Outdoor Lighting

Illuminate your home

Is outdoor lighting right for your home? Choosing to add outdoor lighting to your home for an event or permanently could result in multiple benefits for you. Here we will try to cover the basic types of outdoor lighting, as well as some helpful design tips to get you pointed in the right direction. You have probably seen most types of outdoor lighting at one time or another. Some of the most popular are:

High Voltage Outdoor Lighting

This type of outdoor lighting system is very dependable and versatile, and can be used to illuminate your home, landscape, pathways or whatever you like. All outdoor lighting fixtures operate on 115 VAC and would likely require some kind of permit and an inspection. Additionally, depending on your local electrical codes, you will have to install wire conduits as deep as 36 inches from your electrical source out to each light fixture (some may share the same wire) as well as the added expense of possibly adding extra circuits in your electrical panel.

Since there are specific loads tolerated on different sizes of wires, it's strongly recommended that you consult or hire a local contractor to install such a system. This will be one of the most expensive systems you can install.

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting

This is one of the most common types of outdoor lighting systems in use today. The voltage is very low (between 10 and 12 VAC), which allows a do-it-yourselfer the opportunity to take on the installation themselves. There are one or more transformers that reduce the voltage to a safe level, so that the wiring to the fixtures does not have to be buried as deep and can be buried directly in the ground without conduits. This greatly reduces the installation cost and is not nearly as invasive as burying conduits to the specified depth.

There are also many types of fixtures available when using this type of system, everything from a spotlight to a path light to a recessed accent light. For the most part, they are very decorative fixtures as well. This means they will blend easily with any landscape ideas and designs, without being an eyesore. Educate yourself before attempting to install a system like this. Calculating voltage drop and making sure everything is operating within specs is a must for a trouble-free system.

A low voltage system is the most versatile and cost-effective system that you could install. Just remember that you get what you pay for. Though the discount outdoor lighting systems from big box stores may leave your glow a little dim, remember that the range of wattage you'll be using is only about 15 watts for a path light and up to 75 watts around a large tree. Most people really don't realize how much of a budget they should plan on for a good system. It may be worth a trip (and a small investment) to a local lighting or landscape contractor to get a design and material list.

Solar Powered Outdoor Lighting

With this type of lighting, the first benefit is obvious – there is no operating cost to speak of. Once you have the fixtures installed where you want them, the sun will charge an internal power supply which will go into action after the sun sets, courtesy of an electric eye built into the fixture. They may be used to illuminate pathways or mark driveways, but the technology has not come far enough to make them bright enough for lighting up your home or much of your landscape. Solar lighting has an onboard power supply, so there are no wires to run. Installation is quick and easy.

There are two major drawbacks to this kind of lighting: these lights are relatively dim, and the amount of time you can expect them to stay illuminated is limited. The duration and brightness are directly related as well – in other words, the light will be at its brightest before the darkest part of the evening. This is one of the least costly systems to install, but also the least versatile.

Outdoor Event Lighting

You may choose to use this type of lighting system if you are having a party or event at your home, like a wedding. Whether you opt for high or low voltage (it's unlikely that you will be using solar-powered lights for any event), this type of system is usually temporary and will need to be set up and taken down with as little trouble as possible. The usual worries should apply, such as the safety of your guests and the location of the lights and power wires. You may want to contact your local rental agent to inquire if they have fixtures and set up available. Safety and following the local electrical codes should come first.


One of the most important things to remember when designing an outdoor lighting system is to make sure you don't see where the light is coming from. You don't want to blind your guests or yourself while enjoying the outdoor space at your home in the evening. Secondly, make sure you use the appropriate fixture for the lights.

For lighting the edges of pathways or sidewalks you would use a path light. These lights usually stand about 2 feet tall and shine down with a diameter of 6 to 8 feet, so space them appropriately. If your path runs along a retaining wall or involves steps, you may want to use a recessed light that would produce a soft glow of the area instead of glare.

You could employ some up-lighting as well. This can be done from the front of a tree or another large focal point in your landscape. You can also employ the silhouette technique from the back of a tree, or you can shadow an object (casting the shadow of the given object on the wall of your home). This is especially pretty in the winter when you can see the skeleton of the tree from one angle, and the shadow from another.

You can also wall wash from the top or bottom of a wall, to illuminate just the wall or a corner of your home. You could also illuminate your house number with a spotlight. The options are endless.

Whatever system you choose to install, make sure your needs and expectations are clear. As with anything we do for our home, we only want to do it once and we like to have the desired results the first time around. Keep these things in mind and you will surely get the return you expect from your investment.

By Quinten Raines