From the monthly archives:

July 2011

Choosing proper outside lights involves determining the appropriate type of power source, bulb technology, and the application for which the light is intended. For power sources, the choice is between line voltage and low voltage lighting. For bulb types, LED lights are becoming the primary option for low voltage lights, which tungsten and CFL bulbs are preferred for line voltage lights. Each exterior lighting application will require a different lighting solution, such as a flood light, accent light or string lights.

Line Voltage vs Low Voltage Lighting

Line voltage requires a direct connection to the house’s fuse box, tapping into the 120 volt power supply without a transmitter or transformer. Most contemporary outdoor lighting will make use of low voltage power, but flood lights and wall lights will mostly use line voltage. Line voltage lighting is less flexible in terms of beam spreads: there are only flood lights and spot lights, with nothing in between.

Low voltage takes the output from a wall socket and transforms it down to 12 volts. The lack of transformer circuitry often makes low voltage lights cheaper. Low voltage lights are available in many different beam variations for each wattage, from 12-degree pin spots to 60-degree floods. Given the regulatory trend toward power conservation in the US, it’s only a matter of time before low voltage lighting becomes the standard for everything but garage lights and security flood lights.

LED Outdoor Lighting

As mentioned, tungsten (incandescent) and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs remain the primary technology for line voltage lighting—except for flood lights, where halogen is used most often. However, for patio, garden, driveway and deck lighting, the emerging standard is LED lighting. Light-emitting diodes last between 10,000 and 100,000 hours—over 10 years—whereas low voltage incandescent bulbs only last 1,000 to 3,000 hours.

Types of Outdoor Lighting

Some types of outside lights are more appropriate than others, depending on the placement and applications. Here are some of the main options:

Walkway lights. Sometimes called path lights, walkway lights come in a variety of styles, all designed to outline the edge of a pathway or the perimeter of a patio. They can be recessed into the ground, or the may consists of short posts that rise 15-25″ from the ground.

Post lights. Post lights are essentially the same as walkway lights except for their size, which posts rising several feet from the ground in a manner similar to old-fashioned street lights. They’re usually old-fashioned in their styling as well.

String lights. Great for decoration, outdoor string lights can range from paper lanterns to Christmas lights.

Flood lights. Used to illuminate larger areas, such as patios, decks and driveways, flood lights are most ideal for security applications. Some flood lights work in conjunction with motion detectors, allowing them to follow an intruder.

Accent lights. Outdoor accent lighting can range from line voltage mercury vapor lights design to outline a lawn to low voltage solar rock lights used for walkways and flower beds. Accent lights are also appropriate for walkway and patio lighting.

Wall lights. Wall lighting can be identical to accent lighting, with sconces or lanterns that help define and outline the house. Depending on the size of the area, such as a carport, flood lights may be more appropriate.

Anyone shopping for outside lights should avoid the temptation to browse through individual products before defining their power requirements, the type of bulb technology, and the placement of lights. Once the use case is worked out, selecting a particular light is a much easier task.

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Deck lighting can be creative, but it’s also a necessity for safety. A properly lit deck prevents trips and falls, particularly for pets and children, but also lets potential intruders know that someone is home. Since decks need lighting anyway, they might as a well be shown in the best light possible. Let’s look at the most popular lighting technologies, such as LED and solar lights, and a few popular styles of lighting.

Solar Deck Lighting

One of the easiest ways to get started with lighting a desk is to use solar deck lights. Since there are no wires to run from the house, it’s possible to add lights individually on an as-needed basis. Solar deck lighting gets collects sunlight during the day, then provides up to 14 hours of light during the night, assuming a charge on full sunlight. On rainy or overcast days, solar decking lights typically provide five to six hours of nighttime lighting.

A lovely and popular solar lighting option for deck is a solar patio umbrella. Some solar patio umbrellas have their lighting fixture around the center of the pole, below the canopy, while others have an array of small lights scattered inside the canopy.

LED Deck Lighting

For indoor lighting, the preferred low-power alternative to incandescent lighting is compact fluorescent lighting, but LEDs rule for decks. LED decking lights provide a warmer quality of light than CFLs, while being clearer and more brilliant than incandescents. While CFLs are well known their low power consumption, LEDs draw far less power, and with energy costs being about one-sixth of fluorescents over the course of their lifetime. LED deck lighting also generates far less heat than CFLs, and especially incandescents, so that they’re a safer choice for families with pets and children if floor-mounted lights are being installed.

Deck Lighting Types

Some types of deck lighting are more appropriate than others for different applications. Some deck lights are designed to highlight broad areas, others are meant to showcase individual objects, while others are primarily intended for safety. The main types of deck lighting are:

Post cap lights. Lighting the corners of the deck is a crucial safety measure, even if no other lights are installed. If the rails of the deck aren’t lit, it’s still possible for people to perceive the boundaries if the corners are defined. Post cap lights are round or rectangular lights, mounted where the rails intersect, that emit downward-angled light in 360 degrees. Once the corners are highlighted, the rest of the deck’s perimeter can be filled in with pod lights or accent lights.

Accent deck lights. Accents lights can be placed on deck railings or posts to highlight edges, but their main speciality is showcasing individual objects, pointing down on some featured item like a potted plant or a bench. They’re great for fleshing out the outline provided by cap lights.

Stair deck lights. Like post cap lights, stair deck lights are critical for safe walking, but they also add some depth and definition to the deck, since each light is set inside the riser between each step. Some homeowners prefer to use solar or LED lights that stay on continuously, while others install an ambient light sensor that only turns the stair lights on when someone approaches.

Recessed deck lights. Recessed lighting is obvious the most labor intensive to install, but also the most elegant-looking–easily worth the additional effort. Recessed deck lights have unsightly wires exposed (wiring for inset deck lights are behind the boards), no gaps to risk short-circuits in the rain, and no jutting edges to become trip hazards.

Tiki torches. The mere mention of tiki torches conjures up tropical themes, but these low-tech, flame-based lights are not limited to Kona or Maui designs. Many tiki torches use industrial or European design themes. Some are small and intimate enough to be placed on tables, while others are large enough to light a whole deck. In addition to traditional torches that use paraffin, citronella oil or propane, some tiki torches are electric, available in solar and LED varieties.

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