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How to Choose the Right Outdoor Lighting

Mix home security lights and landscape illumination

© 2012 by Haliegh Adams; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

A solar-powered landscape light; photo courtesy Childzy

A solar-powered landscape light; photo courtesy Childzy

This article was last revised on 11/16/20.

Outdoor lighting can be a great way to enhance the appearance of a home or business. When setting up exterior lighting, it’s important to understand how different design elements can impact the overall appearance of a home.

The following guide provides simple tips and tricks on how to design outdoor lighting. There are a plethora of choices to mix and match depending on the function and the look you want. Don't forget to consult with your homeowners association if you have one.

Lighting for Illumination and Security

Outdoor lighting should serve two purposes for a home: illumination and security. However, it’s important to understand the differences between the two. Many people use flood lights for security at night.

However, flood lights often cast an unnatural glow and can make a home look like a prison. Most flood lights are designed for people living inside a home. They cast light from the home towards the area surrounding a home. For this reason, they are very effective for their intended purpose but they are not all that inviting.

Use Ambient Lighting for a Visual Effect

Ambient lighting, on the other hand, is used to enhance the appearance of gardens, homes, and the outdoor features around a home like landscaping and relaxing water features.

Included are pathway lights, driveway lights, feature lights, and more. In most cases, these types of lights provide minimal illumination; their main function is to accent nature and to create a mood.

They also don’t provide a lot of security for homeowners in high risk areas, although given two relatively identical homes (as in today’s cookie-cutter subdivisions), a burglar will pass by the home with landscape lighting and hit the one without it. So... it is simply a matter of playing the odds. That's why I use a steering wheel club security lock in my truck. Sure, a really able thief could get it off in an hour or so, but he's not going to bother when he can just move to a less secure vehicle.

That said, they can be a great way to show off certain features that surround a home and they are a great way to invest in home equity. Before making the investment, clear it with your homeowner’s association.

Mix and Match Exterior Illumination

A motion sensor hologen security light; photo © Kelly R. Smith
A motion sensor hologen security light; photo © Kelly R. Smith

There's a way to design dual lighting systems for a home, though. Flood lights and high intensity halogen lights can be used for home security. These can be purchased as motion-sensor units so they only come on when you need them, providing a “startle factor” that might make bad actors move along.

Decorative lights, on the other hand, can be used to enhance the appearance of elements around a home. It is fine to put these either on an AM/PM off/on timer or on a built-in light sensor. These lights are not as much of a power drain as halogen spots are.

By combining different elements, it’s possible to have the convenience of security lighting and the beauty of aesthetic lighting.

Many homeowners choose to incorporate solar panel lighting into their home designs. While solar lighting will require an initial up front cost for installation and purchase, it can be a great way to reduce electrical costs and promote a green environment. Keep in mind that although this is a good way to lower your bills, it takes many years to reach the break-even point.

The Downside of Solar Lighting

However, solar lighting can have several potential down-sides. Solar lights require batteries for energy storage. While modern batteries are manufactured to last for a long time, they will still require replacement after a few years.

This can make them expensive for homes with many exterior lights. In addition, solar lights must be in direct sunlight during the day. As we all know, sunshine does not work on our schedules.

Because of this, it’s not possible to install solar lights near the edge of a home or under a tree. What does this mean? In most cases, they are a good idea, but usually are considered supplemental illumination.

Lighting technology has evolved in many exciting ways over the past few decades. By incorporating different design elements into the lighting for a home, it’s possible to create a great appearance for many homes and gardens.

In short, choosing the right outdoor lighting takes careful consideration. Are you in a high crime area? Do you have beautiful landscaping to showcase? Are you looking for a quick home equity fix prior to putting your home on the market? Choose wisely and stick to your budget.

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