Common Outdoor Lighting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Updated on August 3, 2019
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Linda is hands-on involved in home improvement projects, organization, storage and house cleaning tips and ideas.

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If you are struggling with an outdoor lighting scheme for your home and landscape, take heart. Many homeowners feel overwhelmed trying to install outdoor lighting that satisfies both aesthetics and security. Strike the perfect balance of beauty and practicality by identifying and overcoming the most common outdoor lighting mistakes.

Well-designed outdoor lighting enhances the beauty of your landscaping and highlights key architectural features of your home. Outdoor lighting allows you to take advantage of seldom-used outdoor spaces for evening entertaining. Proper exterior illumination also provides a level of safety and security for residents and guests alike. Keep the following mistakes in mind as you begin your outdoor lighting project. Knowing a few of the pitfalls beforehand will ensure a successful outcome and dramatic results.

You Need a Lighting Plan

Without an outdoor lighting plan you can easily blow your budget not to mention a fuse or two. Whether basic or detailed, a landscape outdoor lighting plan can serve as a sketch including wiring and specs for lighting fixtures. If your budget is tight create a plan that can be completed in stages and allows for change and expansion. Take a walk around your property and make note of specific areas you wish to illuminate.

Draw the footprint of your house on graph paper including all essential landscape elements. Plot out direct paths for wiring and fixture placement. Take your plan a step further by detailing specific components such as electrical cable, low voltage or LED fixtures and a transformer to satisfy your current and future outdoor lighting needs.

You can create a simple outdoor lighting plan.
You can create a simple outdoor lighting plan. | Source

Add Illumination for Safety

Relying on a single porch light as your outdoor lighting plan is a big mistake. You have spent a great deal of time and money creating your perfect suburban oasis. A well-lit house not only reflects pride of ownership it also improves the overall curb appeal--an important factor if you are thinking of selling your home.

Outdoor lighting creates a sense of warmth and drama that can increase the perceived value of your home. Potential buyers often express interest in a property after driving or walking by during the evening. The absence of outdoor lighting can make your home seem less appealing and unsafe.

Landscape lighting is also important for safety and security.
Landscape lighting is also important for safety and security. | Source

Lighting in Moderation

Restraint is key when it comes to outdoor lighting. While a properly illuminated home increases security, you must also be considerate of neighbors and cognizant of local light pollution ordinances. Excessive outdoor lighting also adds to your electricity bill and your carbon footprint.

Think twice before going overboard with floodlights. If you do need lighting for security reasons opt for motion sensor fixtures. Many communities now have ordinances to protect views of the evening sky. Look for manufacturers that make dark sky fixtures designed to minimize skyward ambient light. Keep lighting subtle and distribute fixtures evenly around your property.

A large home with outdoor lighting has reasonable limits regarding light pollution.
A large home with outdoor lighting has reasonable limits regarding light pollution. | Source

Properly Placed Fixtures

Your choice of beautifully weathered copper outdoor fixtures makes quite a design statement during the daylight hours. However, at night those fixtures should fade into the background and allow your landscape features to shine. Get an unbiased assessment by inviting a friend or neighbor to evaluate your lighting after the sun goes down.

Ask to view your property from the street and take in the overall effect. If your friend comments more on the design fixtures rather than proper lighting placement you'll need to make some adjustments. A slight change in lens angle or stake position is where the focus belongs--on a stately palm, a soothing water feature or a colorful floral border instead of the fixtures themselves.

Lighting fixtures look nice during the day and create a beautiful landscape emphasis at night.
Lighting fixtures look nice during the day and create a beautiful landscape emphasis at night. | Source

Avoid Cheap Fixtures

Resist the temptation to purchase cheap outdoor lighting fixtures. Yes, they will be easy on your budget at first but can become costly in the long run. Fixtures of questionable quality and manufacture need to be replaced more often.

Always invest in fixtures made by trusted companies offering limited or a lifetime warranty. Make sure the warranty includes electrical wiring, sockets, bulb components and the exterior finish. Look for UL-approved fixtures and those specifically designed for outdoor use.

Cheap string lights are fine for special occasions but they're not really designed for landscape lighting.
Cheap string lights are fine for special occasions but they're not really designed for landscape lighting. | Source

Install Automated Lighting Controls

Without automated controls you will have to access the transformer to manually operate your outdoor lighting. Integrated systems make your life easier and can reduce your monthly electricity bill. Built-in timers let you program lights to automatically turn on at dusk and off at sunrise allowing you to better manage energy consumption.

These advanced systems also control separate lighting zones. For instance, you can program the a path and pool lights to turn off at midnight and the others around the house can remain on all night for security. For ease of use, install the controller in an area that is easily accessible for seasonal adjustments.

This lighting auto control turns the lights on and off at the right time for energy conservation and security.
This lighting auto control turns the lights on and off at the right time for energy conservation and security. | Source

Smart Lighting Design

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Chechar

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      • lindacee profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Chechar 

        4 months ago from Arizona

        RTalloni, security and decorative outdoor lighting needs both for home illumination. We also had an intruder because the exterior of our house was extremely dark. After that we added a substantial lighting system.

      • profile image

        RTalloni 

        4 months ago

        After an incident with an intruder we worked quickly to add some outdoor lighting. Some of it was decorative but without much thought beyond security. Thanks for these tips.

      • lindacee profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Chechar 

        4 months ago from Arizona

        Just like you have, I use my flashlight phone but it's extremely dark out here and we have coyotes and javelinas wandering around at night.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        No street lights would be a security concern and make dog walking difficult. Our council decided to switch street lights off after midnight several years ago to save money. On the odd occasion we've been out late like after a Christmas Eve church service or party for friends it has been a nuisance. It's not quite the same trying to walk by the light of mobile phones.

      • lindacee profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Chechar 

        4 months ago from Arizona

        We've owned several homes with landscape and security lighting. Our current local city has a dark sky ordinance so we have to use compliant fixtures. Liz, our neighborhood is extremely dark with no street lights that makes me feel very insecure when I take the dog out at night. Our development doesn't seem to care about our safety.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        You give some great tips and ideas for outdoor lighting in this article. This is a great resource for anyone thinking of installing lights outside their house. I appreciate the way that you look at the subject from different angles.

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