How to Choose the Best Outdoor Lighting for Your Home

Your home is your castle, and your castle will be the site of many beautiful memories with friends and family. When it comes to choosing outdoor lighting for your home, you want options that will highlight your home's best qualities, while also providing plenty of ambiance for outdoor activities. From landscape lights to outdoor light posts to outdoor chandeliers, the possibilities for creating modern, complementary lighting for your home are endless.

When you begin your planning for outdoor lighting, take into consideration what you want your lighting to do. There are three types of outdoor lighting, and each serves a different purpose. From security to lighting up the yard for summer barbecues, you will likely find that you'll want to incorporate all kinds of lighting for optimal illumination.

Local Requirements

Believe it or not, the city and state can dictate what kinds of lighting you install outside your home. In many states, all outdoor lighting needs to be Energy Star certified. In some neighborhoods, you may be limited by local ordinances regarding the size, style and amount of lighting you can install around your home. 

Check with your local government to ensure you are abiding by all the regulations. You don't want to have to redo or take out all your hard work or face stiff fines for noncompliance. 

Types of Outdoor Lighting

Harwich 10” Outdoor Wall Light Burnished Bronze

Pictured: Harwich 10” Outdoor Wall Light Burnished Bronze

There are three kinds of outdoor lighting: task, accent and ambient. Task lighting is concerned with security and safety. For instance, you may choose a floodlight to brighten your front and back yards to ward off intruders. You may also want to install pathway lights for safety reasons, especially if you have guests or children using your yard after dark. 

Don't forget the back door in your task lighting plans. Proper lighting at all entrances of the house is a deterrent for would-be burglars, but it can extend even further. You can add outdoor lighting on any of your driveway or nearby sidewalks to provide safety and security. Couple this lighting with some carefully-placed cameras and any unwanted visitors will be on display. 

Accent lighting is the lighting that is incorporated into the landscape to enhance the features of your yard and home. These are more decorative, although they can also double as task lighting, such as step lighting.

Finally, ambient lighting is the lighting you choose to illuminate all your other outdoor activities. This includes post and pier lights, overhead ceiling lights, outdoor flush mounts and wall lights. This is the lighting you will use to see when you're having a dinner party or when you're sitting around the porch table having cocktails with friends. 

Plan and Measure

A general rule of thumb is that you'll want to illuminate with 150 watts of light per 100 square feet. Take the square footage of the area you want to install outdoor lighting and multiply it by 1.5. This will give you an idea of the amount of wattage you'll need to brighten that area properly.

illuminate with 150 watts of light per 100 square feet

Utilize measurements of different fixtures when planning to install lighting around your home. You don't want anything too big for a particular area or too bright in areas where you want a more ambient atmosphere. At the same time, you don't want your lights to be too small and ineffective. 

Single light fixtures should measure at one-third of the door's height, while double light fixtures on either side of the door should measure at one-fourth of the door's height. Outdoor ceiling lights should hang between 12 and 20 inches below an 8-foot-high ceiling, with at least one foot of clearance below the light. 

Keep in mind that lighting fixtures look half their size from as little as 50 feet away. For security lighting purposes, you may want to choose larger fixtures to accommodate this visual discrepancy.

Determining Your Home’s Mood 

What are your outdoor lighting goals? What kind of tone do you want your house and landscape to have? There are a plethora of details and factors to evaluate before you attempt to determine what kind of mood you want your home to exude.

If you have a large family, pragmatic bright lighting might make sense for you to prioritize safety and convenience. Minimal light fixtures, practical placement and several outdoor post lights can help create a smartly lit house, even taking efficiency and costs into account.

Eden 6 Light Outdoor Chandelier in Weathervane

Pictured:  Eden 6 Light Outdoor Chandelier in Weathervane

If you’re the designated host in your friend group, you may want to upgrade to more exotic lighting options to emphasize ambient lighting over task lighting. You can search for eye-catching light fixture designs and bulbs, utilize light dimmers or indulge in an outdoor chandelier to impress your guests.

Or you can have the best of both worlds by tactically integrating components of each scenario. As long as you have a clear vision of how you want your house to be perceived, anything is possible with the right lighting. 

Color and Fixture Styles

The color of your fixtures should complement your home and add to its beauty and grandeur. Depending on the exterior of your home, you have a variety of outdoor light fixtures to choose from to best match the personality of your house. 

Some people choose more traditional styles, while others are searching for a more modern look. Use a color wheel to find which fixture colors will work best with your home. Black and pewter are popular with darker-colored homes, while bronze is a warm complement to lighter colors. 

The final aspect to consider when choosing an outdoor light fixture is the sturdiness of the fixture. While you'd like to think that all outdoor fixtures are built to withstand the elements, this simply isn't the case. If you're considering lighting that will go underneath an overhang or ceiling, damp-rated lighting fixtures are the best option. For any lighting that will be fully exposed to the elements, a wet-rated lighting fixture will be necessary.  

Lighting Styles

LED lights are probably the most popular lighting style on the market, largely due to their energy-saving qualities and low maintenance. While most light bulbs need to be replaced annually, if not more often, LED lights can last for years before requiring maintenance or changing.

LED lights can last for years

You may also want to consider frosted glass instead of clear glass for a variety of reasons. Clear glass gets dirty more often and you may find yourself cleaning them more often than you would like. Frosted glass also amplifies light and reduces glare, which can be useful for ambient illumination in areas where you are entertaining guests.

Solar lights are an excellent option for keeping your electricity costs down. Solar lighting is best for accent or ambient styles of lighting, not task lighting. 

Finally, think about how you want your lights to turn on and off. Will they all be on a timer or dusk/dawn sensor? Will only some of them turn on automatically, while others will have to be turned on manually? How about motion sensors, especially for lighting around entrances to your home? Consider these options when selecting the lighting style you want to implement into your outdoor lighting. 

Accenting Your Landscape

PAR 36 CBR Uplight in Centennial Brass

Pictured: PAR 36 CBR Uplight in Centennial Brass

Landscape lighting is a great way to highlight the beautiful features of your yard and garden. If you take special pride in the beautiful bushes, trees and flowers you've planted in your yard, landscape lighting will accentuate your hard work even in the twilight hours. 

For instance, you can play off the sizes and shadows of the planted plants and trees in your yard by strategically placing outdoor light fixtures around them or on your patio to create a sense of depth and dimension. Get familiar with using exterior wall sconces. They can shed layers of light on your outside walls or illuminate your favorite plants and sculptures. Don’t be afraid to get creative here. You can even calculate the angles of the sconces to direct guests’ attention on certain accented features of your exterior walls or backyard.

Have a walkway? Light them up. Using outdoor light fixtures to outline your front walkway or backyard path can be a triple threat, acting as task, accent and ambient lighting. Not only do those lights serve a purpose, but they can also serve as décor and set the mood and tone when you host your next outdoor dinner party.

Other examples of landscape lighting can include installing deck lights, post and pier mounts, outdoor pendant lights and adding spotlights and floodlights.

If you can accent your landscape with thoughtfully placed light fixtures, without being excessive, your home can live two opposing lives: One as a dedicated, sensible abode during the day and the other as a social, inviting host in the evening.

Landscape lighting

Consider Voltage and Wattage in Your Lighting

After spending the majority of time planning and designing different styles of light fixtures and types of lighting, you may forget to take into account the voltage and wattage required or recommended in your preferred lighting. 

You may wonder what exactly is the difference between a light bulb’s voltage and wattage? The voltage is the pressure, whereas watts measure how much energy is released per second. To put things into perspective, an average household bulb runs off 120 volts, which is also the standard line voltage found in most outlets or electricity boxes.

patio lighting

In contrast to using line voltage, low-voltage lighting is usually built into the light fixtures or located remotely. Low-voltage light fixtures tend to be more expensive to install, but the operating costs for overall maintenance over time can even out the costs. Additionally, low-voltage bulbs produce a higher quality light that looks sharper and more natural–and last longer as well.

But you might choose line-voltage lighting if you prefer easier installation and lower-cost light fixtures and bulbs. Just be sure to narrow down your priorities and consult with a contractor if you’re unsure about your house’s voltage capabilities.

Regarding wattage, don’t make the mistake of assuming that the higher the watt, the brighter the bulb because that is not always the case. You need to look at how many lumens the light bulb produces to determine its true brightness.

Outdoor Lighting Dos and Don’ts

Don’t settle for glare. Keep in mind that the lighting of your home is meant for convenience, enjoyment and longevity, so you don’t have to tolerate unwanted glare that may antagonize you for the rest of your homeowner life.

Be creative with the types of light fixtures you want by exploring unique options. Consider the style, shape, size and even height of your outdoor lighting choices. The varying differences in light and shadow can provide exciting accents and make average sections of your house seem more riveting.

varying differences in light and shadow

Try and be cognizant of the spacing of the outdoor light fixtures. For instance, rather than choosing one high-voltage lighting for one area, try getting several smaller low-voltage light fixtures and evenly spread them out. This will prevent aggressive lighting and offer a softer, accessible glow.

Scrutinize the indoor lighting of your home before tackling the outdoor lighting because it won’t be uncommon for the inside and outside of your house to be lit at the same time, like when you’re hosting a barbecue that rolls over into the evening.

Another forgettable factor of lighting your home is the placement and functionalities of the light switches. Make sure they are within reach and easy to identify.

Final Takeaway

If you are itching to revamp your home, turning your attention on improving your outdoor lighting can galvanize some extra style and décor to your dearly-loved house. Implementing different light fixtures, color, style, accents and placement can play a big part in setting the mood of your home that you’ve always dreamed of.

It can take some time to determine your outdoor lighting goals, but it’s okay to take your time because it should take as long as you require. Do your research, look at all the examples that pique your interests, consult with a professional and make sure to choose quality over quantity.

Carefully consider how you want to modernize your home without being too excessive because style will always trump trends in the end. This is when your home can finally turn into your castle, emitting bits and pieces of your own personality.