Shine a Spotlight on Your Exterior With These 11 Outdoor Lighting Tips

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated February 23, 2022
The exterior of an illuminated contemporary house at dusk
Photo: hikesterson / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Let's shine some light on the importance of balanced exterior lighting design

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From the shape of the shrubs to the style of your shutters, exterior design is a cohesive collection of details that create your home's one-of-a-kind aesthetic. But when the sun sets and the deck light pops on, an unseen design element brings new life to your landscape and architecture: outdoor lighting. Outdoor light design serves as a home security feature and a design element and will even bridge the gap between the two. Let's look at just some of the many ways to use outdoor lighting for both fashion and function.

1. Light the (Walk)Way

If you're not quite sure where to use your outdoor lighting, start by sprucing up your landscaping and walkways. Illuminated walkways and gathering areas like patios enhance the beauty and the safety of the areas with the most foot traffic. 

Path lights are typically low to the ground and angle downwards to direct your feet where to go or highlight any obstructions. You can also take the traditional route by marking the start or end of your walkway with a post light. Low to moderate wattage will do the trick for walkways, but opt for brighter lights for high-use areas like paths to the garage, cellar, or front door.

2. Frame Your Doors

The entrance to your home deserves clever lighting to highlight architectural balance—and help you get inside on a dark night, of course. You have a few options here. Depending on your home's style, consider a wall sconce or lantern that frames the doorway or a chandelier lantern that hovers from the portico. 

If you're low on exterior wall space, consider recessed lighting fixtures for a more modern look and to wash larger areas with light.

In either case, consider attaching your front door lights to a timer or solar panel.

3. Go Warm or Go Cool

Both warm and cool color temperatures—AKA the Kelvin scale—can create a unique ambiance in each area of your landscape. Hosting areas like porch lighting, backyard patio lights, and walkway lights tend to run warm for a calming and welcoming energy. Blue and green shrubberies often benefit from cool blue uplighting that mimic the moon. Kelvin levels above 5,000K get into worklight territory, and you really only need this for home projects or when deterring unwanted visitors.

4. Illuminate Your Home's Height

Outdoor lighting designers use intricately placed bulbs to accent your home's shape. Ground lights pointing upwards—uplighting—or lights facing downward beneath the eaves—downlighting—do this best. Be sure to add lights to each section of your home, both on the first and second floors to avoid making it look smaller than it is. However, whenever you angle your lighting, do so close to your home as possible to decrease light pollution.

5. Opt for Sconces

Sconces are not just for flanking doorways—though they do look fabulous here as well. Consider adding these flexible fixtures to the wall that lines your patio or porch, outside your poolscape, or above garage doors. One of the best things about sconces is their versatility. Choose a classically ornate wrought-iron sconce for an older home or a minimalist rectangular figure for a modern touch.

6. Lighten Up the Landscape

Here's where outdoor lighting truly starts to, well, shine. Landscape lighting is a subtle art that can accent an ornamental tree or create the look of soft moonlight on an evening walk. Add targeted spotlights at the base of tall trees to highlight their height or warm lights behind shrubs to create a silhouette from afar. Landscape lighting also doubles as security lighting, particularly around the edges of flower beds and walkways.

7. Showcase Water Elements

Spotlights lighting a pool in the backyard
Photo: moodboard / moodpboard / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Waterfalls, ponds, and streams take on a whole new beauty night falls. Consider either downlighting or water-safe submersible lights to pick up the reflective shine of flowing water. 

Whenever you're combining electrical elements and water, it's particularly important to call in the local lighting pros for a hand. Not only will they keep you safe during installation, but they can also suggest proper lighting placement to prevent glare off the water.

8. Shed Light on the Porch

Your porch is essentially an extension of your home and should receive as much design TLC as the living room or dining room. Porch lighting will play a huge role in how you can use it and how you feel when you head out with a board game or a glass of wine. 

Sconces, lanterns, and overhead fanlights—in the case of covered porches—are the most common options. Stick to low wattage and warm light temperatures to keep the energy lowkey. If you're looking to take it down a notch further, line your porch with outdoor whimsical touches like string lights or tiki torches.

9. Highlight Hardscapes

The stonework throughout your home and yard are excellent candidates for a soft spotlight. Designers often use what's known as a wall wash—a wash of light across the wall, as the name suggests—to create a focal point in your yard. Accent lights or ground lighting options are ideal for retaining walls, steps, permanent fire pits or fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, and seating or dining areas.

10. Line the Poolscape

Poolscape design and lighting go hand-in-hand. Much like the other water elements on our list, a local professional pool designer should lead the way with these installations. A great design will keep the walkway around the water safe at night, highlight any soft- or hardscape design around your pool, and, of course, allow you to go for an evening dip. 

Designers often opt for submersible lights and low walkway lighting to create a spa-like ambiance—as opposed to an overbearing floodlight effect—without sacrificing safety.

11. Showcase Safety

Let's take a moment to celebrate the non-decorative elements the lights on this list provide. While the placement, hue, and temperature make your home look beautiful, lighting also deters unwelcome people or animals from exploring your property. It also protects you and your guests from slips, trips, and tumbles into the koi pond.

Secure lighting design does not have to be high-maintenance, however. Recent exterior lighting trends feature smart lighting options that you can control with a push of a button on your smartphone. If you're unclear if your lighting design balances style and safety, call in a local home security expert to discuss more options.

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