How To's

How to Choose Modern Outdoor Lighting

Exterior lighting is an integral part of any home. Not only does it create a beautiful and illuminated atmosphere outdoors, but it also provides much needed safety. So we’ve put together this handy guide full of tips, basic rules of thumb and a brief “Landscape Lighting 101” session–among other things you’ll want to take into account when designing your outdoor lighting scheme.

Begin With the Five Basics Types of Outdoor Lighting: Decorative, Wall, Security, Landscape and Portable

Decorative Outdoor Lighting

Function, meet form. Decorative outdoor lighting is not only for evening soirees. These days, thanks to a wave of advances in materials and technology, everything from the plain old porch lantern to string lights are better looking than ever. Outdoor pendants and wall sconces go way beyond the boring old lamps of the past, and add serious style to exteriors while still providing safety and security for your home.

Overhead lighting is the go-to in most homes for ambient lighting, and there’s no reason that should be any different outside. Today’s modern outdoor pendant lights and ceiling lights come in more decorative looks than we can list, ranging from traditional to ultra-modern and everywhere in between. Whatever your style, there’s sure to be a pendant to suit it. You’ll find damp-rated options suitable for porte-cochères and covered patios as well as wet-rated styles that can safely hang from pergolas and tree branches and perform in any weather.

Outdoor Wall Lighting

Perhaps the most popular outdoor lighting type is the wall sconce. These modern outdoor wall lights flank doorways and can be installed anywhere a wall and wiring exist. Some provide ambient light, others more directed light; there’s truly a vast array of options that can blend into your home’s exterior or provide style points all on their own. Most outdoor wall lights will be rated for heavy weather exposure, but if you live in a particularly wet or harsh environment, look for marine-grade finishes that can tolerate heavy UV, moisture and salt exposure.

Beyond the look of the fixture itself, what an outdoor wall sconce can do with light is pretty impressive. Not only might your perfect porch light let a pool of illumination fall around your feet (and help you find your keys), there are styles that wash walls in uplight and downlight for a highlighting effect on your home. Whether or not you have intricate exterior textures, these highlights improve your home’s look and up the safety factor when installed all around the perimeter of the house.

Security Lighting

Some areas of your home are going to need more security or safety based outdoor lighting, like flood lighting, recessed lighting, landscape lighting, and solar lighting. Areas like your driveway, garage, deck area, stairways, and decks, along with walking paths, and certain areas of your backyard will need to be well lit.

Landscape Lighting

Perhaps the most technical of all the outdoor lighting, landscape lighting typically needs more attention to planning and installation than any other style. Many homeowners will want to secure the services of a professional to install architectural and landscape lighting, but you can start to plan your space with some basic info.

Path lights. They light pathways. There are solar options and wired options that require running underground power sources, so decide first how much of a commitment you’re willing to make to installation. Path lighting doesn’t necessarily only have run alongside footpaths, either; it can be installed around water features, garden beds, or the perimeter of your house either instead of or in conjunction with wall lighting. Use path lights to line driveways, meandering trails through the backyard, or a straightforward route to the front door—it’s up to you.

Recessed ground and well lights. Sunken into the very ground or your patio, deck, or driveway, recessed outdoor lights provide a unique modern look without a whole lot of hardware. You only really see the effect of the light, with the fixture itself blending into the hardscape or landscape. These lights are great for security, bathing the perimeter of your home in light. They can also serve a decorative function, highlighting plants, trees, and other yard features from ground level.

Deck and step lights. Another outdoor style that requires more planning, step lights are installed directly into the steps around your home. This might be as simple as cutting out a recess in a wooden stair, or it could require planning for concrete to be poured, and may be considered a more permanent solution than many of the other styles we’ve covered. That being said, step lights are a great way to improve your home’s curb appeal, visibility, and safety while staying out of the way of pets and feet.

READ MORE » Lighting walkways and paths to the front of your home. How To Light Your Outdoor Entryway

Modern Portable Lighting

A less permanent solution, but an ever-important one, is portable lighting. Outdoor floor lamps and table lamps, as well as decorative styles that can pretty much go anywhere, have become a popular backyard lighting solution, and many of them don’t stop at just brightening the night.

Wireless portables. Wireless operation is a popular feature for portable outdoor lighting, and it’s easy to see why. Rechargeable, lightweight, weather-resistant lights truly do go anywhere and can be moved around as you please. Some options change colors, play music via Bluetooth, or even float. Wireless portables can go anywhere light is desired with minimal fuss, leaving your outdoor lighting options wide open.

Outdoor floor lamps and table lamps cozy up your outdoors and make it just as inviting to entertain outside as in. And if you love the look of your outdoor portable so much you can’t live without it inside, you can simply pick it up and move it indoors.

Figuring Out UL Rating

Now that you know where your lights are going, it’s on to deciding which UL rating you’ll need for your modern outdoor lighting. The UL Rating determines what type of moisture conditions an outdoor light fixture can be located in–damp or wet.

UL Damp

Outdoor lighting fixtures that are rated as UL Damp are ideal for areas that are humid and moist. Fixtures that are damp-rated are best suited for areas that are partially or fully covered, like a porch. UL Damp fixtures are not meant to be directly exposed to water or weather like rain or snow.

UL Wet

Outdoor lighting fixtures that are rated for wet locations can be exposed to rain, snow, and direct contact with water. These lights are well suited for multiple areas outdoors, including porches, walkways, exposed patios, gazebos, and pergolas.

Also Consider: Style, Material and Energy Efficiency


Determining the style of light depends on your home’s current architecture and your personal preference. There are plenty of styles and designs to choose from, ranging from ultra sleek and modern to rustic and contemporary classic.


Different materials will impact the look of your lighting, but they also have different benefits. Most outdoor lighting fixtures are either made of aluminum, brass, copper, and even ceramic.

Energy Efficiency

Take into consideration using LEDs or other energy-efficient lighting options such as solar-powered lights and energy-efficient CFL lights.

And there you have it. You’re practically an outdoor lighting expert now. Knowing the basics and doing a bit more reading on the details will have you well on your way to creating your own beautifully lit outdoor space. If you need some extra inspiration, gander through our outdoor lighting ideas.


For More Inspiration:

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