Outdoor lighting has become popular in recent years, partly because of the great potential of LED technology. Exterior spaces can now be lit cheaply and effectively using a variety of products. This buying guide looks at the aims of outdoor lighting and how they are met to give you an idea of what may be best for you. Alternatively, feel free to browse our extensive outdoor lighting selection.
Designing a Lighting Scheme
To create an effective outdoor lighting scheme, you need to consider ambient, accent and task lighting requirements.
Ambient or background lighting
This type of lighting is needed for practical purposes, providing enough light for everyday activities such as walking, eating, drinking and socialising. There are several options available:
- Small walkover lights installed around the edge of a patio or decking area look good and allow safe footing.
- Freestanding fittings such as post or pedestal lights are ideal for creating pools of light. Modern indoor-style floor lamps like the Konstsmide Lucca are a chic form of outdoor lighting.
- Floodlights can provide full strength illumination for building exteriors and surrounding areas. They are good for work or security purposes and might suit bustling social settings, but are less useful where intimate mood is the aim.
- Wall lights usually create a functional and mood-enhancing background light without being overbearing.
This type of outdoor lighting highlights statues, plants, trees, water features and signs. Install these lights a short distance from the feature and angle the beam to shine directly on or through it. Suggestions include:
- Walkover lights or floodlights used as uplights dramatically highlight features from below.
- Wall-mounted spotlights create a pool of light around features.
- Staked spotlights like the Robus Marlow are effective in highlighting plants, flowers and ornaments.
- Fairy lights are often draped around trellises, shrubs, or trees. Don’t forget festoons if you’re aiming for a party mood!
- Business signage can be lit with specially designed sign lights, normally featuring long or curving arms and adjustable heads.
Task lights are used to sufficiently light any area where demanding tasks or activities are performed. Usually, the light will be installed above head height in order to provide un-obscured coverage. Examples of task lighting might include:
- A wall-mounted spotlight or floodlight is useful for potentially hazardous activities such as barbecue cooking.
- Spotlights or floodlights can be positioned in trees for lighting garden amenities such as play areas, barbecues or car parks.
- Floodlighting can be used to light outdoor sports areas. A tennis court would be a prime example, which might be well served by a 500W equivalent floodlight. Conversely, a swimming pool is usually lit from within to avoid glare, normally using a PAR lamp.
Dusk to dawn sensors
A “dusk to dawn” sensor is another term for a photocell. These are used in some outdoor fittings to automatically trigger overnight lighting, often for security purposes. The light switches off again at daybreak. Their sensitivity can sometimes be adjusted, allowing you to choose exactly how dark it needs to be before the light is activated. The sensor can be overridden in many cases for manual operation, though this should be checked prior to purchase.
PIR sensors & security
If security is a priority, floodlights with a PIR (Passive Infrared) sensor are a good option. The sensor triggers light when it detects movement within a preset range, deterring intruders without the need to keep lights permanently switched on.
PIR lights like the Nighthawk LED Security Floodlight can also be wired to trigger a chain of slave lights. This is useful for any large commercial premises. Advanced CCTV circuits can also be installed and monitored remotely through PCs, tablets, and smart phones.
PIR lights are also useful at residential entrances, as a practical measure to help locate keys and avoid stumbling on obstacles. The Lucide Claire Half Lantern serves as an example. Again, these avoid the need for a permanent light, so they’re an energy-saving product in many scenarios.
IP Ratings – A brief guide to Waterproof Lighting
Outdoor light fittings always carry Ingress Protection ratings. This rating is marked by the letters “IP” followed by 2 digits. The first digit indicates the level of protection against ingress of solid objects and the second relates to waterproofing. This advice may help:
- The minimum IP rating you should look for in a garden light is IPX3 (normally IP43), which protects against rain or spraying water at a 60° angle from vertical. Choose an IPX4 (normally IP44) rating for exposed areas.
- Decking or patio lights are often jet-cleaned, which requires an IPX5 rating or above. IP65 is a good target, as it indicates a dust-tight housing as well as resistance to jets of water.
- Lights to be installed in shallow water up to 1m deep require a rating of IPX7.
- If installing lights at depths of over 1m in ponds or swimming pools, opt for a fitting with an IPX8 rating. (Always check manufacturer’s information before any underwater installation).
Light sources (Pros & Cons)
The light sources used in outdoor lighting each carry their own advantages and disadvantages. In recent years LED has become the main choice for lighting, both in commercial and residential buildings.
- LED lighting is energy efficient and has an average lifespan of up to 50,000 hours. LED lamps produce a heatless beam of light, so they can be installed near plants without causing damage. They also emit little or no UV (ultraviolet) light, making them less attractive to insects. LED technology combines well with solar energy—many outdoor LED lights are free to run!
- HID lamps are used to light large areas. They vary in type from a metal halide lamp for good colour recognition to a sodium lamp with poor colour rendering but incredible energy efficiency. These lights are mostly too powerful for homes or hospitality venues, but useful for applications such as car parks, access roads or sports areas.
Outdoor lighting styles
Lighting styles are diverse, but they can be boiled down to “traditional” and “contemporary” for outdoor purposes. Some designs are neutral enough to be used in any type of setting.
Traditional outdoor lights often have a lantern design that dates back to 17th century England, though is most associated with Victorian times. Lanterns are still popular today and used in post lights, pedestal lights, wall lights and lamp posts. The Alex Post Lantern resembles a 19th century lamp post, for example.
Another form of traditional outdoor fitting is the nautically inspired “fisherman’s light”. This is used mostly in wall lights and porch pendants and involves a simple enclosed lamp design with a metal cover. The Nordlux Luxembourg Wall Light is an example. The austerity of this design makes it suitable for some modern settings, also.
There are many contemporary outdoor lighting products, with LED technology encouraging sleek designs. Often discreet, you can install modern products like the Searchlight Messina outside a traditional property without necessarily detracting from its character.
Bolder outdoor luminaires such as stainless steel post and pedestal lights suit only modern surroundings. The Edit Detroit, for instance, is distinctly up-to-date and capitalises on LED technology for long life and minimal maintenance.
Extend those evenings
If you’re lucky enough to own a garden, enjoy what is already yours and let the forbidding night be a thing of the past! Installing outdoor lights needn’t be complicated, especially with a plug and play lighting system. If you’re a pub landlord, restaurateur, hotelier or other business owner, it’s never been easier than now to light up your outdoor space.
Feel free to browse our full range of outdoor lights for a clearer idea of what’s available.
For more advice and guidance take a look at our Lighting Advice section.
Charles Barnett Managing Director
Charles started Lyco in 1995 with just 4 enthusiastic employees and has grown it considerably over the past 25 years. Charles is also the Managing Director of Lighting Direct and newly acquired Online Lighting. He now has a team of 50 lighting experts working on growing Lyco Group to be the UK leader in lighting for both businesses and homes. Away from the office he is a keen cyclist and is proud to have cycled 1017 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money for a new residential centre for adults with multiple learning difficulties.