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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. Outdoor lighting fixtures are available as hardwire, plug-in or solar units.

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.

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.

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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 hit 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.

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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.