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How to Choose a Porch Light

Everything you need to know to choose the best lighting for your porch or entryway.

Yvonne Harbison
Yvonne Harbison

Outdoor lighting has two primary purposes: security and style.

The lights on your porch help create a safe environment for your family and friends by illuminating the entrance. This makes it easier for you to find your keys and avoid stumbles over small objects. It also allows you – or your security cameras – to look outside to see who’s knocking on the door, as well as deter potential burglars and notorious porch pirates from approaching your home.

Porch lights play a prominent role when it comes to the curb appeal of your home. But how do you choose a porch light that is practical, stylish, and durable all at the same time?

To help you narrow down and choose the best porch light for your home, we’ve compiled an in-depth guide to help you learn more about this type of light fixture. Porch lights aren’t just a glowing yellow box on the wall anymore. It helps to know your options before you buy. 

Common Styles of Porch Lights

There are a few porch light styles you may want to consider as you begin shopping. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, but what really matters is determining which one will fit the most seamlessly into your outdoor space. There are four common types of light fixtures that work well for porches and exterior entryways. Let's take a closer look at each of these.

Outdoor sconce lighting on porches and entryways

1) Wall Sconces

One of the most prominent types of porch lights is the wall sconce. Installed directly on the wall, an outdoor light sconce is a great option for showcasing the front door or to artfully brighten up any dark corners around your porch. Outdoor wall sconces can be easily installed on most materials, including brick, aluminum, and wood.

Ceiling Mounted Lights

2) Ceiling Mounted Lights

Available in a variety of forms, ceiling mounted lights include any fixture that is attached directly to the ceiling above the porch. This style would include flush and semi-flush lighting, chandeliers, pendants, or recessed light fixtures. Depending on the size of the fixture itself, these typically work better for larger, covered porches that may require more ambient light. Ceiling mounted lights are an excellent solution for wrap-around porches for visiting with family and friends.

Flood Lights

3) Safety Flood Lights

While the most practical for safety purposes, security flood lights typically don't have much style or visual appeal. Safety lights often include a built-in motion sensor that activates whenever it detects movement in the area. This discourages intruders and stray animals from approaching your home, while also guaranteeing the necessary light whenever you come home or take a nighttime walk outside. Another related feature to look for with outdoor safety lights is the dusk-to-dawn timers, or sensors that automatically turn the lights on when the sun goes down.

Transitional style post lights on either side of walkway to home entrance

4) Post Lights

As the name suggests, post lights are a type of outdoor light fixture designed to be installed on top of posts along the entrance pathway or around your porch railing. They provide just enough light that you are able to see where you’re going, but not the intense amount expected from flood lights. They are perfect for lighting up hidden nooks, highlighting steps or stairways, or beautifying landscape features.

Picking the Right Material

To ensure that your light fixture is durable enough for your entryway, it’s recommended that you pay special attention to the material it is made of. Keep in mind the climate that you live in. Extreme temperatures, sun exposure, ice and snow, high humidity, dust, and other environmental factors should all be considered when picking out any type of outdoor light fixture.

Regardless of the weather conditions, you should always choose a porch light that is specifically made for outdoor use. Indoor lighting fixtures are not designed for exposure to outdoor climates and should not be used as porch lights. Rain, snow, high-humidity, sun exposure, and low-humidity weather conditions can all cause damage the materials and finishes of indoor fixtures.

Weather-Resistant Materials

Some of the best weather-resistant materials to consider include powder-coated aluminum and brass. These are generally the most durable types that are designed to withstand harsh conditions. With proper installation and care, a porch light made from one of these materials should last for many, many years.

  • Aluminum — One of the most common materials, aluminum fixtures work well in nearly any climate. Aluminum is available in a variety of colors or finishes. It’s a great choice when you want a low-profile light.
  • Brass — Warm and inviting, brass construction often provides a glow that works well with brick walls and warm wood surroundings. A brass fixture works great at withstanding rust and ages with a unique patina to add to the character of any statement piece.

Choosing the Right Light Bulb

Another consideration when choosing outdoor lighting is the type of light bulb you use. Indoor light bulbs may easily break or burn out when used in extreme outdoor conditions. If possible, it's recommended that you buy and use bulbs that are designed specifically for outdoor use.

Colorful Celebrations

The color of your home lighting can boost curb appeal and porch lights are a quick and fun way to accent the property. Light bulbs are also a unique opportunity for customization. The color of the bulbs can be changed seasonally, to acknowledge holidays, family festivities, or to add a personal touch on the outdoor decor. Swapping out a bulb is fast and affordable, but another option is to choose outdoor LED color changing bulbs that allow you to switch lighting colors in seconds.

Different light bulb types

Wattage Wisdom

The recommended minimum wattage for a light fixture near your front door is a 60-watt bulb (or the equivalent for CFL or LED bulbs). This wattage will provide a good amount of illumination for everyday use. If possible, go with an energy-efficient light bulb, such as CFL or LED, as these will last much longer and use a fraction of the energy required by incandescent bulbs. This will both save you money in energy costs and reduce the frequency of bulb replacement.

If you want a brighter light, a 100- or 120-watt bulb will work well and illuminate a larger area around your porch or patio. If you have a wall sconce light on each side of your front door, you can use a 40-watt light bulb in each, as the light will be coming from multiple directions. However, when it comes to sconces, it’s recommended that you install the sconce at least 66 inches or higher from the ground, as this will put it above eye level and prevent the potential for blinding glare.

  • Note: When it comes to choosing a bulb for your outdoor fixtures, always follow the recommendations from the manufacturer.

Additional Porch Lighting Considerations

To help you narrow down and choose the best light fixture for your porch, there are a few often-overlooked factors that you may want to keep in mind. 

white outdoor ceiling fan with built-in light

Hot & Humid Climates

Outdoor ceiling fans with built-in lights are ideal in hot and humid climates. Although frequently used for back patios, they can also be a stylish addition to a wrap-around front porch. A porch or patio ceiling fan can help keep you cool and keep bugs away as your intended gathering of friends and family enjoy the outdoors. Be sure that you buy a ceiling fan that is designed for outdoor use. Before choosing your patio fan, check out our comprehensive outdoor ceiling fan buying guide for features to look for and other tips.

Light sconces installed next to front door

The Door & Installation Location

The location that you install the light fixtures on your porch is also important. The front porch is a high-traffic area with screen doors, storm doors, and shutters, in addition to the home entry doors. Careful placement prevents the swing of a door from colliding with a hanging fixture or bumping into a sconce.

To avoid potential hazards, open your door and mark its arc on the ceiling or walls. This visible representation of the necessary clearance ensures that the new fixture will not be damaged by any doors or shutters. 

Attracting Bugs

Some types of lights attract insects more than others, due to the design style, access to the light, or the brightness of the bulb. You might want to investigate bulbs that attract a minimal number of bugs. While incandescent bulbs have been found to attract the most bugs, LED lights with a warm color temperature attracted the smallest number of aerial insects.

Light sconces with dark sky seal of approval

Light Pollution

One important issue is the growing problem of light pollution, which has been shown to have an effect on the natural world, as well as your neighbors. Light pollution interferes with the habits of nighttime animals, even nighttime traffic control for humans, which has resulted in location-specific regulations in coastal areas and urban cities alike. Look for light fixtures that mention the “Dark Sky” or have a “Good Neighbor” seal of approval. These porch fixtures are designed to minimize the impact that artificial light has on the environment and wildlife that live in your area.

Modern front entry, recessed lighting, sconce light

The Value of the Porch Light

The proper porch lighting instantly boosts curb appeal and makes any home more inviting. Choosing the right style, size, and type of fixture ensure safe entry points, provide well-lit outdoor walkways, stairs, and gathering spaces, and even adds to overall property value. Discover more tips and tricks and coordinate your outdoor lighting to amplify and protect the best features of your architecture and yard design with our outdoor lighting design guide. From the front door to the end of your driveway, there are a variety of lighting solutions to make your home shine.

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