Step by Step Guide For Planning Your Garden Lighting

May 31, 2022

Step by Step Guide For Planning Your Garden Lighting

When it comes to lighting your landscape, a little goes a long way. 

Garden lights at night

The reason is that your eyes need less light outdoors than they do indoors in order to see light, shadow, and pattern. 

The first thing to do when planning the lighting for your garden is to start with a walk around your yard at night. 

Envision how and when you want to use your outdoor spaces, and tailor your landscape lighting to suit those needs. 

How light is seen during the day is different from how it is seen at night, a particularly important distinction when it comes to lighting pathways and other outdoor spaces.

Following are guidelines to help you create a plan that will help you create the atmosphere and feel you want in your garden. 

Planning

Plan early

The key with garden lighting is getting your electricity to the right places before the plants go in. It is important you know where you want light at the beginning of the process.

Designing the effects and choosing the light fittings comes after you’ve worked out your features and plants, but if you don’t have power, you can’t have light.

You will need to figure out exactly how much lighting you need. 

To do this use this quick calculation: multiply the square footage of the area you want to light by 1.5 to get a rough estimate of the total wattage required, for example, 100 square feet of space would require 150 watts.

Observe your space and take measurements so you don’t choose fixtures that are too large-scale. 

You can easily plan your lighting by using a paper template to determine the exact placement to review the size before buying. 

For either the front porch or the back patio, the size of an outdoor wall light should be approximately one-third the height of the door.

Your lighting should be sturdy and made of high-quality and weather-resistant materials.

Lighting Principles

Light has intensity, or quantity emitted, and colour. 

The colour of a particular lightbulb can be found on the packaging; it is a number that ranges from 1800 kelvins (K), which is very red in tone, to 7500 K, which is a bluish-white.

Outdoor lighting issues differ from those of indoor light. For example, reflection is less an issue outdoors because most surfaces are dark and do not reflect light well. However, position and shielding are more important in outdoor landscape lighting in order to prevent glare.

Glare happens when a light source is too big or too bright; it can be blinding because it reflects directly into people's eyes. 


Outdoor landscape lighting also needs to be particularly sensitive to direct versus indirect light. 

Direct outdoor landscape light, such as a downlight outside a side entry door, will brighten mostly the object it is directed at and little of the surroundings. Indirect light reflects on the surrounding surfaces to create a soft wash.

garden lighting

Types of Lighting

Whether indoors or outdoors, lighting is generally divided into three layers based on function:

Overall lighting: Overall light provides illumination for a whole area or space.

Task lighting: Task lighting is used for a specific purpose, such as to light a path. Task lighting includes pathway lights, plus deck and security lights

Accent lighting: Accent lighting draws attention to an object or area. This is usually accomplished with spotlights or floodlights. You can get accent outdoor lighting with landscape kits and spotlights.

Ambient lighting can be achieved through hanging lights, post lights, and wall lights.


Lightbulbs

A variety of lightbulbs are suitable for outdoor light fixtures.

Incandescent bulbs emit pleasing light but have a short life and consume more electricity.

Halogen bulbs are more efficient versions of incandescents, typically with a longer life and less energy consumption.

Fluorescent bulbs are now available in a more pleasing colour range, last much longer, and consume less energy.

While LED landscape lighting can be more expensive, the lightbulb costs (which continue to decline) are balanced by their extraordinarily long life and extremely low energy consumption.


Outdoor Lighting Types

  • Spike lights: Good for garden beds where you want to uplight plants or specific features.
  • Bollard lights: Great for lighting paths or driveways.
  • Spotlights: Good for shooting light up the trunk of a tree or highlighting architectural features.
  • Projection lights: Useful for creating interest and playful patterns on walls and ground surfaces.
  • Strip lights: These versatile lights can be used to wash light across steps, backlight garden beds, illuminate areas under built-in seats, barbecues or along a deck.
  • Sculptural lights: Think playful or interesting fittings that are a feature in themselves, such as hurricane lamps and LED balls.
  • Festoon lights: Use these to create a twinkling canopy and highlight an entertaining area.
  • A range of landscape lighting fixtures, including wall fixtures, sconces, portable lamps, chandeliers, and ceiling fans, is available for nearly every spot. 

Any fixture used outdoors should be checked to ensure it is suitable for outdoor use especially weather resistant.


Placement

While outdoor lighting can be placed virtually anywhere, some spots make it an absolute must. Essential landscape lighting areas include:

Paths: A well-lit path is both welcoming and required, providing illumination that extends hospitality to visitors and makes walking more secure. High illumination isn't necessary, and downlights will prevent glare. Individually lit pavers can also be used to light a pathway.

Entries: Place lights either to each side of a door or overhead at the front, back, and side entry doors.

Driveway: Low-voltage landscape lighting, which is typically easier to install and uses less energy than other systems, is a good option along a driveway.

Steps: Steps should be lighted for safety; either the risers or the treads can be lit.

Decks or Patios: Lighting can be used to illuminate specific task areas on a deck or patio, such as an outdoor kitchen or grilling spot, as well as railings and seating areas. Uplighting, which is harder to accomplish outside, can be used on a deck or patio to send light upward on an umbrella or deck overhang for an indirect effect.

Gazebos, Pergolas, or Trellises: Lighting is a good way to highlight an interesting built element, such as pergolas or arbours, in the outdoor landscape.

Architectural Features: Outdoor landscape lighting can be used to highlight a wall, for example, by washing it or grazing it. When a wide beam of light is aimed at a wall from a few feet away, it creates a wall wash. A light used to graze a wall creates interesting highlights and shadows. Both can help accent nearby plants.

path lit up at night

Outdoor Light Pollution

Too much light, or poorly installed lighting, can create unwanted light pollution that shines into indoor rooms, washes out the view of the stars, creates a glare that temporarily blinds people, and wastes energy and money. 

To avoid excess light pollution from your landscape lighting:

  1. Aim lights carefully. Position lights at night and check their position frequently.
  2. Shield bulbs. Use fixtures that have reflectors and shielding to concentrate light where you want it.
  3. Minimize wattage. Higher wattage will create harsher light without improving aesthetics or increasing safety. Low-wattage bulbs are often enough to provide illumination.
  4. Control the light. Separately zoned lights with timers, controls, dimmers, or motion sensors will turn on lights only when needed or enable them to be turned down as necessary.

Handy Tips

Power

Landscape lights that are located near a building with electricity can easily be integrated into your home's wiring system. Solar landscape lighting is another option for an eco-friendly way to power your outdoor lights.


Take a Look From Inside Your Home. 

This can help you decide on which lighting to choose and how to place it around your yard. Consider how patio spaces, gardens, and pathways look like from inside your home. Lighting gardens or shrubbery that can be seen from living or dining rooms give a room-expanding view of the outside at night. Think path lighting for garden areas, or use solar outdoor lighting for a quick and easy style update

Use Subtle Light for Entertaining.

Your dinner guests won’t want a bright spotlight on them while they’re enjoying their outdoor meal, so stick with lighting that gives a soft glow. 

Outdoor rooms, especially dining areas, benefit from subtle, indirect lighting that helps create a restful mood.

Use of outdoor lanterns, pendants, and ceiling fans equipped with light kits to illuminate seating and dining areas. 

Use a dimmer with these fixtures; turn to full light when cooking or preparing food, or dim it down for eating and relaxing.

Think About Security.

Outdoor lighting not only provides ambience but can also secure your home. 

Make sure all entry points of the home are well lit.

Outside the garage, mount a wall lantern on each side of the garage door or install a single fixture above. For added security, illuminate any side of the house in the shadows with spotlights installed on your eaves or use wall lanterns at side doors, windows, and garages.


Transformers and outdoor circuits. 

Choosing a starting point for your circuit is an important consideration when creating your plan. The further away a light is from a transformer (and the more lights in between), the dimmer it will be. 

Don’t overload a circuit with lights, try to keep it to a maximum of 100 watts on each line. 

Your transformer should be more than adequate to match your needs. Talk to your electrician first, but it’s better to buy one with more output than you need so you can add more later.


Less is more. 

Outdoor lighting is a subtle art, used to illuminate paths, highlight trees and plants and for letting you know where a building is. 

It’s no use lighting up your backyard like a sports game. Use the right lights for the right job; there’s a different outdoor light for almost any feature you care to light up. 

Use underwater lights for ponds and fountains, small path lights for paths and tree-mounted spotlights (not too bright) for that hint of moonlight.

Be safe and aesthetically pleasing. 

Don’t simply run a lead from your lounge outside to a 4-way adapter and plug in four lamps. 

Outdoor lighting is designed just for that – outdoors. 

Electricity does not do well outdoors unless properly channelled, so make sure you’re wiring up your outdoor lighting by the book. Call on an electrician to help you out if need be.

garden pool lit up at night

Energy-saving. 

Outside lights may seem like an extra expense reserved for the luxurious among us, but the cost can be minimal. Investigate different types of lighting.

Solar power is a great resource for outdoor lighting. There are many cheap outdoor lamps with their own solar panels that charge during the day. This will cost you nothing but the initial cost of purchase. Of course, they will need to be placed in a sunny place. 

LED outdoor lighting uses much less energy than traditional light bulbs, plus they are hardier, needing fewer replacements. 

Garden Layout

Think about the layout of your garden and what areas require light and where shadows will fall. 

Making a plan for your garden will let you know exactly what’s needed to get the best out of your garden after-hours. 

The best way to save money is by not leaving your lights on all the time. You will only need outdoor lighting on the odd occasion, so keep it special and leave them off most of the time.

Black hides everything

Matching the colours of light fittings to the setting never works as well as you would expect it to, so generally, if we want to conceal lighting it’s black or dark grey in a matt finish that won’t reflect the light

Choose the right fitting for the spot

Garden lighting needs to be balanced and comfortable, rather than confusing or overbearing.

Floodlights, for example, tend to blast the entire garden and can be harsh and uncomfortable.

Ask yourself:

Do you need to guide visitors along a path at night? 
Does a gate need to be well-lit? 

These insights will help determine whether vertical or horizontal lighting is required. Horizontal placement helps people see obstacles or trip hazards on the ground.

Vertical lighting can help you recognise the facial features of approaching people. It also highlights the depth of obstacles, such as steps

Prioritise safety

It’s important to light any hazardous areas in your garden, such as pathways, stairs, retaining walls or steep slopes

When illuminating a path, you only need enough light to guide the way – you don’t want it to be glaring or blinding. A light with 300 to 400 lumens will provide enough illumination for safety, without being blinding.

Highlight your garden’s best features

Start by identifying your garden’s best features and any areas that deserve an emphasis – for example, a beautiful tree or sculpture

Then create a hierarchy of lighting to establish depth and harmony. Consider which tones of light will enhance your chosen feature or features. 

And do you want to integrate reflections or lengthen a tree to make a statement?

See your garden as a canvas and give it an evenly lit base. Then create layers by carefully spotlighting individual elements. 

It is important to do this gradually, and remember that less is more when it comes to creating a balanced and pleasant result

Use light to extend your living space

Lighting your garden extends your living space

Most people don’t realise the value of garden lighting as an element of their interior design and only turn their lights on when they’re outside. 

But if you have lit up your garden, and you have lots of windows looking out onto it, then on a cold winter evening you can turn those lights on, and suddenly you are including your garden in your living space.

Don’t overdo it

One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make is over-lighting their garden

Outdoor lighting is about highlighting the features so it feels inviting and intriguing.

It’s important to include areas of both light and dark in your garden in order to create contrast and balance.

Long term considerations

Your outdoor lighting will need to handle all types of weather and seasons. 

When installing your lighting be sure you have a good idea of what changes your garden goes through, what plants will grow rapidly over the next few months, and what effect the lighting will have in each season. 

Your lighting becomes part of your garden, so treat it as such.

Outdoor lights give your property that extra little something after dark. They give your parties a certain class and provide an unmatched ambience when you’re alone at night. 

It’s worth thinking about and an electrical services company can help you out with the right choices for your home.

Outdoor lighting if done right can light up your house and garden beautifully when the sun goes down. 

Done wrong it can be nothing but an unnecessary and expensive eyesore that keeps you or your neighbours awake. 

Garden plants and wall lit up at night

Knowing the right decisions to make with outdoor lighting will yield results you can be proud of. It takes a subtle mix of matching plants, lights and spaces. You might even enjoy your garden more at night time than during the day. 

Hopefully, we have given you some guidance so you can create your own special magical garden. 




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