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Outdoor Lighting 101

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Having proper outdoor lighting is more important than you think. Visitors will appreciate being invited to your home for an evening dinner party with welcoming and well lit landscape lighting. If you don’t know where to start with revamping your outdoor lighting, we’re here to help. This outdoor lighting 101 is going to lay everything out for you, from planning to explaining the different types of lights, you’ll be an expert in no time!

Different Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

Like any other lighting for the home, there are different types of fixtures that serve different purposes. Some are meant for illuminating walkways, others act as accent lighting. Here are the key landscape fixtures you’ll want to consider:

Entry Lights

Entry lanterns and sconces are fixtures that are mounted next to doors, like your front door. These 120-v fixtures are bright. You don’t want to be blinding yourself or guests while approaching the front door, so these fixtures may be shielded or have a shade of frosted glass to cut down on the glare.

Recessed Lights

120-v fixtures are great for illuminating large areas. Install into the eaves over the garage door or decks, and since they’re recessed, they’ll stay hidden from view. If you need to light a smaller area, like stairs or a deck area, then low-voltage recessed lights, like a Horizontal Deck Light, will do the job.


Floodlights, either 120-v or low-voltage, will light an expansive space, like driveways, or for lighting a focal point, like trees or stonework.

Path Lights

These low-voltage lights help to illuminate a walking path by casting downward pools of light onto the ground.

Spot Lights

These fixtures are similar to flood lights, but are used for illuminating a specific focal point with a narrow beam of light.

In-Ground Lights

In-ground lights are used to illuminate specific  landscape. These fixtures have a gasketed lens and are buried in the ground.

Hanging Lights

120-v are decorative and ornate options for outdoor lighting for the entry or porch. Low-voltage versions can be used as decorative accent light, hung in trees, over an arch.

Planning Your Landscape Lighting

Successful landscape lighting involves a layered lighting plan. When considering the outdoor lighting needed to properly light your home and surrounding landscape, think about the areas that need to be well lit.

Larger areas, think driveways and decks, will need stronger lights, 120-v, to fully illuminate the area safely and fully. Since these lights need to be wired directly to the circuit box and the cables, placed with a protective conduit, and buried 18-inches, they should be installed by a professional and qualified electrician. When purchasing these lights, you need to check that they’re meant for outdoor use and are UL-listed.

When illuminating areas that don’t need as much light, think garden paths, low-voltage fixtures, 12- to 15-v, will do. Unlike 120-v fixtures, these lights don’t need to be buried since they’re smaller and can be plugged into an outdoor receptacle. Low-voltage fixtures are great for d.i.y. outdoor lighting projects as they don’t need to be installed by a certified electrician.

Tips For Mapping Out Your Landscape Lighting

Now that you know the types of outdoor lights available, their uses, and where to use them, here are a few tips for mapping out your outdoor lighting plan of attack:

Look Around

Take a nighttime drive around the neighborhood and look for houses that are well lit. How do they light the walkway? Their porch? How is the driveway lit? Take notes! Seeing a well-lit home in person will give you a better idea than just looking at photographs.

Take Notes

Head outside and give your landscape a look. Make notes of what features you’d like to highlight and decided which fixtures will illuminate it best. Remember, your goal is to use a variety of lights, so mix things up.

Plot It Out

Grab a piece of graph paper and draw the basic footprint of your house. If you want to get real technical, go for 1/8″ scale. Be sure to include the major elements of your landscape, like driveways, the front of the house, trees & garden beds, fences, etc. Don’t forget to mark the existing location of your electrical box and receptacles, and any proposed ones too.

Grab a Flashlight

Having a hard time visualizing? Grab a strong flashlight and use it to illuminate desired areas. You can simulate the effect of many of these lights with a strong flashlight. You can achieve the look of uplighting by holding your flashlight at an angle below the item you want to illuminate. Hold the flashlight above the object to simulate a downlight effect.

Remember To:

Avoid lights that will cast a glare and be disturbing to your neighbors.

Make sure that path lights are spaced evenly and well enough apart to avoid the “catwalk” look of a runway.

Pick a fixture style that goes well with the current design of your home.


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Stephanie Weldon

Stephanie is a Social Community Manager here at YDesign. She has an endless curiosity for the why and how things work. Previously a Visual Merchandiser as well as a Costume Designer, she recently resettled in California from New York. Combining her background with her passion for arts, travel, and great design, she has found her way to Y and her love for sharing why great design is at the heart of great style!