Extend Summer Fun with Expert Outdoor Lighting Tips
From neighborhood picnics to kids’ play time, summertime equals outside time. Much of that activity occurs during longer daylight hours, but darkness is also a great time to enjoy warm-weather days. How can you create an environment that extends the fun of summer past sunset? Fortunately, the right light can make evening hours safer and more enjoyable, according to the American Lighting Association.
Whether for poolside parties, romantic dinners on the patio, kids catching fireflies or barbecues with neighbors, make your outdoors more beautiful and pleasant with these tips and tricks:
1. Improve navigation with outdoor lighting.
Lighting is typically layered into a room or outdoor space in three ways: overhead, task and ambient. Even outdoors — where there are no typical boundaries and borders — those three layers are necessary. Outdoor overhead lighting is important for visibility of steps, paths and walking surfaces. “You don’t have to light a path completely, but it’s good to provide light where there’s a bend or an intersection, or as you turn a corner or approach steps,” says Jeff Dross, corporate director of education and industry trends with Kichler Lighting in Cleveland.
2. Enhance security with outdoor lighting.
To improve visibility and security, combine a motion detector with a sconce to illuminate dark corners or areas near entrances, says David Kitts, a designer with Hubbardton Forge in Castleton, Vermont.
Be sure to aim lights away from the door. “Wall lanterns on either side of the door will give your home a warm, welcoming appearance while ensuring the safety of those that enter,” says Kim Mager, marketing director for Hinkley Lighting in Avon Lake, Ohio.
3. Create outdoor rooms with lighting.
“Creating outdoor rooms is more difficult because you don't have as many features on which to direct light to define or enhance a space other than horizontal surfaces like a deck, patio or lawn,” says David Martin with Hubbardton Forge.
Outdoor lighting at the borders of a space is a great way to give people barriers, both vertically and horizontally. “Lights in a tree create something akin to a chandelier hung in the middle of the sky, and even accent lights in the general area of the edge of a patio, deck or porch will glaze across the space and provide enough of a comfort level for people to understand where things are,” says Dross.
4. Reduce glare with well-placed outdoor lighting.
Outdoor lighting that casts a glare can be blinding, as can light that’s too bright. Light along paths should be cast downward, with fixtures, such as Dark Sky-compliant versions, that are hooded. A variety of lighting options will create layers, allowing you to add or subtract as necessary. If appropriate, exterior-safe dimmers can also provide flexible control over the level of light, as can moveable fixtures that can be added to a patio or porch as needed.
5. Add decorative elements with outdoor lighting.
Just as arbors, pergolas, patios and other outdoor elements help to enhance the style of an outdoor space, so too can lighting contribute to a well-designed landscape. “Well-done outdoor lighting should not only serve the functional purposes of safety and visibility, but also focus attention to the architectural and natural details of the space,” says Kitts.
For example, step lights are essential for safe passage, but can also highlight molding or trim details. For a pergola over a deck, an outdoor-compliant chandelier can be a wonderful accent to dinnertime and a way to spotlight the overhead structure and flowering vines. Patio lights provide ambience as well as illumination for cooking outside.
6. Enhance inside views with outdoor lighting.
It’s often an afterthought, but enhancing the views from inside the house is a natural fit for outdoor lighting. “You are able to enjoy your home’s landscaping and outdoor areas from the inside, creating a cohesive space from both inside and out, regardless of the season,” says Mager. To do that, layer in a variety of lights—spotlights on trees, lights dotted along pathways, accent lights on unique landscape features.
7. Conserve energy with outdoor lighting.
If you get enough light, there are solar options for outdoor lighting, as well as LED, Energy Star and Dark Sky fixtures. Many options are available today to help you enjoy the benefits of good area lighting in cost-effective ways.
Visit your local ALA-member retail showroom to see the newest products and to talk to an expert about how to light your landscape.