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patio lighting

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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