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Outdoor Lighting Buying Guide

Add beauty and security with outdoor lighting. Our guide helps you understand fixture types and functions to choose the best outdoor lighting for safety, accent lighting, post lighting and deck lighting for your home

Types of outdoor lighting, security lighting and landscape lighting

What is Outdoor Lighting?

Outdoor lighting includes a variety of light fixtures that address and improve exterior home security and safety. Additionally, these lighting fixtures highlight landscaping and architecture at night and come in a variety of styles and finishes.

Power and Performance

With options ranging from hardwire flood lights to plug-in dusk-to-dawn lights, to even solar motion lights, you can find the perfect outdoor flood lights for your landscape and the exterior of your home.

  • Solar Powered outdoor lighting draws the energy it needs to make the lights operate from sunlight. Though this option can cost more for the initial purchase and setup, you can ultimately save on your energy bill. Be sure install the solar panels in areas that receive sufficient sunlight and avoid dark and shadowy areas of your home.
  • Plug-In lights will need to be positioned in an area where they can be connected to a power source outlet or extension cord. With this option, you will have an exposed cord that my need to be secured or concealed.
  • Hardwire directly connects directly to the electrical wiring of your home. This installation requires additional safety measures, but can be an easy DIY project.


Another factor to consider is what type of light bulbs you want to use for your outdoor lights. LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs are a popular option, and while they cost more than other bulbs, they last considerably longer. The other common options are CFL (Compact Fluorescent) or Halogen. Both lights can get hot, but CFLs contain mercury, which can be hazardous if it breaks. In addition, you can install HID bulbs, which are primarily used for larger spaces.


Light Bulb Buying Guide

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Security and Flood Lights

Security Light Over a Driveway.

Security and flood lights are broad-beamed, high-intensity lights designed to flood large areas with light. As a result, these fixtures are often used as a preventive measure to reduce criminal activity and increase feelings of safety - especially when equipped with a motion sensor that causes the light to illuminate when movement is perceived.


Types of Security Lighting

  • Dusk-To-Dawn lights are a good option for home security, as they turn on and off with the setting and rising of the sun, keeping your home exterior illuminate throughout the night.
  • A Motion Sensor light is activated when the sensors detect movement and can provide a large range of illumination. The lights deactivate if no additional movement triggers the sensor, making a motion sensor light a good energy-saving option.
  • Switch Control security lights are operated with the flip of a switch. You can turn them on at dusk or use as needed.


Security and flood lights are most effective when correct-wattage bulbs are paired with covers that direct light to a specific area and reduce blinding glare and deep shadows where dangers can hide. Choose a wattage high enough to illuminate the desired area, but low enough that light doesn't creep onto the street or into a neighbor's yard or window.


How to Install Motion Lights

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Good to Know

Some motion sensor lights can be triggered by reflective surfaces, so be careful not to position sensors towards areas. Spot checking the lights at night after the install is the best way to avoid accidental activation or your security lights.

Wall Lights

Outdoor Wall Light.

Wall lights mount on virtually any vertical surface and cast an ambient glow. Great for illuminating recessed areas, pathways, walkways and stairways, wall lights help eliminate shadows in recessed areas of architecture or hardscaping, therefore reducing the risk of tripping and accidents.

Because these are accent lights, use low-wattage bulbs. Higher wattages create glare and can be harsh at night.


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Post Lights

Post Light Illuminating an Entryway.

Post lights mount on posts, railings or their own poles for unlimited placement options. This is an advantage as they throw light on areas away from the house without the intensity of a flood light.

The height of the post helps determine the function and placement of the light. Taller posts are great for driveways and larger, open areas that need more light. Shorter posts are great for illuminating pathways or tucked into landscaping to accent features or brighten dark alcoves.


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Ceiling-Mount / Pendant Lights

Outdoor Flush-Mount Ceiling Light.

Shining light from above, ceiling-mount and pendant light fixtures illuminate covered porches, entryways and gazebo areas. Ceiling and pendant fixtures are a wonderful way to showcase dining and seating areas. 


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When placing pendant lights, make allowances for height and swing radius so the fixture won't be hit by a screen door, wall or a person.

Ceiling Fans

Outdoor Ceiling Fan on a Covered Porch.

Ceiling fans offer multiple benefits: decorative overhead lighting, cooling and insect deterrence. They are best in covered porches, entryways and gazebos - just make sure the ceiling fan you intend to install is rated for outdoor use.


Install or Replace a Ceiling Fan

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Landscape Lighting

Stake lights illuminate a landscaped path

Landscape lighting accents a home's facade and landscape features. With a variety of fixture types, it's easy to find a solution that creates all the right highlights.

Path and stake lights illuminate walkways to prevent accidents along footpaths.

Deck lights attach to the structure to cast ambient light onto the deck for easy navigation. Use on stairways to prevent accidents.

Accent lighting helps highlight a home's architecture and outdoor living spaces by introducing uplights, downlights, well lights and spotlights.


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Outdoor Lighting Considerations

The "dark sky" movement is a product of the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization dedicated to reducing light pollution and to minimize the negative impact of artificial light on nature. You may notice that some outdoor lighting fixtures are categorized as "Dark Sky" and have a "Good Neighbor" seal on the packaging.

The IDA is responsible for the "Fixture Seal of Approval" program that judges the friendliness of lighting fixtures on nature. The group takes into account glare, deep shadows, light trespass (the amount of light that escapes the intended area), sky glow (the amount of unnatural light that floods our skies at night) and impact on the natural world (including sea turtle egg laying, migrating bird confusion and irregular growing cycles).

Smart lighting - or lighting that directs its glow only where it's needed - is essential as it minimizes the amount of light spilling over into unnecessary spaces. These fixtures are marked with Good Neighbor or IDA seals.

Another way to minimize light pollution is to install dusk-to-dawn fixtures. Using a light sensor, the fixture determines the time of day and operates only in the evening. This is an especially useful feature when used in combination with motion lighting, as to avoid paying for electricity used unnecessarily in daylight hours.

If you don't have motion fixtures or dusk-to-dawn fixtures, consider using a timer for outdoor lighting.


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