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Buying Guides - Outdoor Lighting

Author: Staff Writer
Published: July 26, 2011

Outdoor lighting fulfills several requirements:

  • It makes your premises visible so they are easy to find at night and have a welcoming appearance.
  • Well lit premises can deter intruders and vandals, helping to keep your property safe.
  • Properly illuminated outside areas can continue to be used for leisure activities after sunset, not just in the daytime.
  • It can also contribute to the style and ambience of you property and be used to highlight architectural features or signs.

Browse our full range of outdoor lighting.

A Coordinated Lighting Scheme

To create an effective outdoor lighting scheme, you need to consider your ambient, accent and task lighting requirements.

Ambient or background lighting
creates sufficient ambient light for your requirements, whether you want a low level glow to create a relaxing ambience or full illumination for practical purposes. There are several ways to achieve this:

  • A series of small walkover lights installed around the perimeter of your patio or decking.
  • Larger walkover and driveover lights are great for driveways and pathways
  • If freestanding fittings are required, post or pedestal lights are ideal and can create pools of light over a wide area
  • Floodlights can provide full strength illumination for buildings and outdoor areas.
  • A series of matching wall lights is a tried and tested way to provide effective exterior ambient light

Accent lighting allows you to highlight specific features for either decorative or purely functional reasons, such as garden statuary, plants, trees, arches, windows, doorways, water features and signs. Install such lights a short distance from the feature and angle the beam to shine directly on or through it. Ideal fittings for accent lighting include:

  • Walkover lights or floodlights used as uplighters highlight the feature from below.
  • Wall mounted spotlights can downlight features by creating a pool of light around them.
  • Garden spike spotlights can effectively highlight plants, flowers and smaller ornaments.
  • Signs can be easily illuminated with specially designed sign lights with long arms and adjustable heads.

Remember that your property is viewed from different angles, for example you can view the driveway from the road or from inside the property so it's important to consider these different viewpoints when you choose your accent lighting.

Task lights
are used for lighting very specific areas with a clear purpose such as brick lights for lighting steps, outdoor table lamps and low level path lights such as walkover or post fittings.

Security lighting

If security is a concern then install exterior security lights with a PIR (Passive Infrared) sensor. This sensor activates the light when it detects movement within a pre-set range, deterring potential vandals and intruders. Almost any exterior house light can be transformed into a security light with the addition of a separate PIR sensor.

Welcome lighting

Lights with a PIR sensor or a timer can also be attached to entrance lights so that they only light up when someone is within range, thus saving energy. PIR sensors are also useful for side passages.

Style of Lighting

Traditional lighting tends to be larger and more ornate, often in a lantern style. The design was influenced by the function of lighting in days gone by when the light source was candles or oil, and the architecture of the time which tended to be grand and ornate.

Modern lighting
tends to be smaller and more simple in design, in modern materials such as stainless steel or durable plastics. Often the light fitting is designed to be hidden so that the eye is drawn to the object being illuminated rather than the light itself.

Commercial lighting
tends to be larger in size, functional in design and robust in construction. Some commercial fittings use lamps such as sodium or metal halide that tend not to be used in domestic fittings as they have very poor colour rendering.

Choice of light source

When choosing exterior lights it is as important to consider the light source as it is the fitting itself.

  • Halogen lamps are ideal for bright spotlighting, but consume relatively high amounts of electricity.
  • Metal Halide is perfect for daylight quality illumination, its long life and energy efficiency makes it ideal for commercial premises.
  • Low energy fluorescent bulbs are the ideal choice for outdoor lights that are on all night as they are long lasting and have low running costs.
  • Popular for smaller and more flexible fittings, Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs are an incredibly compact light source. LEDs are highly efficient and offer a very long average life.
  • Traditional incandescent light bulbs are inexpensive and emit a warm bright light, but are not very energy efficient.

Waterproof outdoor lighting - IP ratings explained
Outdoor light fittings commonly carry Ingress Protection or IP ratings. This rating has the letters IP followed by 2 digits. The first digit indicates protection against solid objects and the second digit is concerned with protection against water. The second number ranges from 0 to 8 and the higher the IP rating, the greater the protection.

* Your outdoor fitting should have a minimum of an IP23 rating, as this means it is rainproof.

Garden Lights

A well designed garden lighting scheme serves two main functions. Firstly it provides practical illumination for your guests and customers to enjoy the use of the garden, well after the sun goes down. And secondly, modern lighting enhances the beauty of your gardens and provides a stunning view whether seen from inside or outside the building.

Perfect views from a conservatory

Garden lighting is particularly magical seen from inside a conservatory, as the glass normally turns black at night, with nothing of the outside visible. Good garden lighting brings the outdoors inside, makes an enchanting scene and creates a wonderful feeling of space.

Using garden lighting

Just as with indoor lighting, there are three main types of garden lighting; background or ambient, accent lighting and task lighting.

Background or Ambient Lights
include floodlights, post or pole and pedestal mounted lights, wall lights and bulkheads.

Accent Lighting
is designed to highlight specific features of your garden such as trees or shrubs, garden buildings and seating, artwork and statuary. The light fittings are placed a short distance away from the object to shine directly on it and highlight it.

Accent lighting can also be used to illuminate water features such as ponds, waterfalls and fountains, and these may also be placed underwater. Another use for accent lighting is in sign lighting; illuminating a name or number on the outside of the building.

Task lights is a type of lighting designed for specific functions, which includes path and step lights (including brick lights inserted into walls next to steps and ground lights), short post lamps, bollards and outdoor table lamps and spotlights.

IP Rating - Your Guide to Waterproof Lighting

Outdoor light fittings commonly carry Ingress Protection or IP ratings. This rating has the letters IP followed by 2 digits. The first digit indicates solid objects and the second digit concerns the protection against water. The second number ranges from 0 to 8 and the higher the IP rating, the greater the protection.

  • The minimum rating you should look for in a garden light is IP44, which means it is spray proof and splash proof, so it can withstand rain, hoses and sprinklers.
  • For decking or patio lights that are cleaned with jet sprays you need to look for a fitting with an IP45 rating or above.
  • Lights to be installed in shallow water from 15cm to 1m deep require a rating of IP57.
  • If installing lights over 1m underwater in ponds, lakes or swimming pools, then opt for a fitting with an IP68 rating.

Practical background lighting

Your background garden lighting ensures there is adequate general light for your gardens at night.

  • Recessed walkover lights are very popular for this purpose, as they are discreet and safe to use in areas where people frequently walk such as lawns and on patios and decking.
  • If you prefer your light fittings to be more visible and decorative, then a pedestal or post fitting is the best choice.
  • Install floodlights if you require full strength illumination for your whole garden.

Highlight your Garden's Best Features

Accent lighting allows you to show off the best features of your garden. When deciding where to place your lighting, a good rule of thumb is to light up the features that are the focal points of the garden during the day. It can be more effective to highlight just one or a small number of features than trying to light up the whole garden.

When choosing this part of your lighting scheme, don't forget to consider the different viewpoints from which people see your gardens, both indoors from rooms such as the dining room or lounge, and outdoors from the patio or seating area.

  • Adjustable spotlights are great for drawing attention to particular flowers, trees or smaller garden ornaments.
  • Garden spikes allow you to install lights right in your flower beds to great effect.
  • To highlight larger features such as walls, statues or lakes, angled floodlights are the best option.
  • To enhance the appearance of your ponds, fountains and other water features, light them from within using underwater walkover lights or rock lights (where the light source is concealed within a casing designed to look like a garden stone), for stunning results.)

Illuminate Pathways

Lit pathways are far safer for your guests and visitors and also discourage them from walking where they might cause damage to your gardens. Garden spikes or short post fittings are ideal for this purpose as they clearly define the path boundary. Alternatively, for more discreet path lighting, choose unobtrusive rock lights or recessed walkover lights.

Automatic Garden Lighting & Security

Fittings with dusk to dawn sensors turn your garden lights on at sunset and off at dawn. This ensures your gardens stay lit through the night and that no energy is wasted lighting your gardens once the sun has risen.

Most garden lighting can be fitted with a PIR (Passive Infra-Red) sensor to only go on when movement is detected. This can be useful for security, and also helps reduce energy consumption on welcome lights.

Durable Fittings

For garden fittings that can stand up to years outside in all weathers, they need to be made from hardwearing materials. Anti-corrosive, hardwearing metals such as stainless steel and aluminium are ideal, or opt for robust plastic lights that are made from impact resistant polycarbonate and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene).

Light Sources

There are huge range of different types of lamp, or bulb available today, all of which give a different type of light source, each with its own characteristics of colour appearance and rendering, sharpness or crispness of the beam, initial cost, cost to run and length of the lamp.

  • Halogen lamps emit a crisp, white light that is superb for bright spotlighting of plants and exterior features.
  • Low energy lights are long lasting and have low running costs, so they are ideal for garden lights that are in use all night long.
  • LED garden lighting is energy efficient and long lasting, with an average lamp life of up to 50,000 hours. LEDs have a low operating temperature, so they can be installed close to plants without causing damage. The light they produce has no UV (Ultraviolet) radiation, which means they don't attract flying insects at night, so they are perfect for lighting restaurant and pub gardens.
  • Garden fittings that may be subject to splashing water from sprinklers need to have at least an IP44 rating.
  • If you clean your external areas with pressure sprays then look for a fitting with an IP45 rating or above.

Exterior House Lights

Exterior house lights are installed along outside walls and above doorways and porches. Traditionally, house lights were installed to:

  • make the house easily visible from the road;
  • illuminate the front door to make it easier to unlock when arriving or lock up when leaving;
  • give a welcoming appearance to visitors; and
  • make the entrances and exits safer at night.

Nowadays house lights are also used as a decorative feature by day, and to highlight architectural features at night.

IP Ratings Explained

Exterior house lights need to be weatherproof. Lights which are weatherproof carry a certificate known as an 'Ingress Protection' rating. This is always shown as the letters 'IP' followed by two digits. The second digit shows how waterproof the light fitting is. Exterior house lights should carry a rating of IP23 or higher and most outdoor lights are rated at around IP45, IP54 or IP46. For more information on IP ratings, click here.

Types of Light Fitting

The most common types of light for exterior house lighting are:

  • Bulkheads and flush fitting lights that are mounted inside a porch.
  • Wall lights which are usually fixed to the side of a front door or garage.

Increasingly, designer-style lights are becoming popular, such as tubular up/down wall lights, torch-style wall lights and walkover uplighters which create columns of light that look stunning at night, and give a very contemporary look.

Security Lighting

Any exterior light helps to keep your premises safe, as a well lit property is far less likely to be damaged than a dark house that seems likely to be empty. However, if you really want to enhance the security of your premises then install exterior lights that have a PIR (Passive Infrared) sensor. This sensor activates the light when it detects movement within a pre-set range, deterring potential vandals and intruders. Almost any exterior house light can be transformed into a security light with the addition of a separate PIR sensor.

These should only be attached to the front of the house - at the back of the house where a thief cannot be seen easily, extra light can help the intruder break in.

Wall Mounted or Freestanding Fittings

Wall mounted lights are perfect for installation above smaller doorways and along exterior walls as they won't take up too much space. Freestanding pedestal and post fittings have great dramatic impact and create a striking first impression. They are more flexible to position as they don't require a wall for mounting and are ideal for grander entrances and external lobbies.

Traditional Lighting Ranges

To create that authentic period look for older buildings, choose a traditional light fitting. These are available in a range of designs, so make sure you choose lights that complement the architecture of your property. For greater realism, buy lights with a 'weathered' finish in verdigris or brushed black and gold. Fittings that use lantern candles provide a gentle glowing light, similar to that of real candles for added authenticity.

Modern style & design

If your property was built more recently, you need contemporary fittings to complement and enhance its modern architecture.

  • Downlighters, wallwashers and 'eyelid' design wall lights reduce the glare emitted so they are far easier on your eyes. They are perfect for the rear walls of restaurants or pubs that back onto well used gardens and patios.
  • Choose sleek and elegant designs or fittings with a more functional appeal according to the style and purpose of your building.
  • For premises that have a mix of traditional and contemporary styles, such as renovated period properties, a modern lantern is the perfect mix of old and new.

Durable Fittings

Your house lights should be manufactured from durable materials, so they can withstand many years use outside. Look for fittings made from anti-rust metals such as aluminium and stainless steel. If your premises are at risk of vandalism, a fitting made from impact resistant polycarbonate is an ideal choice.

Low Energy Fittings

If your exterior house lights are going to be left on for long periods of time then a low energy model is a good choice as it helps to keep your electricity costs down and each lamp has a long average life to save you time on maintenance. The lighting industry is committed to helping combat climate change and nowadays several dedicated low-energy models are available.

Security Lighting

Modern, effective outdoor lighting can give a building a real sense of security as well as being a practical and attractive feature for the outside of any home.

Cost-Effective Intruder Deterrence

Lighting is a powerful tool that can make a dramatic difference to the security and the usability of homes and businesses. It is a cost-effective security solution that, in most cases, does not require great expertise to install and maintain. The benefits of security lighting are twofold. Firstly it deters would-be intruders by illuminating their presence. Suitable security lighting can transform a no-go area into a well-lit welcoming environment, and prevent potentially costly burglaries and vandalism. Secondly, security lights brighten the way for people approaching a building in the dark, as well as providing a well-lit area outside the entrance when answering the door.

Outdoor Security Lighting

Outdoor security lights can range from basic floodlights that are activated by movement detected within your grounds, to more sophisticated systems that allow lighting to be programmed by computer even when away from home.

Available in designs that range from the purely functional to the elegantly decorative, there is a vast choice of security lighting products available. The halogen floodlight, for example, is a popular choice of floodlight that will ensure that your premises remain well illuminated. Constructed with a black die cast aluminium housing and toughened glass diffuser, the halogen floodlight can be combined with a movement detector to provide robust, motion-sensitive illumination for anywhere outside the building.

Additional Security Technology

Other motion-detection devices have an integrated CCTV camera, so that when triggered, the image can be viewed on a TV screen or recorded onto videotape. A more recent innovation is an energy efficient form of solar security lighting. By using a photoelectric panel to convert sunlight energy into battery power during the day, it will produce electric lighting when the sunlight fades at night.

Care should be taken so that lighting used for security purposes does not infringe neighbouring properties. Therefore, the range and level of illumination need to be considered when making a purchase.

Modern Lighting

Modern light sources, manufacturing techniques and materials have resulted in a wealth of modern outdoor light fittings that are suitable for either contemporary premises or older buildings that need to be modernised.

Traditionally light fittings were incredibly expensive, so properties tended to have as few lights as possible. The ones they did install were designed to throw light over as wide an area as possible, so they were relatively large and obtrusive. In keeping with the fashion of the time, they tended to be highly decorative and ornate.

Clean Lines & Minimalist Design

Just as modern architecture tends to be simpler with and cleaner lines, so the contemporary light fittings have minimal detailing. Thanks to huge advances in manufacturing techniques and lighting technology, the trend today is to use a far greater number of smaller lights.

Creating a Cohesive Lighting Scheme

Lighting designers look to create a cohesive lighting scheme for any given outdoor space, using both ambient light for practical illumination of paths, doorways and patios, and striking accent lighting to highlight to architectural or garden features.

Modern Ambient Lighting

Stylish modern ambient lighting can be created in several ways.

  • Install a series of walkover lights around the perimeter of gardens and terraces.
  • Choose modern wall lights that have sleek and elegant designs with contemporary metallic finishes.
  • Uplighters bounce light off walls to light up the immediate area.
  • Wallwashers are designed to spread light over as wide an area as possible.
  • Floodlights and security lights can be used to light up large areas for sports and leisure activities.

Effective Accent Lighting

Accent lighting is the name given to focused light fittings designed to draw attention to particular objects or in a certain direction. Modern light fittings designed for this purpose are unobtrusive and discreet, so that the eye is drawn to the highlighted object, not to the fitting itself.

  • Ground mounted, angled floodlights and walkover lights can be used as uplighters to highlight a feature wall or tall doorway.
  • Spotlights mounted on walls or on spikes can be easily adjusted to spotlight certain plants, architectural features or garden ornaments.
  • Torch-style wall lights and tubular lights containing an uplighter and a downlighter in one fitting can be used to create striking columns of light, for a stunning modern lighting effect.

Modern Light Sources

As ever more discreet and flexible lighting is called for, more modern light sources have grown in popularity. Many of these light sources are also highly energy efficient as contemporary society is far more concerned with the effect of energy use on the environment.

Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs are one of the most popular modern light sources.

  • This is an incredibly compact light source that is highly energy efficient and long lasting, with an average life of up to 50,000 hours.
  • They can produce intense coloured light effects.
  • As they have a low operating temperature they are cool to the touch and can be used near heat sensitive materials such as fabric or plants.
  • Light emitted by LEDs has no UV (Ultraviolet) radiation, so they don't attract flying insects at night. This makes them perfect for use in pub and restaurant gardens where customers want to enjoy a meal or drink in the garden in the evening.

Low Energy Bulbs are compact fluorescent lamps. Once such lamps were considered to be vastly inferior to their incandescent predecessors, but newer versions produce light that is almost indistinguishable from that generated by traditional bulbs. These lamps are ideal for lights that are left on from dusk till dawn thanks to their long average life of 8,000 to 15,000 hours. They use electricity very efficiently, so they help to keep your energy bills and maintenance costs low and help care for the environment.

Solar Powered Lighting is the most environmentally friendly of all, as these lights are powered by renewable light energy. They are quick and easy to install as they don't have to be connected to mains electricity, so they are perfect for DIY enthusiasts, or for installation in gardens where you want only the minimum disturbance to your plants and lawn.

Robust & Strong for Outdoor Use

It is vital that you check that a fitting is durable enough for outdoor installation. Lights that are made from anti-corrosive metals such as steel or aluminium are very hardwearing, but if your premises are vulnerable to vandals then you should install fittings made from shatterproof polycarbonate.

Sealed Against the Elements - IP ratings explained

Outdoor lights commonly carry Ingress Protection or IP ratings, which specify the environmental protection of the fitting. This rating consists of 2 digits and the higher the IP rating, the greater the protection. Always look for a minimum IP23 rating, but for more durable lights opt for an IP44 or IP65 rating.

Traditional Lighting

Despite the many advances made in lighting technology, traditional styles remain incredibly popular both for older buildings and are also used to add classic style to more modern premises.

Historical Influences

In days gone by, light sources such as candles and oil were very expensive. As a result, lights were often designed to be installed in high places, to spread the light over as wide an area as possible, so many traditional lights come in hanging or tall post fittings. Old fashioned light sources also influenced designs.

  • Popular lantern fittings allowed easy access for changing candles or lamps.
  • Many fittings had large dimensions so they could withstand the heat produced by a gas mantle and flame. Modern traditional lights use of all of these classic design features, but have the added benefits of modern light sources and materials.

Period Styles

When choosing your traditional fittings you may wish to look for lights that are in keeping with the design of your property. For example, if you have a Victorian property then choose highly decorated fittings made from brass, cast iron or pewter. However, Georgian buildings traditionally had lighting with heavy European or Oriental influences, with brass and silver the most popular choice of metal for grander homes.

Authentic Traditional Lighting

If creating an authentic look for your premises is of high importance then invest in traditional lights with added features such as smoked, textured or paneled glass and weathered finishes that gives the light an antique feel. Some lantern fittings can be used with lamps which generate a glowing light, similar to that produced by candles to add further realism to the period feel of your property.

Considering Size & Style

Always consider the dimensions of a fitting before you buy. Light fittings for grander properties need to be sizeable, so they are not dwarfed by other large architectural features. Similarly, over-large lights on smaller buildings will overshadow your windows and doors, making them seem smaller than they really are.

  • Half lanterns are perfect for smaller entrances.
  • If you have low ceilings choose a wall mounted fitting.
  • Pedestal and post lights create dramatic entrances and are perfect for larger buildings.
  • Hanging lanterns are the ideal choice for lighting verandas or porches with tall ceilings, just make sure there is sufficient head height for people to walk comfortably underneath.

Durable & Weatherproof

Whichever style you choose, always ensure your fittings are durable and weatherproof. Look for fittings made from anti-corrosive materials such as aluminium and steel. These often have more traditional finishes such as verdigris or brushed black and gold, that hide the modern metal construction.

IP Ratings explained

Outdoor lights usually have an Ingress Protection or IP rating, which consists of the letters IP followed by two digits. The first indicates protection against solid objects and the second digit is concerned with protection against water. The second number ranges from 0 to 8 and the higher the IP rating, the greater the protection. IP44 and IP43 ratings are common for exterior traditional light fittings, but fittings with ratings as low as IP23 can also be used outdoors as they are fully rainproof.

This article was tagged with Outdoor