Light Your Way

Outdoor Lighting Ideas: Using Outdoor Residential Lighting to Reclaim Your Yard

Find the best outdoor lighting ideas for turning your outdoor spaces into nighttime spaces.


Outdoor lighting ideas are the current frontier of all home lighting design. Most homes simply don’t light their outdoors, leaving it as dead space. However, the outdoors can be a vibrant part of your home at night, and few things are more memorable than visiting someone’s well-lit back yard. Outdoor lighting is rightly called a “frontier”, as it claims new territory for human living. Using the right outdoor lighting ideas can drastically improve the use of space in the home and create one of the most attractive places for entertaining guests. Outdoor lighting is basically the same as indoor lighting, but without the ready access to walls and ceiling that can hold light fixtures and reflect light.

Using light to create external rooms

ighting a deck or patio follows the same principles as lighting an indoor space.

Outdoor lighting ideas include a combination of task lighting for performing such activities as cooking and swimming, ambient lighting for filling areas with light and lighting faces, and accent lighting for highlighting architectural details and plants. At the end of the day outdoor lighting is the same as indoor lighting and is just a matter of recognizing the special needs created by climate and the lack of walls and ceilings.

Special Requirements

All outdoor lighting must meet special requirements that indoor lighting need not meet. However, the list is smaller than you might think, and the requirements can be easily accommodated once you know what you are looking for:

  • Low voltage: Most outdoor lighting is low voltage, from 12V light bulbs to 24V light bulbs, rather than the indoor 120 volts. The primary reason for this is safety, as most areas require that 120 volt currents be buried at least 18 inches underground. This means two things: first, outdoor lights are naturally dimmer than indoor lights, and second, outdoor lights will require a transformer. Any outdoor lighting ideas will need to take voltage into account.
  • A lite home in winter

  • Temperate climates require lighting fixtures that can survive freezing temperatures.

  • Winterization: If you live in an area where it snows (or, more strictly, an area where the ground can freeze), you’ll need to make sure that you use winter-ready lighting fixtures. Not all outdoor lighting fixtures are winter-ready, so be sure that you ask before making any purchases. Even waterproof fixtures such as fiber optic outdoor lighting should be checked for winter readiness
  • Dark Sky: Some cities have “dark sky” rules in place that seek to prevent light pollution. Many fixtures are available that may not meet the rules in your city. In general, these rules disallow lights from shining upwards into the sky, usually at about a 90 degree arc.

Lighting Decks and Patios

For the most part, your entertaining will be done in a smaller area of your backyard, usually a deck or patio, and there are a number of great outdoor lighting ideas for these areas, from contemporary outdoor lighting to mission-style outdoor lighting. These decks and patios can be small, attached to the side of the house, or they can be quite extensive, including up to half of the yard. Lighting decks and patios is almost exactly like lighting indoor rooms, even for outdoor party lights.

A well lit deck

A well lit deck can expand your nighttime living space.

You should use a combination of ambient and task lighting to light the primary entertaining area. Task lighting should be used on the barbecue and on any areas where people eat, ensuring that there is enough light for these activities. Ambient lighting can be created either by shining light onto the walls or wooden deck and having it bounce onto the faces of those who are on the patio, or by shining it downward from trees, lighting the area more directly.

Whatever outdoor lighting ideas you use for your deck or patio, it is better not to make the common mistake of using one or two bright lights to light the entire patio. This has the same effect that it does indoors: it creates a “glare bomb” that is both unpleasant to look at and actually dims the overall light by forcing your irises to contract.

Lighting Your Trees

Since you don’t really have walls in your yard and since you don’t have a ceiling at all, your trees are your next best thing. They can serve to frame and structure your outdoor space, so that people don’t feel like there is a giant black hole looming over their heads. Lighting trees is one of the most attractive ways of improving the overall appearance of your yard.

Casting uplights on trees can provide the sense of a canopy above. An uplight shines light up into the leaves of the trees, making its branches more visible (note that this would be ruled out by most dark sky statutes). Alternatively, you can actually light down from trees. This creates a nice quality of light that almost has the texture of moonlight when it hits the ground, as it will be dimmer and carry with it the shadows of the leaves.

When lighting trees, you should be careful about color. Redder lights, like halogen and incandescent lights, look great on human skin and terrible on plants, as it makes them look like they are withering and dying. Instead, you should use a very white light, like a fluorescent light or a filter to change the color to something that makes the plants look good. As with most outdoor lighting ideas, this must be balanced, as some redness needs to be added to the light if it will then be used for human faces.

Path Lighting

Outdoor path lighting represents an important part of outdoor lighting ideas. Path lighting is actually quite interesting, as it tells us something about human psychology. Path lighting both tells us where a path is and shows us the path. Or to put it in technical terms, it is both information lighting and task lighting.

Stairway lights

It is important for lighting to show guests where stairs are, not merely tell them.

In other words, we will look at path lighting, and we will understand where the path is going, based on where we see the lights going. However, there is a real problem with this. Once we understand where the path is going, we stop actually looking at the path. This can lead people to trip and fall because of some obstruction.

So, if your path includes obstructions, such as cobblestones, steps or slabs, try to light the stones themselves as well as possible, without having lights marking (but not lighting) the path like signposts. Mushroom-shaped posts are great for this, as they light the ground below themselves, but don’t directly hit people’s faces. LED outdoor lighting provides just the right level of illumination. On the other hand, if the path has few obstructions, feel free to use light posts that mark the path, as people are unlikely to trip. Be sure in any case to light well any steps that people might encounter.

Putting It All Together

Outdoor lighting ideas represent the most exciting area of home lighting design. In some ways they are a frontier for home lighting, literally claiming new territory for living through the proper use of light.

In the end, outdoor lighting is the same as indoor lighting, but there are still a number of different things that must be taken into account along the way. Each area of the yard has its own lighting requirements and can become a part of this newly explored frontier as it is lit correctly.

More Outdoor Lighting Design Articles:

Outdoor Party Lights: Lighting Ideas and Fixtures for Your Patio, Deck and Yard
Outdoor party lights can add an entirely new dimension to your backyard celebration.

Fiber Optic Outdoor Lighting: Using Fiber Optics for Outdoor Decoration
Fiber optic outdoor lighting provides a number of options for underwater and decorative lighting in your yard.

LED Outdoor Lighting: Fun and Energy-Efficient Fixtures
LED outdoor lighting provides a wide range of options from colorful decorations to low-energy standard fixtures.

Mission Style Outdoor Lighting: Timeless Fixtures for Your External Spaces
Mission style outdoor lighting provides soft light and classic style.

Outdoor Path Lighting: Attractive Functionality
Outdoor path lighting is primarily functional, but can provide attractive patterns.


Return from Outdoor Lighting Ideas to Home Lighting Tips

Hit “Like” for Daily Tips!
Sponsored Links