Outdoor Lighting

How To Choose The Right Outdoor Landscape Lighting


Outdoor landscape lighting is an often overlooked way to bring your home’s interior design to the outdoor spaces around your home. Over the past few years, outdoor landscape lighting has increased in popularity as more people choose to spend more time in their personal outdoor spaces. The right types of outdoor lighting not only illuminates your outdoor space, but will increase its security and safety as well. The right choices will also bring drama and beauty to the overall appearance of these spaces.

There is an enormous number of outdoor landscape lighting options available on the market today. This can make learning which types of bulbs and fixtures would be best for your particular home daunting. This guide will provide everything you need to know to confidently choose the right outdoor lights for your home.

Choosing The Right Lighting Options for Your Outdoor Spaces

The many different types of outdoor landscape lighting options generally fall into three main categories. The first category is security lighting, which is used to extend the range of sight around your home while deterring animals and prowlers. The second category is safety lighting, typically used for preventing trips, slips, and falls when walking around at night by illuminating pathways, railings, and stairs. The last and largest category is accent lighting, used to highlight outdoor features like statues or garden beds. Most outdoor lighting plans use all three types to create the best illuminated outdoor spaces to accentuate your home.

There’s a wide variety of lighting choices within each of these categories, so you need to examine your options carefully to choose the power source and bulb type that best fits your lighting needs. Lighting types typically used for outdoor landscape lighting include:

CFL (compact fluorescent light) lighting – Incandescent CFL bulbs are still in use in landscape lighting but are not as popular as before due to their short life and high electricity consumption. Halogen CFL bulbs are more efficient than incandescent bulbs, while fluorescent CFL bulbs last much longer than both and come in a wider color range.

LED (light-emitting diode) lighting – LED bulbs are both long-lasting and are more energy-efficient than CFL bulbs, using 15-20 percent less electricity.

Solar lighting – These eco-friendly landscape lights use direct sunlight and a solar rechargeable battery or remote solar panel for power. Solar landscape lighting fixtures will stay bright for several hours after nightfall but is not as bright as wired landscape lighting.

Low-voltage lighting – Low-voltage fixtures use 12 volts compared to a home’s normal 120-volt system. They connect to a transformer through wires run across the top of the soil or buried underground.

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Determining Your Outdoor Lighting Needs

You must consider how your outdoor space will be used before deciding on the best outdoor lighting designs for your yard. Different areas will require specific kinds of lighting to achieve the best effects. Creating zones for a particular focus or intended use will help streamline your decisions on what kind of lighting and lighting fixtures to use.

The best way to determine your landscape lighting needs is to walk around your yard at night. Light seen during the day is different from how it’s viewed at night, so this will let you see the needs of each area. Make a sketch of the yard that includes any structures, the vegetation, and the decorations with an estimated height for each of the objects. Note existing lights and the areas they illuminate. This will make it easier to determine your additional lighting needs.

The next step is to match the reason for lighting to specific locations in your backyard. Factors such as the color and texture of the feature will play into your decision, as each of these factors will reflect light or absorb it in different ways. Your final design is likely to incorporate a variety of fixtures and lighting types to establish a cohesive appearance.

Choosing The Right Lighting Techniques

There are many different lighting techniques you can use to enhance the curb appeal of outdoor spaces. These include:

Overall lighting This lighting technique, also known as general lighting, illuminates a whole space by spreading the light to the whole area equally, regardless of any other sources of lighting available.

Task lighting This is lighting with a specific purpose and is generally the most concentrated form of lighting used. Task lighting is especially useful for seeing objects of low contrast, such as stairs or a pathway.

Accent lighting This lighting technique is mainly decorative and is used to draw attention to an object or area. Some specifically rated outdoor accent lights can also be used in wet locations, like ponds or around water features. 

Direct lighting This technique will mostly brighten the object the light is directed at with little of the surroundings being illuminated. These fixtures focus the light at a particular angle for a direct beam onto the object. Direct lighting creates the most contrast between light spaces and dark areas.

Indirect lighting This type of lighting bathes an area or object in a soft wash by reflecting the light off of the surrounding surfaces.

Semi-direct lighting This type of lighting directs 60 to 90 percent of the light from the bulb on to a particular surface. This type of lighting is not as bright as direct lighting, but not as soft as indirect lighting.

Wash lighting This technique uses a wide beam of light aimed at an object from a few feet away to bathe the whole object in a soft light. Fixtures used for wash lighting generally do not have lenses and cannot be focused on a particular item.

Uplighting This technique uses low-placed lighting to send light upward for an indirect effect. It is a popular way to dramatically enhance the ambience of a space or object.

In-ground lighting This type of lighting is uplighting that is placed into the ground instead of on top of it. This type of lighting is ideal for hiding as it is easily concealed by surrounding it with mulch, gravel, or sod.

Silhouette lighting This lighting technique, also known as backlighting, is used to create a sharp contrast between a feature and its background by lighting the space between. This will create a dramatic dark silhouette of the object on the background.

Shadowing The shadowing effect is created by placing a light source in front of an object to project its shadow onto a surface behind it.

Grazing This lighting technique is used to create dimension by aiming a light beam parallel to a textured surface like a stone wall or tree trunk.

– Underwater – Underwater lights can be used in applications like swimming pools and water features to really make the piece glow or even for late night safety. 

The color of the lights used will also have a considerable effect on the aesthetic appeal of your outdoor landscape. This type of lighting is available in a wide variety of colors, beam spread, and intensities, which will generally be indicated on the packaging. The color of a particular lightbulb is noted as a number that ranges from 1800 kelvins (K) for very red tones to 7500 K for bluish-white tones. Blue-tinted lights will give your outdoor spaces a moonlight-type mood while warmer colors are used to create relaxed, inviting environments.

Outdoor Lighting Fixture

Different Styles Of Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

The light fixtures you choose for your outdoor landscape lighting should be functional, provide the right kind of light, and fit with the design of your home. Here are some of the most common types of fixtures used for outdoor lighting. Different styles can be mixed for maximum effect.

Bullet spotlights – These fixtures are compact and are often fitted with bulbs that project a narrow beam. They typically have rotatable heads so they can highlight features in all directions.

Flood lights – Flood lights are spotlights that cast a wider beam than a bullet and are considered to be the best way to provide lots of non-natural light to an area. In landscape designs, they are typically used for lighting up trees or house facades.

Downlights – These fixtures, also known as pot lights or can lights, have a long, cowl-shaped shroud around the bulb to direct light downward and reduce side glare. You can choose fixed downlights or gimble downlights, which can be moved in any direction.

Well lights – Well lights are buried in the ground, so you only see the light, not the waterproof housing. These lights can be stationary or come with a swiveling bulb for easier positioning.

Wall mounted lights – These fixtures come in a variety of styles and are generally hung on each side of a door or along a wall to provide light for navigation.

Flush mounted lights – Flush mounts and semi-flush mounts take up very little space, making them ideal for installation on the ceiling of a porch or entryway overhang.

Post lights – These lights are placed on top of stakes or posts that are stuck into the ground along a walkway or to designate a border. They are available in a wide variety of heights and styles.

String Lights – These fixtures are typically comprised of small lightbulbs placed along a cord. They are easy to install and come in a multitude of designs.

Track lights – Track lights are arranged into rigid rows of individual lights. In most cases, each light is adjustable, allowing you to direct the light exactly where needed. These types of fixtures come in both utilitarian and decorative styles.

Wall sconces – Wall sconces cast the maximum amount of light down onto recessed areas with their open-bottomed designs.

Lanterns – Lanterns offer soft, low-voltage accent lighting that doesn’t distract from other backyard light fixtures. They’re often used to highlight a window, arch, or seating area. Tabletop lanterns also provide diffuse, glare-free nighttime lighting.

Ceiling fans – Ceiling fans can be used to illuminate porches and gazebos while providing air flow. The fan should be installed at least 7 feet above the floor and the fan blade tips should be at least 30 inches from walls or other objects.

Motion sensor lights – Motion sensor lights turn on when they sense movement, so they are great for security purposes. They will also turn off again after a certain period of time if no movement is sensed, so they aren’t great for seating areas.

Smart lighting – Smart lighting allows you to control the lights with an app on your phone. You can set a custom ambience, control the brightness, and change the color of the light with a touch of the screen.

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Matching The Fixtures With The Features

Certain outdoor light fixtures work better with different exterior features.

Entrances and exits – The most effective ways to light entrances and exits are to place lights either overhead or on each side of a door. Security lighting fixtures with two- or three-bulb lighting units and motion sensing capabilities are often used for this task to scare off would-be intruders or destructive animals.

Paths – The best types of lighting for paths will gently illuminate the walkway with a downward or low-level glow to make walking more secure. Downlights, individual solar stakes, and individually lit pavers are great for pathway lights and should be installed on the ground at equal distances along both sides of main walkways you want illuminated.

Driveway – Low-voltage landscape lighting is a good option along a driveway as it can easily be integrated into your home’s wiring system.

Steps – Task lighting should be used on either the risers or the treads so drops are clearly seen in the dark. These fixtures can include strip lights, spotlights, and wide-angled floodlights.

Decks and patios – Overall lighting can be used to illuminate specific activity areas, such as an outdoor kitchen or bar area, while railings and seating areas should be bathed in softer, indirect light to evoke a warm, intimate ambiance. Post lights can be attached directly to the patio or deck structure to illuminate the borders. Proper deck lighting can not only make it look better, but keep it safe as well. 

Home Façade – Soft wash lights aimed at the corners of your house will bathe the flat facades with diffuse light.

Architectural and structural features – Accent lighting is a good way to highlight interesting outdoor features, such as gazebos, pergolas, arches, statues, and fountains. Flood lights and spotlights can be useful for illuminating larger areas and uplighting can be used to showcase the features from below. Aiming two or more lights at them will reduce harsh shadows by crossing the beams.

Recessed areas – Wide-angled floodlights can be used to improve navigation in small areas of the yard where shadows lurk.

Trees, shrubs, and other vegetation – Spotlights installed at or above ground level and directed upwards can make tall trees look more statuesque or be used to highlight low hanging branches. For shorter features, well lights that are pushed into the ground can be used to project light upwards over shorter distances. Well lights can be surrounded by rocks or gravel to make them virtually invisible.

Gardens and planting beds – Lighting fixtures must be taller than the plantings to properly illuminate a garden bed. Post lights with canopies should be placed no closer than 20 feet apart to reflect pools of light down into planting beds.

Garden walls and privacy fences – Wash lights are great for highlighting the features of garden walls and privacy fences. Placing the fixtures close to the base will bring textures into sharp relief.

Common Outdoor Lighting Issues And How To Avoid Them

There are a number of issues to try to avoid when planning an outdoor landscape lighting design for your home. These issues range in severity from mildly annoying to life-threatening if left unchecked. Here are some of the most common issues and the best ways to avoid them.

Outdoor Light Pollution

Adding too many led outdoor lights or lights that are too intense can create unwanted light pollution that ruins your view of the stars or bleeds into indoor rooms. This issue can be avoided by choosing fixtures that have reflectors and shielding to direct the light to where you want it. You should also choose low-wattage bulbs, which are often enough to provide illumination, as higher wattage simply provide harsher light without improving the look or feel of an area.


Glare is an intense beam of light that temporarily blinds people when a light source is too big or too bright. The easiest way to avoid glare is to position your outdoor landscape lights at night and aim the lights carefully to avoid direct beams in frequently used areas.

Wasted Electricity

Landscape lights that remain on when they are not needed can waste electricity and increase your electric bill. The simplest way to control outdoor lights are to choose styles that have automatic switches or motion sensors that will power the lights only when needed. If you would like to manually control your lights, wireless keypads and fobs are convenient and easy to use.

Dim Lights

If your lights are dimmer than they should be, the issue may be improper voltage or too many lights on the connection. The proper voltage for halogen bulbs is between 11 volts and 12 volts, while LEDs should be between 9 volts and 15 volts. Removing some of the lights can increase the voltage to the other fixtures on the run.

Single Lights Out

The most common reason for a light to be out is that the bulb is burned out and needs to be replaced. This is typical for fixtures that use CFL bulbs, but much less common with fixtures that use LED bulbs due to the bulbs long-lasting nature. If the bulb has not burnt out, it may be a connection issue. Connections often loosen, allowing moisture to come into contact with the wire. Replacing the connection should solve the problem.

Multiple Lights Out

If an entire section of lighting is experiencing problems, them the issue may be with the wiring or the transformer. In these cases, an electrical professional can help you pinpoint the issue and make the repairs.


Overheating can severely damage the light fixture and anything that it is attached too. Many cases of overheating come from leaves and debris collecting in the fixture, so clean them out regularly to lower the risk. You should also ensure that burned-out bulbs are replaced immediately so that others on the circuit aren’t overloaded.

Tree Damage

While lighting trees and other foliage, you will want to avoid driving nails or screws into a growing plant. Doing this can cause damage that will deform the tree and may even result in the death of the tree. If positioning tree lighting on or in the canopy of a tree, use a strap device made of cloth or a nylon-type material for mounting the fixture. These straps are easily attached, adjustable, and can be removed quickly if necessary.

Wiring Issues

While digging trenches and connecting cables is straightforward stuff, you may want to hire a landscape lighting specialist to install outdoor lighting fixtures with wiring. These specialists are familiar with the various fixtures and know ways to connect them for the most attractive effects. Wiring for 120-volt lighting must be encased in conduit or buried at a depth of 18 inches to protect it from water. Low-voltage wiring must be buried at least 6 inches deep.


When it comes to outdoor landscape lighting in Washington, choosing the right lighting for the right areas can make or break your project. Take the time to consider all of your options carefully and don’t be afraid to call in professional help when warranted. Doing the job right will result in an effective and attractive outdoor arrangement that can be enjoyed long after dark.


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