Outdoor Lighting Ideas and Tips

Published By: Shades Of Light

Date Published:

Last Updated: September 14, 2022

Looking for Outdoor Lighting Ideas?

Outdoor lighting is one of the most visible ways to distinguish your style, from walkway and doorway illumination to deck and patio lighting. If you’re new to outdoor fixtures, there are just a few basic guidelines for size, placement, and style to follow to make sure your lights will look great and work well where you want to put them.

Rustic outdoor wall light

Types of Outdoor Lights for Exterior Locations

Before you begin your light fixture search, think about the outdoor area you would like to refresh with new lighting, and the lighting needs specific to those areas. Here are a few of the most common types of outdoor lighting that you will want to consider, from outdoor hanging lights and wall lights, to exterior ceiling lights and post lights.

Walkway & Landscape Lights: When lighting a walkway or yard perimeter, one of the most popular choices is post lighting. Post lights illuminate walkways for safety when approaching your home at night. When using post lights in multiples, the spacing between the light poles should be roughly 2.5 to 3 times the height of the pole. Stately fixtures in traditional lamp post styles, as well as more rustic and modern designs, also add to the curb appeal of your home!

Front Porch Lights: Front porch fixtures cast light on stoops, doorways, and doorknobs, making them an important addition to any home. Outdoor wall sconces, pendant lights, and ceiling lights also add a layer of elegance and style to your front porch and walkway. This lighting category features a range of looks and designs so you can customize your home to your exact liking.

Covered Deck Lighting: Covered decks are perfect for taking in a breath of fresh air, and to keep them well lit after the sun sets, larger fixtures like outdoor ceiling fans with lights and outdoor chandeliers can add the ideal ambiance. Depending on the size of your space, using a mix of wall lights and hanging lights may be your best option.

Open Patio Lighting: For homes that have an open patio or deck seating area, mounting an overhead fixture could prove problematic. In this case, outdoor table and floor lamps offer a portable, adjustable lighting option so you can craft the most comfortable patio experience.

Beach House & Coastal Area Lights: If you’re living your best life in a dreamy beach house with a view of the coast, everyday outdoor lights won’t do. Salt air and sea storms can create harsh environments for outdoor fixtures, so if you want your lights to stand the test of time, choose marine-grade light fixtures made of corrosion resistant materials.

Tips for Outdoor Lighting Placement

Outdoor lighting placement is not just an aesthetic choice, but also a practical one. When choosing where to put your outdoor light, you’ll want to ensure that the fixture is suited for the intended area.

The Best Bulb for the Job

Wattage and bulb base requirements will vary for individual outdoor lighting fixtures, but for an energy efficient and customizable experience, select LED bulbs whenever possible. These bulbs save energy (and money!), are long lasting, and are available in a range of color tones so you can select the bulb that best suits your needs. Warmer, dimmer bulbs are best for most outdoor settings, as they illuminate the space without creating too harsh a contrast between the lit area and the darkness beyond.

Understand your Materials

What material your fixture is constructed from will affect where it can be placed. Fixtures that will come into direct contact with harsh wet or icy weather conditions need to be made of strong, damage-resistant materials. Resin composite, brass, and copper tend to make the most weather resistant fixtures. Copper outdoor lights are intended to gracefully patina over time, however in coastal areas copper patinas more quickly and requires routine rinsing and upkeep. If you don’t care for copper’s signature verdigris then you may want to consider marine grade outdoor fixtures.

Wet Rated versus Damp Rated

In order to be considered safe for outdoors, a lighting fixture must have either a wet or a damp rating, but these ratings aren’t identical. Damp fixtures (which also tend to be hung in bathrooms) are suitable for use in covered areas where direct contact from rain, ice, and snow will be minimal. Wet rated fixtures, however, can be safely exposed to the elements without fear of damage or malfunction.

How Big should my Outdoor Lights be?

When you place front porch lights or wall sconces, it is important that the fixtures are an appropriate size in relation to the front door. Outdoor lanterns should be approximately one fifth the height and width of the doorway, including trim. (For example a 100" high by 60" wide entrance would require a 20"Hx12"W fixture.) Post lights should be as large, or larger than the lights at your front door. Place your electrical box for your exterior light so that the top of the fixture is 20% lower than the top of the molding. Allow for the side door molding also.

Porch & Front Door Light Placement Guide

Outdoor Light size guide

Use our chart (below) to take the guess work out of what size light to use. When in Doubt go larger. Remember, from 50 feet away your lights will appear half their size. And don't forget to include the door trim in your measurements!

Front Porch & Front Door Lights Sizing Chart

Proportion of Light Fixture to Doorway Placement of Light Fixture
Front Porch Lights & Wall Sconces 1/4 or 1/3 the height of the doorway 66" from the floor to center of fixture
Over Front Door Wall lights 1/4 or 1/3 the width of the door frame Centered; 6" above the door
Pendant & Hanging Porch lights 1/5 the height of the door Centered; 6" above the door

DESIGNER TIP: Using a wall lantern on each side of the door frame is an appealing choice for symmetrical entries. However, if space is tight, one light placed on the door knob side will work. Feel free to go a little larger in size, up to 1/3 of the door frame height. Add an overhead light if more light is desired.

Outdoor Lighting Style Considerations

Outdoor lights should be compatible with the look and lines of a house. Open bottom fixtures are better for down lighting an area, and glass-topped lanterns are the better choice for accenting architectural elements above and around the door. Outdoor lighting can provide sleek cohesion when the style of light matches the style of your home. Rustic outdoor lights are the perfect finishing touches for lodge-style homes and cabins while rugged industrial outdoor lights or sleek modern outdoor lights add a bold note to contemporary and Craftsmen style designs. Dress up a coastal cottage with seaworthy nautical outdoor lights, or turn to time-tested traditional outdoor lights for Victorian, Mediterranean, Colonial, Georgian, and other classic home styles. Once you’ve found a great fixture for your outdoor space, you may also want to consider coordinating your outdoor ceiling fan and outdoor furniture with the style of fixture you’ve chosen!

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