A Buyer’s Guide to Outdoor Lighting
When designing your dream home, don’t forget to plan out the pathway to the front door. The outside layout is just as important – maybe more so – than the floorplan. More than simply the relaxing view waiting just out the kitchen window, the yard should be accessible and useful to match your household’s lifestyle. It also plays an important role in the safety of the home. The best way to get the most out of outside spaces is to light them up!
Intelligent outdoor lighting systems include the familiar path lighting, as well as the more invisible accent lighting or deck lighting. The lights themselves can be plain and simple in design, or they can be art pieces displayed and useful on the walls. You can plan an outdoor lighting system yourself, or leave it up to the professionals, but the most important part is that the lights enhance your experience of the tamed backyard landscape.
The Outdoor Lighting Advantage
So why is outdoor lighting such a great idea for your yard? There are many reasons, so let’s narrow it down to just the top five benefits of outdoor lighting.
Extra lights around a property line and near windows and entryways act as a deterrent to both animals and potential criminals. If there are no shadows to hide in, a home is less of a target. With enough illumination, security cameras can more easily record and provide warning of any problems or potential threats.
In addition to the extra safety of well-lit walkways and secure entryways, a properly designed lighting system creates visual interest and amplifies the curb appeal. The features of the landscape can be illuminated, calling attention to the details that would otherwise disappear, and making the yard, patio, or deck look maintained and orderly, day and night.
With the right lighting, the family isn’t stuck indoors after the sun goes down. Enjoy your patio in the evenings, extend your indoor activities outside, and utilize every inch of your home’s open spaces.
Exterior lighting options have moved beyond noisy, buzzing halogen lamps as technology has advanced. Now, with solar lighting and LED bulbs, it’s easy to light up the landscape without leaving too big of an energy footprint.
Outdoor lighting is an easy home-improvement project. Simply plan out the features of your property that would benefit from a little extra night-time glow and purchase the lighting fixture that will best fit that space. You can tackle the entire yard all at once or opt to install one or two at a time — either way, your home is safer and more aesthetically appealing for the work that was done.
Plan Around Your Lifestyle
For a large yard, lighting can illuminate the spaces close to the home and accent the borders. For something a little smaller, deck lights and a string of bulbs can add welcoming character. Every lighting plan will be unique to the yard, and the people who live there are the people who know best how they want to use the space and where they want light. That means that the best person to plan your outdoor lighting is… you! And it’s not as complicated as you might think, just stick with a few simple steps.
Take a walk around your home and identify the areas that could use extra illumination. Write them down, or even sketch out a map. Keep in mind the different environments around every place a light might be needed. For instance, if the area is dry in the summer, or if it floods in the winter. The fixtures you choose will have to survive the elements, so know ahead of time what conditions they will be exposed to.
Determine what kind of light show you want to set up in each place. There are different lighting techniques to choose from, such as downlighting, accent lighting, grazing, or spotlights. Learn more about the different techniques and how to choose outdoor lighting.
HOW TO SELECT AND LOOK AFTER OUTDOOR LIGHTS
This article is designed to be a comprehensive guide to selecting and looking after your outdoor lighting. With very little effort and some knowledge we can ensure that you make the correct purchase and that your lights will look good and give excellent service for many years. It should be read in conjunction with the advice at the bottom of our outdoor lighting category page.
SAFETY & OUTDOOR LIGHTING
All outdoor electrical installations in the UK must comply with the latest regulations and must be protected by an RCD. RCD stands for Residual Current Device and will protect you or your pets from an electrical shock should something go wrong. It works by shutting off the electrical supply very quickly should it detect an earth fault such as a person or animal touching a live feed
These regulations exist for your protection and safety and not just to make your life difficult. We would always recommend that you consult a qualified electrician prior to any outside electrical installation. This will enable you to make a more informed choice about the cost implications of positioning certain types of lights in your garden or outside area.
COMMON MATERIALS USED
Every garden light we supply has to meet your specific requirements. It must represent excellent value for money, be of good quality and provide many years of service. Any fitting found not to meet these requirements is withdrawn from sale. Below is a list of the most common materials used in manufacture, together with their advantages and disadvantages
ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It is a plastic copolymer that has many advantages over other materials. It is cheap to buy, corrosion, impact and abrasion resistant and suitable for any situation including coastal locations. Coastal locations can be very aggressive due to the high salt levels in the air and the abrasive sand carried in the wind. It has the disadvantage that the colour may fade and it may become brittle after prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Painted Pressed Steel
Painted pressed steel fittings are relatively inexpensive to buy and can last for a considerable time if carefully looked after. They have the advantage that they can be finished in any colour. They are not suitable for coastal locations due to the high salt levels and abrasive sand particles suspended in the air. They will rust very quickly if the paint finish is damaged or uncared for.
Cast aluminium lights are reasonably priced and will last a very long time if properly cared for. They are normally chromate treated before the final finish is applied. The fitting is treated with a layer of chromate gel prior to being finished. This layer offers excellent adhesion to the top layer and offers longer anti-corrosion properties. Although aluminium will not rust, if the protective paint and chromate layer are damaged, it will begin to oxidize almost immediately. This can be avoided and the lifetime of your outdoor light extended with a little preventative maintenance.
Stainless steel is a steel alloy that is made by adding chromium and a small amount of nickel, molybdenum or manganese to steel. For it to be classed as stainless it must contain at least 11% chromium. The most common grades of stainless steel will contain between 11% and 16% chromium and are the most likely grades to be used in mainstream stainless steel lights. Marine grade stainless steel is the most corrosion resistant and also one of the most expensive. It is important to remember that although stainless steel is very corrosion resistant, it will in fact stain if subjected to harsh environments. Stainless steel garden lights can vary hugely in price depending on the grade of stainless used in their manufacture. Higher-grade stainless lights are very well suited to coastal locations and will last a lifetime if properly looked after.
Brass lights are either cast brass or sheet brass. Cast brass fittings are considerably heavier than those made from sheet brass. Sheet brass garden lights are often handmade and attract a premium price due to the cost of brass and the labour involved. When used outdoors, we recommend that brass lights are not lacquered. Lacquer does not withstand long periods of sunlight and will eventually degrade and begin to peel. The only option is to remove the fitting and have it re-lacquered or have it removed. Un-lacquered brass outdoor lights will age and weather in time and look fantastic. They can be brought back to as new by using any proprietary fine metal polish. Brass garden lights will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance and are well suited to coastal locations.
Copper garden lights are almost always hand made, with a few exceptions. They are considerably more expensive to buy than most other types of lighting. They are usually made from sheet copper that has been joined together with the use of solder or rivets. Copper will not rust or deteriorate in any way and is perfectly suited to harsh environments. Again, we recommend that when used outdoors, copper should not be lacquered. Un-lacquered copper outdoor lights will age and weather in time and eventually will be covered in Verdi Gris. They can be brought back to as new by using any proprietary fine metal polish. Copper garden lights will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance and are well suited to coastal locations.
Garden and Outdoor Lighting
For mains voltage garden or outdoor lighting, you need to make sure you are staying within the building regulations. This applies to other outdoor electrical activities also such as putting a light or electric socket in the shed or supplying electricity to a pump in the fishpond.
Every cable, wire, socket, appliance and light used outdoors has to be protected by an RCD or residual current device which will instantly cut off the power should anything happen to make power leak to earth, for example if a cable gets cut or someone gets a shock.
More about RCDs can be seen in our project on Fuses but essentially they are safety devices which must be used to protect every socket which could be used to supply electricity outdoors. As this is usually almost every socket in the house it makes sense for an RCD to be placed in the fuse board or consumer unit. This type of RCD is shown in the image above.
Never let leads trail about in the garden. Obviously when using lawn mowers and hedge trimmers there will be cables but wherever possible lay the cables against the building or to the side of the garden. If you want to supply power to outside sheds etc the cables must be protected in certain ways.
Garden Electrics Regulations and Underground Cables
Part P of the building regulations now requires you to notify the Building Control Authorities if you intend to have electrical work done in the garden or it must be done by a Part P qualified electrician. There is no room here for DIY Electrics as it is simply too dangerous. To put cables underground in the garden the regulations state that the cable, preferably SWA or Steel Wired Armoured cable must be covered with a buried warning tape to alert anyone digging in the garden.
Outdoor Christmas Lighting Tips
Be Cautious When Installing Exterior Lighting
Use a good ladder when installing your lights. Secure them with insulated holders (never use tacks or nails). Don’t install your lights on trees that come in contact with power lines. Before installing your Christmas lights, plug them in to make sure all of your bulbs are working. Make sure to turn your lights off when you leave or go to bed at night.
Use the Proper Outlet
For starters, safety first! Your source of power should come from a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. This type of outlet will shut the circuit down if there is overcurrent. We want your lights to shine, not sparks to fly! If you don’t have a GFCI outlet, a qualified electrician can permanently install one outdoors for holiday seasons to come. Or, you can buy a portable outdoor unit from your local home store for less than $20.
Keep Extension Cords Out of the Way
When using extension cords, make sure they are rated for outdoor use, and keep the connections above ground, snow and water. Try to avoid high-traffic areas. Tape cords across walkways, and use the correct length needed to travel to your lights. You don’t want your cords to be too long so they pile up and create walking hazards.
Always Choose Waterproof Lights
There is a variety of lights to choose from. First and foremost, always use waterproof or water-resistant lights with a tag marked underwriters lab (UL). This means the lights meet national industry standards with the American National Standards Institute. Also, when you’re buying Christmas lights to use outside, make sure they are rated for outdoor use (just like your extension cords). Never use indoor Christmas lights outdoors.
Using C7 or C9 Bulbs
For a more traditional holiday light, you will want to use a C7 or C9. These are the cone-shape lights you’ll find most often in home improvement and convenience stores. The difference in these lights is size and wattage, with C9 being a little bigger and easier to see from a distance. Both come in frosted or clear color bulbs and are great for illuminating both your house and trees.
Before and After — LED relight/retrofit
The below un-altered photographs of “Before” and “After” installations demonstrate LEDs superior characteristics of lighting. LED performance provides better visual acuity and better uniformity which is all achieved while using less energy! LED fixtures integrate the latest LED advancements and deliver optical performance that can perform as well as, and in most cases, better than traditional HID fixtures. Additionally, HID/LED comparison charts and sample project cost savings are provided to estimate savings or traditional lighting sources.
Lighting outdoor LED products to make the cars and trucks’ paint truly pop. Over one hundred 1000 watt metal halide fixtures at the tops of existing poles were replaced with 332 watt Forty-four 250 watt small metal halide floodlights located halfway down some of the front line inventory poles were swapped out with forty-four 70 watt
And a dozen 1000 watt metal halide floodlights on the exterior of the building were updated with fourteen 107 watt
TD Convention Center
The parking lot lighting at the TD Convention Center is a prime example for the future of LED lighting.The parking area was lit with 400w HPS fixtures mounted in double configuration at 28 feet. These fixtures were replaced with 90LED 210w fixtures on the existing poles. The results included energy-savings of 55% over HPS, improved overall uniformity and a safely illuminated parking area. Reference the HID/LED Comparison chart below for savings of LED systems compared to PSMH and HPS lighting systems.