Light Up the Great Outdoors

BY AGNES REARDON ON MAY 24TH, 2017

blog-image Illuminated steps keep family and guests safe while climbing steps in the dark. Photo courtesy of McKay Landscape Lighting, Omaha/National Association of Landscape Professionals

Outdoor living spaces require lighting for functionality and safety. Most homeowners, though, arrive at a lighting showroom with a longer shopping list and bigger dreams: Warm evenings spent relaxing in a magic, glowing backyard.

Where to begin? Focus on how you intend to use the space, experts say, and don’t overdo it.

“Clearly define your objectives,” says Joe Rey-Barreau, associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design. “It’s not necessary to illuminate everything in your yard, so decide which areas are the highest priorities,” he advises.

Start with areas close to the house, where most activities take place. Expand the plan to highlight backyard elements – plants, sculpture, a water feature – as time and budget allow.

Installing too many lights, and lights poorly chosen for a location, are common hazards. Lighting experts and local showrooms can help you sort through new energy-efficient technologies that can work best for you.

Some bright ideas from the American Lighting Association:

Back Door

Wall lanterns on each side of the door leading to the patio or outdoor space will provide a warm, welcoming look.

Use recessed, chain-hung or close-to-ceiling fixtures under a porch or overhang.

Light a secondary side entrance with a single wall lantern installed on the keyhole side of the door.

Steps and Pathways

Illuminate walkways so family members and guests are able to move about easily and safely after dark. Attach lights to the side of the house or install path lights or lanterns.

Low-level path lights, which spread circular patterns of light, will brighten a walkway and highlight nearby flowerbeds, shrubs and ground cover. Bollards, which stand 30 to 36 inches off the ground, also work well. Use shielded fixtures to avoid glare.

Decks, porches, and patios

Conceal LED or low-voltage mini-lights under steps, railings or benches to create an intimate, romantic feel.

Grills and serving areas

Food preparation areas call for bright task lighting. Install a recessed spotlight on an adjacent roof overhang, mount lights on a railing behind the grill or use a portable fixture approved for outdoor environments.

Pools and fountains

Illuminate with underwater lighting to provide beauty and safety for evening entertaining or swimming. Low-voltage and LED lighting are popular sources for ambient pool lighting, or install fiber-optic lighting to create a starry background in your pool's floor and around its edges. Floating and solar-powered lights also are available.

Light a tree

Look for a focal point on your property that can be accented with lighting to provide a nice contrast of color. Tree lighting uses the heights of the trees to spread the light out in a soft and subtle way to bathe the area in light. The higher the lights, the larger the spread of light.

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