Ultimate Outdoor Lighting Guide
Good lighting is an often overlooked but a critical element to any outdoor space and landscape design but figuring out where to begin is quite often the most difficult part to an outdoor lighting plan.
With so much variety, it’s difficult to know what is right for your space whether it’s a deck, patio, pathway, or yard. But with all of that variety comes hundreds of ways to create an absolutely stunning space that has an inviting glow no matter how large or small the area you intend to light.
In this article, we’ll tackle absolutely everything you’ll need to know to get started. From dissecting the low voltage and solar lights to creating a lighting plan you’ll be up and running in no time. Plus you’ll find great lighting ideas and products for decks, patios, and landscapes.
Getting Started – Outdoor Lighting Options
The first thing to tackle is whether or not you want to use solar, low voltage, or standard voltage lighting methods OR a combination the three.
Standard voltage lighting installations are used primarily for high traffic areas where you need a lamp post light or entry way light so you’re not tripping getting the groceries in the door.
They are also good for security motion lights. The light provided from standard voltage lights is very bright and is often too glaring for entertaining or creating a mood. To accomplish a softer lighting scheme consider low voltage lights or solar lights.
As a DIY project installing a low voltage lighting system is an easy to medium level of difficulty job. They come in kits containing everything needed to install hard-wired lights. Kits generally have a string of about 10 lights for pathway installations. Conversely, if you want a variety of lights there are lighting components that can be purchased separately to create a custom look exclusive to your space.
Here’s How They Work
A transformer or power pack is attached to the GFCI outlet coming from the house or structure. A cable is attached to the transformer and the lights are attached to the cable at the desired distance apart.
The advantage of this type of outdoor lighting installation is that you control when and how bright your backyard lighting is. If that sounds like too much work or you aren’t comfortable working with electricity consider solar lights.
Solar lighting is by far the easiest and fastest way to get an outdoor lighting plan up and running. There are so many solar light fixtures available now that you can get just about anything you’d find in hard wired light in a solar fixture.
They work by collecting energy from the sun and transferring that into light at dusk. The downside to solar is that if your outdoor space doesn’t get a lot of light due to shade or the darker winter months the amount of time solar lights will illuminate decreases. If you’d rather a more natural way to light up your outdoor space there’s always the original lighting source….fire!
The last way to light up an outdoor space is with fire. Candles and lanterns add a gentle glow while tiki torches can light up a path and keep bugs away.
Fire pits have come a long way as well. There are now custom looking DIY stone fire pit kits that’ll get you up and running in no time or propane fueled fire tables that become the focal point of any conversation area.
Create A Lighting Plan
With a pen and paper create an overhead view of your outdoor space. Highlight the darker areas at night, your entertainment areas, and any trees or shrubs you’d like to illuminate.
Think about the space both from the ground and vertically as you’ll want to mix ground level lighting with lights fixed to a fence or deck post as well as overhead lighting like string lights.
If your more tech savvy and want an on-line application for your lighting design. Check this out. . They’ve laid out 10 free landscape design software tools.
Next head out to your outdoor space at night with a flashlight, preferably one where you’re able to adjust the light from high, medium, and low. Go to the areas you’ve highlighted in your plan and adjust the light to see how bright you want the light you’ll eventually install in that spot.
If you plan to accent trees, shrubs or structures figure out whether you want up lighting or down lighting. Also, make sure as your determining placement and brightness that the light is not shining right into a neighbor’s window!
Now that you’re armed with an outdoor lighting plan let’s look at some of the options available for decks, patios, landscape & pathways.
You might be surprised by the multitude of custom looking deck lighting options available. In an existing deck, solar lights are an easy to install option whether placed vertically on a post, on deck stairs and risers, or a post cap. Achieve the lighting you want with these easy deck lighting ideas!
Solar Post Caps
Post caps add a truly custom look to any deck or fence. Now you can step it up a notch with solar post caps. From copper plated to black aluminum to white PVC, there is a solar post cap to match any style deck or fence. They add an ambient warm light as well as an element of safety with the extra light. See our full article on Solar Post Caps.
Solar Deck Stair Lights
Solar deck stair lights are an easy way to add warmth to any deck’s stairway. They are simple to install and most can attach to the risers, the side of the stair its self, or vertically along a railing or fence. Economical, most solar deck stair lights range from $5 – $15 a piece and much less if you buy a set. See our in-depth look at solar deck stair lighting
Wall / Post / Fence Solar Lights
Place these versatile solar lights on a deck post or against the house to create a warm glow. Position them up or down to create the lighting look you want. They are available in many different finishes to compliment any outdoor space. Most are relatively inexpensive ranging from $15 – $25 a piece. Find out more in our article in Post Solar Lights.
One can get really creative when it comes to patio lighting. Place low voltage lights in the patio its self prior to installing it or if it’s an existing patio place recessed low voltage lights in the ground outlining the patio.
Add a propane fire table to the patio for both heat and light. Fire tables have come way down in price and are becoming more and more common in residential settings.
String lights overhead always create that wow factor and are available in a wide variety of styles. Solar string lights work well where no electrical outlet is available and as well as the traditional kind where you’d need an electrical outlet which offer more variety and styles.
Outdoor lamps come in both solar and electrical provided you have an outlet available. Floor and tabletop models are available in a ton of different styles from nautical to contemporary. See our in-depth article on outdoor lamps to find out more.
A step up from candles these tabletop fire bowls run on gel fuel or ethanol fuel. Available in various styles and sizes these make a great low-cost addition to a patio lighting scheme and are guaranteed to impress. See our full article on tabletop fire bowls.
As mentioned prior, propane or natural gas fire tables are replacing the old wood fire iron bowls due to their ease of use and safety with no messy ashes to clean up. They add a wonderful glow to any patio and you can adjust the flame to provide heat if it’s chilly. Check out our full fire table reviews.
Pathway and Landscape Lights
Whether solar or low voltage highlighting a pathway, trees, or shrubs really adds warmth to an outdoor space not to mention the added security that light provides.
Use mushroom style stake lights for downlighting a path or flower bed.
Insert solar LED circular lights into the ground to frame a walkway or flower bed to create a glowing uplighting effect. Or entrench LED rope lighting in the ground for a more continuous look.
Highlight shrubs and trees with either solar or low voltage spotlights pointed upward. The effect creates depth in a garden or yard at night.
Tiny LED string lights can be added to a tree or shrub’s foliage giving it a truly dramatic look or wrap rope lighting around a tree’s trunk for the tropical “palm tree” look.
Solar powered rock lights are now on the market. Use these to accent flower beds or trees at night and have a natural looking small boulder by day!
A newer product to market are solar bricks for edging, patios, or driveways. These solar powered bricks add borders to walkways so you can see at night. Highlight trees, flowerbeds, and other yard plants. Plus they are flexible so you can create both straight or curved patterns and they install in minutes. Simply snap, place, and press!
Solar Motion Security Lights
It’s no longer necessary to have expensive hard-wired security lights in an outdoor space. Solar motion detected security lights are now powerful and bright enough plus they have all of the functionality of wired security lights with added portability.
The nice thing about these is that you can place them in hard to reach spots. For instance behind a shed or fence to keep pests and predators away. To find out more about solar security lights see our full review.
Outdoor Lighting Ideas – Odds and Ends
To round out the best of the rest below are a few more ideas to add to any area of an outdoor space.
Solar Planters are a relatively new product to market. Update your old potted planter with a solar version to create a glow in the garden at night! There are planters with solar light posts attached keeping the light post grounded without having to dig a whole!
String lights and string lanterns come in both solar and electric models and when hung in trees or structures like pergolas they add a real wow factor to any outdoor space. Use Edison bulb string lights for a truly classic look.
Glow in the dark paint is now available for outdoor use. Spray or brush on planters, stepping stones, or just about anything you can think of and instantly create newly illuminated objects in your outdoor space!
As you can see the products and designs for outdoor lighting ideas are virtually limitless. As long as you have a plan in hand you can achieve the backyard of your dreams at a cost you can swallow.
Hopefully our outdoor lighting guide gave you inspiration and ideas to get your outdoor space illuminated!
Do you know of a lighting idea we should add? Let us know…leave a comment below.