How to Choose Outdoor Lighting

Last Updated on April 2, 2020 by The Tutor

how to choose outdoor lighting

How to Choose Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting is an element that will define the look and feel of your home in the evening. If you have a beautiful exterior and amazing landscaping, then you should highlight those features of your home at night. You may find that your home could look even better at night than it does during the day.

Deciding how to choose outdoor lighting is a process that takes time and research. There are so many lighting options and different products on the market. It is easy to make a mistake or have regrets of you do not research your project thoroughly.

Why is Outdoor Lighting Important?

  • Curb appeal – First impressions at night can make a statement when guests arrive at your home. It also makes those guests feel more how to choose Outdoor Lightingwelcomed to your home as they arrive. Not too far from my home, there is a house we always see at night while sitting at a red light. The outdoor lighting is amazing and your eyes are just drawn to this house.
  • Security – One of the key benefits of outdoor lighting is the added security. Police studies show clearly that a well lit home will deter criminals from potentially breaking into your home. The trick to outdoor lighting design is to make the lighting appear to be there for ambiance while adding the security at the same time. Meaning, you are not just shining a spotlight up against the side of your house.
  • Home value – If the outdoor lighting is done right and is in harmony with perfectly designed landscaping, then outdoor lighting can increase the value of your home. In real estate listings, we often see evening pictures attached to give potential buyers a sense for what the exterior will look like at night. These images often are a key component in helping to sell the home. It can be a difference maker when a potential buyer is weighing your home against another.

The cost benefit is there with outdoor lighting. The cost to buy and install versus the added value you will receive means this is a project that every homeowner should seriously consider.

Determine Your Outdoor Lighting Budget

You will need to come up with a realistic budget before you will know how to choose outdoor lighting. Refrain from running out to your home improvement store or to an online store to look at options until you finish reading everything below and come up with a budget. Your lighting budget will basically steer how your project will progress from here.

Identify Your Outdoor Lighting Power Source

Now that you have your budget, lets figure out how you plan to power your outdoor lights. For me, it comes down to these two options:

  • Low Voltage LED – If you have a moderate to unlimited budget, then you absolutely should be using low voltage LED outdoor lighting. These are your best performing light fixtures and will last the longest. If you want your outdoor lighting project to look right, then this is what you should select. You will need a low voltage transformer as seen below.low voltage transformer
  • Solar Outdoor Lighting – If you are on a shoestring budget, then you may opt for solar lighting. This would be the most inexpensive but also least desirable options. The lights are cheap, they are easy to install, and often do not last the entire night. Solar lights often do not provide adequate light for what you are trying to accomplish. However, they are your only option if you have limited funds for your outdoor lighting project.  solar landscape light

Plan Your Outdoor Lighting Project

I am a big believer in planning out every project in advance. Doing plenty of research and then coming up with a full plan not only on how to choose outdoor lighting but also what it will take to install them. The installation requirements for certain outdoor lighting options may sway your decision as to which ones to choose. You also want to make sure that all of the lights you are choosing are compatible and can be powered by the same cable if at all possible

  • View other homes at night
    Take a ride at night to see what the other homes in your area have for outdoor lighting. This will help to provide you with ideas and it can also help to determine what you don’t like. See the types of light fixtures that other homes have. Look at the spot lights, and the smaller lights within the landscaping that are providing ambient or accent lighting. Pay attention to the post lights and entry lights as well.
  • Draw a diagram of your exterior
    The next step in your planning process is to draw a diagram of your exterior. It can be very simple and just done with pencil and paper. Add the trees and bushes to your drawing. This can be used as a template to begin designing your outdoor lighting. Use colored markers to place dots where you would like to use each type of outdoor lighting fixture.

Your drawings should include your wiring plan as well. It is more than just where you will place the various lights. Where will the power source originate from? Can you run the wires to each of the light fixtures easily or will you run into a cement walkway? I recommend making multiple photo copies of the drawing before you begin so that you can scrap a plan that you don’t like and start over with a fresh page.

Understand the Outdoor Lighting Fixture UL Ratings

Each fixture will have a UL rating based upon its ability to withstand the elements. It is critical that you know what you are purchasing.

  • Damp rated – Damp rated fixtures will be used in outdoor areas that are covered. They would include a light beneath a covered porch for example. Here, the fixture would be exposed to dampness because it is outside, but it has no change of seeing rain because the area is covered.
  • Wet rated – Wet rated fixtures will be completely exposed to the elements. You will expect them to be outside in the rain. Only use wet rated fixtures for this application.

How to Choose Outdoor Lighting Locations

While you are developing your plan, you will consider the various lighting locations below. Put together your optimal plan based upon your budget. Try to spread your budget across as many as these locations as you can to create a robust outdoor lighting effect.

Front Entry Lighting

We suggest choosing your outdoor entry lighting first. It is the light fixture that guests will interact with the most. It is typically the brightest of all exterior lights and it will be the fixture that they will get the closest look at. After ringing your door bell either in the day or night, it is the fixture that your guests will have at least a few seconds to look at.

double sconce entrance lightThere are so many choices and styles to choose from in front entry lighting. Read what is the best lighting for an entrance to help with your decision making. Bookmark that while you are going through your front entry lighting options.

Landscape Lighting
Deciding how to choose outdoor landscape lighting may be the toughest decision you can make because there are so many options. There are spotlights, well lights, pollard lights, and more. Add them between your bushes, illuminate an ornate tree and even add some spotlights to highlight the beautiful brick exterior of your home.

Well lights are also used as spotlights especially when shining up through a tree. One of the other benefits of well lights is they are usually flush to the ground and you can run your lawn mower over them.

outdoor well lights

Coming up with the combination of landscape lights that will look best is where your creativity will come in. If you are also looking at redesigning your landscaping, it would be a great idea to include lighting into your total plan.

Walkway or Path Lighting

Adding lighting to your walkway or path is a great way to add accent to the front of your home. It also serves to be task lighting if the path lights are also providing more visibility to your walkway at night. Walkway lights can be recessed similar to what you see on the floor of an airplane, or elevated mushroom style lights which are the most popular.

outdoor path lighting

There are also walkway lights that fit within a paver walkway. They look like glass bricks and come in only a couple of size options. You can remove one of your pavers and install these. The only issue I see is you will need to use quite a few of them to light up a path and the cost could be greater than adding traditional path lighting.

outdoor paver lights

Another option to light your walkway is rope lighting. I see more homes every day using this option. It is easy to install and easy to replace if needed. However, you do have to like the look of an airport runway.

path rope lights

Post Lighting

If you go back a few decades, virtually every home had the traditional lamp post with an incandescent light bulb inside. It rusted in just a few months and the older ones had about 12 coats of paint on them. Bring back memories? Those old style lamp posts are still available today but they look better today and with man more options.

post lights

Post lighting today is often used at the top of a brick, cement or wooden post either at the end of a driveway or walkway. We have seen them used to accent low brick borders in rear yards as well. You would need to install the light (or wires) during construction of these posts or have the ability to creatively run the wires and mount the fixtures to the top afterwards. Below is an example.

Step Lighting

There are some outdoor lights that are used for safety. The most common are the ones used to illuminate steps. Although they can be installed into brick steps they are most often used with decking. These are low voltage lights that are not very expensive and are easy to install.

step lights

Step lights can also be installed to the side of the steps with the light beam shining onto them. This is not a bad option for cement or brick applications where it would be difficult to install the lights and wires.

Deck lighting

There are so many options when it comes to deck lighting. Mostly because there is a lot of surface area to mount the lights and it is easy to run wires beneath or through the wood.

deck lighting

The step lights mentioned earlier are common, but also rope lighting around the rail is often used. Lights can be added to the posts but in a much smaller scale than the post lighting that was discussed above.

There are also deck lights now that are low voltage wifi enabled where you can operate them from your phone or Alexa. You can change colors and of course turn them on and off remotely. The only issue is making sure that the controller is within Wifi range.

How to Choose Outdoor Security Lighting

When it comes to choosing outdoor security lighting, usually the light fixture is going to serve a dual purpose. It will provide light needed for aesthetics or to see where you are walking, but also will provide a deterrent to others who want to snoop around your home.

The light most used for security purposes is the motion sensor light over your garage door. Not only will it pickup someone walking across your yard but as you are backing into your driveway, it will light up helping you to finish backing in. These lights are found everywhere. They are made in solar, battery powered, or hard wired. I recommend the hard wired version especially since most homes already have a wire for this.

Shop the recommended security lighting on Amazon

security light

How to Choose Outdoor Lighting Finishes

The finish is something you can decide on in advance. All the outdoor lights do not have to be the same finish. However, it would look best of you kept the landscape lighting the same. Your entrance light can absolutely be a different finish than the other lights around your home. Deciding the finish that you prefer now will help you to narrow your options when shopping for outdoor lighting later.

Your finish options will be oil rubbed bronze, aged brass, polished brass, nickel, copper, matte black, etc. You will find that not all fixtures you fall in love with will come in the finish that you want. Decide up front whether the finish is most important or the fixture. Then, you can start your search.

lighting finishes

How to Choose Outdoor Lighting Bulbs

If you are a follower and have been reading my articles, you know that it is all about LED bulbs. Do not waste your time with the other bulb options. When you buy some of the fixtures including the landscape lighting, the bulb will come with them. However, the entry fixture and the post fixtures will allow you to select your bulb.

I suggest reading how to choose the right light bulb before you buy a bulb for any fixture regardless as to whether it is for indoor or outdoor lighting. You can ruin a great looking light fixture with the wrong bulb. You may also want to understand the kelvin color temperature scale before you make your purchase too.

kelvin temperature

Your outdoor lighting fixture may require more than one bulb. Especially the decorative fixtures that often have three bulbs each. It is extremely important to select bulbs that combined will provide the total number of lumens that is recommended for the light fixture. If you select three very bright bulbs and install them into the fixture, it will be over powering. The lesson here is to not over-light your fixture.


If you follow a plan, you can easily figure out how to choose outdoor lighting. You may find that the planning and selection process may actually take you longer than the installation. Hopefully we helped you to make the decisions that will work best for your home’s exterior.

Related Questions

What is the best wattage for outdoor lighting?
Lights are now measured in lumens and not watts. There is no specific number of lumens that is perfect for all outdoor lighting situations. You should review the requirements and recommendations for each specific light fixture.

What Kelvin color temperature is best for outdoor lighting?
We recommend color temperatures of anywhere from 2700k – 3000k because it is best to have a warmer color

Do I need an electrician to install outdoor lighting?
Outdoor lighting can be installed by the homeowner as long as you follow the instructions and take precautions. If you are uncomfortable working with electricity, then definitely hire an electrician. When it comes to landscape lighting, they are plug and play with little risk.