24 June, 2019
No backyard design would be complete without outdoor accent lighting. This crucial component of outdoor esthetics is key to creating the perfect atmosphere outside your home for summer barbecues, late-night pool parties, and time together under the stars.
In this landscape lighting design guide, we’ll show you how the right lights can complement your patio furniture, create a cozy space for entertaining after dark, and also improve your home’s security.
Layout and Design
The first step to DIY landscape lighting is to plan your layout and design. Without a detailed plan, you could spend hours wandering through your local hardware store trying to come up with an idea for what you might need.
For this part of the process, it’s important to think about the purpose of the outdoor lighting. Is your objective to create a well-lit area for late-night pool parties and other entertaining events? Or would you rather create a secluded backyard sanctuary with just enough light to add a touch of romantic ambiance to the setup?
Either way, understanding why you want outdoor lighting will help you design the space just the way you imagined it.
Once you have a feel for your desired lighting, you get to choose which type of outdoor lights to install—this is the fun part. Nowadays, there are so many options when it comes to outdoor accent lighting. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Strands of lights draped overhead
- Rustic battery-powered lanterns on coffee tables and ledges
- Mounted outdoor wall lights
- Mason jars stuffed with LED light strands
- A stunning fire feature
What if you want to use your backyard for entertaining and romantic moments with your sweetheart? Get the best of both worlds by incorporating a variety of different outdoor lighting tips to set the scene for different occasions.
String lights overhead for a starry date night, install wall lights for family get-togethers where more light is necessary, and top it all off with a warm, cozy glow from a fire feature—just make sure you educate your guests on safety tips for fire pits.
Complementing Outdoor Furniture
Choosing the type of outdoor lights to use is always fun, but selecting the design is even more so. As you flip through landscaping catalogs or scroll through outdoor accent lighting on Pinterest, try to find the type of lights that will complement your outdoor furniture set.
Pay attention to defining styles, such as rustic, contemporary, or mid-century modern. Once you’ve identified the style of your patio set, it will be a lot easier to find complementary lights that complete the look.
If you’ve turned to our landscape lighting design guide because you’re completely redesigning your patio, make sure to pick your new outdoor furniture set before you jump ahead to lighting.
No landscape lighting design guide would be complete without the mention of LED lighting for outdoor use. LED light bulbs are, in our opinion, the best way to light your backyard. These lights last much longer than traditional bulbs, they’re far more energy efficient, and they deliver a higher quality of light.
In addition to these benefits, LED lights also provide you with more options to choose from, which means you can equip your outdoor space with soft, dim, intimate lighting and bright lighting for security purposes or those after-hours pool parties.
Perhaps the best use for LED lights is DIY landscape lighting—you know, those creative fixtures embedded in flower beds and decorative landscaping features, or the fixtures that light a walkway or stairs. With LED lights, you’ll rarely have to change the bulbs in these creative outdoor lighting solutions.
What Color Temperature Is Best for Outdoor Lighting?
One of the most important outdoor lighting tips is to choose your color temperature wisely. What is color temperature? Essentially, it determines how warm or cool the light is that the bulb emits.
The ideal color temperature range for outdoor lighting is anywhere between 2500k-4000k.
Is Warm or Cool Light Better?
2500k-4000k is quite a broad range. How do you know which end of the spectrum will make your backyard look just how you want it to?
For architectural elements, such as your patio setup, we recommend using warmer temperatures on the lower end of the scale. For outdoor accent lighting among plant life, such as trees and flowerbeds, cooler temperatures look the most natural, as they closely resemble the moonlight.
Can Any Light Bulb Be Used Outside?
Not every type of light bulb can withstand the outdoors. Extreme temperatures and various forms of weather can easily ruin a bulb that was made specifically for indoor use.
Before you begin screwing in light bulbs, make sure your bulbs are approved for outdoor use. If you’re not sure, check the packaging—it usually clarifies outdoor or indoor use right on the box.
Outdoor Lighting and Security
As we’ve mentioned, outdoor lighting can also greatly contribute to the security of your backyard. Just because there’s a fence around your property, doesn’t mean your outdoor items are entirely immune from theft and vandalism, nor does it make your back door burglar-proof.
With smart home technology today, you can install smart LED lights around your backyard that will automatically turn on when your motion sensors detect an unwanted guest. In addition to motion detection, you may also want to leave a semi-bright light on all night long near your back door to deter would-be criminals.
Without backyard lighting, you provide potential criminals with complete cover of darkness and uninterrupted access to your outdoor possessions, like patio furniture, equipment, and lawn toys. Pair your LED motion-sensor lighting with an outdoor security camera, and you’ve got a solid security setup to protect your home and yard.
How Many Lumens Do I Need for Outdoor Lighting?
We’ve discussed the optimal color temperature of your outdoor lighting, but what about the intensity? Lumens is how we measure a light’s brightness, and the last thing you want is to install blinding lights around your romantic outdoor loveseat and fire feature setup.
Depending on the purpose of the outdoor lighting, the ideal range would be between 100-300 lumens, give or take for different use cases. For example, lights that guide visitors up the steps or along a walkway should be on the low end of the scale at 12-200 lumens. Motion sensor lights and floodlights for security can be up to 1300 lumens for an effective spotlight.
For all other areas of the backyard, it should be fairly easy to find the sweet spot between 100-300 lumens. The less light you need, the lower you go. Distant accent lights can range from 12-100, while patio lights can be a higher lumen count of around 250.
How Far Apart Should Step Lights Be?
Step lights are a fantastic way to accentuate the depth of your backyard while also guiding visitors along a pathway in the dark. By installing step lights, you can prevent accidents wherein your guests could easily hurt themselves by tripping over obstacles they didn’t even see.
As a general rule of thumb, we urge you to place step lights at least six to eight feet apart. Of course, you can always shorten the distance between lights if you feel it isn’t enough, or you’d like to really add a visual effect to your outdoor pathways.
How Much Does It Cost for Outdoor Lighting?
After reading our outdoor lighting tips, you might be wondering how much all of this is going to cost. We wish we could give you an easy answer, but in reality, the cost is going to depend on the size of your backyard, your needs and preferences, the type of lights you choose, and whether or not you’re going to do any DIY landscape lighting made from scratch materials.
To give you a very general idea of how much outdoor lighting could potentially cost you, we’ve referred to a breakdown on Fixr.com. According to their data, the national average cost to light a backyard of 800 square feet with 20 light fixtures is about $3,800.
How Do I Choose an Outdoor Light?
So, let’s simplify and recap so you can choose the perfect outdoor lights for your backyard. Here are our top outdoor lighting tips broken down into a simple bullet list for your quick reference:
1. Define the purpose of your outdoor lighting (ambiance, entertaining, etc.)
2. Decide which types of outdoor lighting you would like (wall lights, accent lights, light strands, and so on)
3. Determine the style of your outdoor furniture so you can choose lighting that complements your design
4. Choose the right color temperature and lumens for different areas
5. Have fun with it!
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