How to Select Lighting for Outdoor Living

A little outdoor lighting can transform your home into a real showpiece.
A little outdoor lighting can transform your home into a real showpiece.
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Designers on do-it-yourself TV shows make decorating look so easy. They slap some paint on the walls, add a few pillows and some strategic lighting, and they've effortlessly transformed a space. This is especially true for outdoor spaces, which, with the right design aren't just grass, some bushes, a grill and patio furniture; they're oases.

Having a well-designed outdoor space can turn your house into a home, adding curb appeal and even more value to its worth. Lighting plays an essential role in outdoor design, as it can have multiple functions: It adds beauty, acts as security and allows you to use your backyard well into the night. Even though lighting design in an outdoor space can seem tricky, you don't necessarily need the help of a designer to create a beautifully lit space.


The key to creating beautiful outdoor lighting is to plan ahead. First think about what purpose the lighting will serve. Whatever you choose should enhance the beauty of the property, so you'll want to look for lighting fixtures that blend in with the architectural style of your home.

Next, understand that different areas of your house may need different kinds of lighting depending on the function of the lights. A well-lit front entrance provides safety and security. Lighted paths give visitors clear access to the house, and a brightly lit front door allows you to be able to clearly identify them before letting them in. Lighting shadowy areas of your home, such as corners, provides more security and prevents people from sneaking around your home unnoticed.

Entertaining is a major reason to have a beautiful outdoor space, and outdoor rooms have become an essential part of the home. Good lighting allows you to take advantage of your outdoor space at night. Whether it's to cook, highlight features in your yard or add a touch of romance, lighting can instantly create the proper mood.

With so many different functions, of course there are a multitude of choices when it comes to selecting lights. Read on for more information about the different types of lights available today.

When looking at lighting your outdoor space, it's a good idea to not just look at the types of lighting available, but also how much they cost. Consider buying the best quality lights you can afford. The higher quality they are, the longer they'll last, and in the long run, you'll get more bang for your buck than if you constantly have to replace cheaper lighting fixtures. Using higher quality fixtures may also mean that you have to use fewer lights. This is especially handy when you're lighting a larger area, such as a path. Better lights may cast off more light, which means you can get away with using fewer of them.

Use the exterior of your home for inspiration to help you pick out decorative lights that blend in with the style of your house. Selecting lights for their form as well as their function will help you create a stylish atmosphere.

The easiest lights to add to your yard are solar lights, which charge during the day and light up at night. They function without electricity, so you don't really need any electrical know-how to install them. Make sure they're in an area where they get enough sun to fully charge, though, or they won't shine brightly at night.

Many other lighting options also save energy, including photocells, which turn lights on automatically at dusk and shuts them off at dawn. Motion sensor lights only turn on when someone goes near the sensor, so they only use energy intermittently. Light-emitting diodes (LED) are another green solution because they produce as much light as halogen or incandescent bulbs, but they don't consume nearly as much energy. Their lifespan is also a lot longer than traditional bulbs.

For those on a budget, low-voltage mini lights are a good choice because they're pretty cheap, they're safe and you don't need to put many of them around your yard. They're also relatively easy to install, so if you're handy, you can handle this project on your own within a few days.

What you plan to do outside can influence your choice of lighting toor. If you're cooking, bright task lighting can illuminate your grill area. When it comes to lighting something long, like a wall, overhang or flowerbeds, rope lights can be a simple, effective way to make a statement.

Yellow Dog Productions/Getty Images
Yellow Dog Productions/Getty Images
Outdoor lighting can do a lot more than brighten your front yard.

Adding outdoor lighting has more benefits than just making your yard brighter. It can also enhance your outdoor living area and cover up any blemishes that may exist. This is particularly true for outdoor furniturethat may be easily weathered. It's usually cheaper to light a space than to replace furniture, so this is a good way to transform your backyard without spending an arm and a leg.

While the basic function of a light is to illuminate an object, different kinds of lights offer different levels of functionality, so it's helpful to think about what you want the lighting to do when you create your scheme. Choosing to highlight a few of your outdoor features can make your backyard come to life. Whether it's a water feature, a sculpture or an ornamental tree, a well-placed light fixture can help make a dramatic statement.

When looking for pathway lighting, choose lights that direct downward to reduce the glare and make it easier to see. As we mentioned earlier, rope lighting can also be useful for paths and flower beds. It's a good way to make a dramatic effect -- and you can have a safe yard without drawing attention to that fact.

Safety is a key benefit of having a nicely lit yard. Lights can add ambience, but they also light up areas to make walking an easier task. If you have stairs, you may want to consider embedding lights into the vertical riser of each step. This unobtrusive way of illuminating the steps helps make them safe too. Underwater lighting in backyard ponds and pools highlights the beauty of the water feature, and it also accentuates the area so people know they should be more careful when walking around it. Finally, making sure your address or house number is well lit makes it easier for guests and emergency responders to find where you live.

With these tips in mind, you can now take care of some of the designing in your own home and create a magical space for you and your family to enjoy.

Read on for more information about outdoor lighting.

Related Articles


  • American Lighting Association. "Outdoor Lighting." (July 30, 2012)
  • American Lighting Association. "Outdoor Lighting: Create an Outdoor Resort in Your Back Yard." May 2011. (July 30, 2012)
  • Better Homes & Gardens. "Expert Tips for a Well-Lit Landscape." (July 30, 2012)
  • Schrock, Denny. "The Secrets to Fabulous Outdoor Lighting." (July 30, 2012)
  • Sparks, Madaline. "4 Creative Outdoor Lighting Ideas." Real Simple. (July 30, 2012)
  • Valeris, Monique. "7 Stylish Outdoor Lights." Real Simple. (July 30, 2012)