Meant to illuminate a sign; similar to spot lighting

Walkway lighting

  • Light points toward the ground
  • Design lighting and security lighting
  • Draws attention to a walkway and illuminates every step of the way for extra security

Path & Spread Lighting

  • Light spreads across the ground
  • Design lighting and security lighting
  • Illuminates your paths for safety, while also showcasing the look and feel of your landscape

Step Lighting

  • Light points outward
  • Security lighting
  • Accents stairs or elevated steps to ensure safety while walking at night

Deck Lighting

  • Light points down
  • Security and task lighting
  • Meant to light up your deck to perform tasks at night or to illuminate for walking at night

Fountain Lights

  • Light points either up or down
  • Design lighting
  • Meant to illuminate a fountain; similar to spot lighting

Pond Lights

  • Light points up or sideways through water
  • Design lighting
  • Offers an interesting look at night as the light casts through water

Important Considerations

UL Listed

  • Determines if the light fixture may be installed outdoors.
  • UL Damp lights must be covered by an overhang of some sort.
  • UL Wet lights may be exposed directly to rain and to moderate sprinkler spray.
Note: Before purchasing a light fixture for your home’s exterior, make sure to check if the light is listed for the necessary outdoor conditions.

Dark Sky

  • Eliminates light leakage (also called light pollution)
  • Some communities and parks require Dark Sky lighting
  • Protects the night environment to ensure darker and starrier skies
Example Fixtures: Wall Lights, Spot Lights that Point Downwards, Path Spread Lights

Photo Cell

  • Turns on light automatically
  • Operates from dusk until dawn
  • No need to turn on the switch
Example Fixtures: Wall Lights, Post Lights, Pendants

Solar Lights

  • Collects sun energy throughout the day
  • Converts the energy into light
  • At night more eco-friendly option that requires no electricity
Example Fixtures: Path Lights

Motion Sensor

  • Turns on when it detects motion
  • Turns off automatically after a certain amount of time
  • Best option for security reasons
Example Fixtures: Flood Lights, Wall Lights
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