Smart New Choices for Outdoor Lighting

Use new LED light bulbs and solar powered lamps as energy-efficient ways to light your landscape.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jun 17, 2019 2:18 PM

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Outdoor Lights

Unique Arts Solar Pathway Light M22041, self-contained system with ground stake. Photo: 2010 Unique Arts LLC

What most urban dwellers forget is that we can see a great deal entirely by moonlight. Our ability to see in low light is determined by the brightest light in our field of view. Turn off the bright light and eyes will adjust. Fortunately, more and more towns and cities are addressing light pollution and smart homeowners are turning down the lights, directing light to where it is most needed and saving money.

LED’s the Smart New Choice
Recent advances in LED outdoor lighting technology have created many new energy efficient choices for outdoor lighting. While it may not make sense to pull out working fixtures or incandescent bulbs and replace them with LED’s, it makes good sense to design LED’s into your next outdoor project. There are energy-efficient LED’s for all purposes, including holiday lights, decorative lighting, walkway and security fixtures. Now widely available, the bulbs are on average 10x more energy-efficient and 20x longer lasting than incandescent. For some decorative applications like Christmas lights (where they have been used for years), LED’s are no more expensive than incandescent bulbs. In newer applications (i.e., PAR and MR lamps), the LED bulb may be 2-3 times more expensive.

The future of LED lighting is visible today in a new generation of solar fixtures where the wiring (and electric bill) are completely removed. These fixtures include small solar panels (often no larger than a book cover), batteries capable of storing a 10-hour charge, and light or movement sensing switches. Energy sipping LED bulbs ensure a lasting charge even on a cloudy day.

Choosing the Right Fixture
The difficult part may be choosing an appropriate power level. Some manufacturers provide guidance by relating light output to an incandescent bulb or providing lumen levels. Many of the small stick-in-the-ground solar pathway lights are rated at 1 lumen (essentially the luminosity of a candle). These will work well in the absence of a competing strong light source. With more than 1000 times the output in lumens, the Concept SL-100 32 LED Solar Security Light gets great reviews (equivalent to a 20watt CFL or 100 watt incandescent) and includes both motion and photosensor activation.