When most homeowners think of outdoor lighting, their mind goes to something like market lights or simple stake-in garden lights. In fact, the spectrum of outdoor lighting is vast and—if you know how to use it—highly practical. Coordinated landscape lighting is effective in highlighting everything from the home architecture to landscape design. It can boost curb appeal and property value, and bring practicality to a property. Above all, it brings dignity to the features that make a property unique.
Homeowners interested in outdoor lighting owe it to themselves and their homes to explore the many different types of lighting out there. Here’s a look at seven outdoor lighting styles and how they serve to accent home and landscape architecture.
1. Uplighting, for attention to detail
The simplest form of outdoor lighting is uplighting, and its purpose is clear: illuminate the unique architectural engineering design elements of a home. Position lights at the base of a home to cast vertical light on beautiful features. For example, uplighting a wall with a pronounced eave distinguishes the building’s envelope. Or, uplight the space between windows to add dimension to a home that might otherwise appear flat when unlit.
Uplighting is a simple way to add dynamic appeal to architectural design features, either by grazing or washing them. Uplighting is less about illuminating one single feature (see spotlighting below)—rather, it’s to show off architectural design as a whole. Moreover, it can also yield a backlighting effect when placed behind bushes and shrubs, creating dimension as it highlights architectural features.
2. Downlighting, for spatial proportioning
Downlighting isn’t just the inverse of uplighting. It creates brand-new illumination opportunities that personify property. While it’s equally as effective for calling out features, downlighting is even more practical for framing spatial proportions. For example, downlighting a garage door casts light onto the driveway and the structure itself, to frame the door as a proportionate feature on the property.
Downlighting from eaves and trees is common and serves to gently illuminate home and property in context. It’s easy to distinguish depth when downlighting, which also makes it a popular option for illuminating features. Light intensity, swath size, and correlated color temperature (CCT) all play a role in the aesthetic downlighting creates.
3. Spotlighting, for specific features
Have a beautiful standalone feature on your property that deserves due attention even after the sun goes down? Spotlighting can unlock a powerful aesthetic, depending on how you use the light. Illuminate from the front to distinguish small features and elements. Or, the spotlight from the back to create depth and an imposing presence. Spotlights are perfect for trees, statues, signposts, landscape features, and more.
Play with illumination intensity and proximity to create powerful lighting effects for a single, influential piece of the property. It’s also easy to adjust the beam intensity of spotlights. This enables a range of focus that’s suitable for highlighting a variety of options: from foliage to functional art.
4. Floodlighting, for practical ambiance
Floodlighting is a great way to cast broad light in spaces where practicality is as important (or more important) than aesthetics. For example, an estate with a retaining wall and driveway gate might use floodlighting as a security deterrent. Likewise, floodlighting for a waterfront property is instrumental in preventing accidents near the shoreline. Floodlighting is meant to cover a large swath of property in the light; however, that doesn’t mean it needs to be indiscriminate illumination.
Adjust light intensity and color, and it’s easy to create a practical ambiance instead of the wash-out, blinding illumination that floodlighting is typically known for. Be careful to moderate floodlight angles, though. If the light blinds onlookers or creates visual obstructions it’s more of a hindrance than an asset.
5. Deck lighting, for atmospheric outdoor living
Any structural engineer for residential home development will recommend some form of deck lighting for this outdoor living space. There is a multitude of options, each capable of creating unique effects and moods. Cap and post lighting provide gentle illumination for the deck’s perimeter, while well lighting and step lighting deliver gentle illumination underfoot, to promote safety. Market lights are ever-popular and add a playful vibe to the deck or patio atmosphere.
When lighting outdoor kitchens or larger fixtures like gazebos, sconces are both practical and mood-setting. Good deck lighting ensures time spent outdoors is comfortable, safe, and enjoyable—whether you’re barbequing, stargazing, or sharing a drink with friends.
6. Perimeter lighting, for property definition
Properties with fences or retaining walls—or even a tree line that surrounds the property—need to consider the benefits of perimeter lighting. These lights don’t highlight the architectural design of the home. Instead, they frame the property and provide practical illumination.
For instance, post and pipe lighting for wood and chain link fences make it easy to see the edge of the property at night—something any homeowner with a dog or children can appreciate. Dakota-style sconces are also easy to mount along the perimeter of a property. They’ll generate a soft glow that illuminates the landscape without spoiling the evening ambiance. Perimeter lighting offers nuanced property definition, as opposed to floodlighting, which trends toward broad illumination for security.
7. Path lighting, for practical illumination
Illuminating the path to your front door or the path from the garage to the house is a great way to create safety and sure-footedness on a property, while also adding ambiance. Simple path lights may only cast a gentle glow a few feet in all directions, but it’s enough to bring warmth to a landscape. Homeowners should seriously consider path lighting for any defined walkway on the property, front and back, to give the property a more accessible, navigable feel after the sun goes down.
It’s not what you light, it’s how you light it
It’s not enough to have these different landscape lighting styles on your property. To reap the benefits that come with them, it’s essential to use them properly. Moreover, investing in professional-grade, quality landscape lighting makes a significant difference in the illuminating effects outdoor lighting has. As is the case with most home property improvement investments, “you get what you pay for.” For homeowners who want stunning outdoor lighting to reflect the unique features of their home and landscape, the path to illumination starts with the specific lighting strategies listed above.
Mark Hanson is the Owner and Lighting Specialist. He has been designing lighting fixtures and lighting landscape designs for 25 years.