Assessing Your Yard's Needs
Darkness needn’t put a damper on backyard activities like swimming and barbecuing. By installing backyard lighting, you can keep the party going long after dusk, boost outdoor ambiance, and protect your property from unseen threats.
The three main types of backyard illumination are safety lighting to deter prowlers and improve navigation, landscape lighting to accentuate garden features, and accent lighting to put the focus on the hardscape. Ultimately, you’d want all three types in your backyard to achieve different lighting levels for different needs—and within each of these categories, there’s a variety of lighting choices. So let us shine a light on the best backyard illumination options, so you’ll know what to put in your outdoor space.
1. Security Lighting
Security lighting, generally the brightest backyard lighting, is safety lighting to illuminate large areas and scare off would-be burglars or destructive animals. Powered by standard, 120-Volt current, this lighting is installed high spots such as the eaves or above a garage to cast wide beams of light down onto main walkways or the backyard fence entrance.
Your best bet for security is motion-sensing floodlights that mount to the surface of exterior siding or walls and contain two- or three-bulb housing units that go on only when built-in sensors detect movement in the area. Their intense light exposes prowlers and may fool them into thinking you’re home and on alert even if you’re not.
Our Pick for Security Lights
Available in bronze or white, the Revolve 270° Triple Head (available at amazon.com; $69) blends in with your home's trim when positioned on the eaves or the underside of a covered patio. But you'll know that this wired light is there when you approach: Its three optical LED lights produce a powerful 2400 lumens to light up your landscape as bright as day for up to 100 feet for as long as you choose. And, when placed at the corner of the eaves, the rotating optics on the Revolve can be adjusted to light up two sides of the house.
2. Path Lighting
Path lighting is soft to moderately bright safety and landscape lighting designed to help you navigate walkways while attractively highlighting them. Install it on the ground along both sides of main walkways from the back door to your fence door, along stepping stones from the main walkway to a backyard feature like a fountain, and/or around flower beds to emphasize their contours.
Path lighting is often available in low-voltage (12- to 15-V) and solar LED options consisting of a decorative bulb housing unit attached to a short stake you drive into the ground. If you choose low-voltage path lights, you'll need to use a transformer to reduce the 120-volt house current to 12 volts; energy-saving solar versions, meanwhile, require no extra wires. Even if your walkways are shaded, these lights will stay bright for several hours after dusk, thanks to a solar rechargeable battery or remote solar panel you station somewhere else in the yard that gets direct sun.
Our Pick for Path Lights
With a smart bronze finish and curved panes, this elegant six-pack of solar path lights by Hampton Bay (available at homedepot.com; $14.61) earns high ratings from Home Depot shoppers. Its affordability is another draw—a set of six for less than $15!— along with its LED bulbs, auto on/off power, and crystalline solar panel. Emitting a warm white light, they stand almost 12 inches high.
RELATED: Buyer's Guide: Solar Path Lights
3. String Lighting
String lighting is soft, low-voltage accent lighting used to evoke a warm, intimate ambiance that’s especially desirable for entertaining. Hang string lights wherever the activity is—be it on the eaves of the home to brighten an outdoor kitchen or from the posts of an outdoor pavilion or gazebo to illuminate patio furniture.
Look for waterproof, rechargeable, traditional battery-powered or solar-powered outdoor string lights (which usually come with a remote solar panel), preferably those with long-lasting LED bulbs. Such lights avoid the need for running extension cords across the yard, enable lighting in far corners of the yard without electrical outlets, and ensure that lights stay on safely even if spattered with rain.
Our Pick for String Lights
Hang the 13 feet of Vintage LED String Lights from Threshold™ over your patio table or under a pergola to lounge in the warm white glow of 10 indoor-outdoor bulbs (available at target.com; $29.99). Not only are these Edison-style bulbs stylish in a retro way, but they are also energy-efficient! These LEDs will last longer than your average incandescent option and won't cost as much to use over that long lifetime.
4. Outdoor Wall Lighting
Outdoor wall lighting is a low-voltage, moderately bright form of safety and accent lighting used chiefly to illuminate and improve navigation in small recessed areas of the yard where shadows lurk. You can mount them on any vertical surface, such as along the interior of your pergola; above stairways; and around sunken seating areas, pools, and other low-lying spots.
Wall sconces with an open-bottomed design (i.e., the bottom of the bulb housing is uncovered) are the best option because they cast the maximum amount of light down onto recessed areas. If you have scarce space on exterior walls, consider semi-flush-mount sconces (i.e., the light is attached to a narrow arm that mounts to a plate on the wall) instead of flush-mount sconces with the whole fixture up against the wall.
Our Pick for Outdoor Sconces
Just as the market of indoor wall sconces is large and varied, so are your options for outdoor wall lighting. You'll see all shapes, sizes, and metal finishes—this Y Decor outdoor sconce alone comes in six, from a shiny red to oil-rubbed bronze (available at homedepot.com; $27.95). The shallow fixture focuses light from incandescent or LED bulb down toward the entertainment happening below, while the clean lines of the design blend easily with any other fixtures you may have in place around your exterior.
Lanterns offer soft, low-voltage accent lighting for a small expanse of an outdoor wall to play up architectural details or decor. They’re often installed in the vicinity of the back door to highlight a transom window, arch, or ornate wreath atop it. Most lanterns are semi-flush mount, consisting of a glass-and-metal exterior attached to an arm affixed to a plate on the wall. However, battery-powered tabletop lanterns bring that same visual interest to eye level while softly illuminating elements that you might reach for when outside entertaining: bowls of snacks, beverages, board games, and more. Choose lanterns with a translucent as opposed to a clear glass covering to provide diffuse, glare-free nighttime lighting that doesn’t distract from other backyard light fixtures.
Our Pick for Lanterns
While there are plenty of variations on the traditional wall-mounted lantern, with its hard corners and boxy shape, feel free to think out of the box. If your sense of style leans toward farmhouse or coastal, you may gravitate toward the Globe Electric's modern matte black take on caged lantern (available at amazon.com; $34.60). The quality of this affordable fixture and its seeded glass shade constantly impresses Amazon buyers.
6. Deck Lighting
Deck lighting is standard-voltage, moderate- to high-intensity lighting designed to help folks get up, down, and across the deck by night, avoiding tripping hazards and visual clutter, and also accentuate nearby garden features.
It’s installed as a series of LED lights recessed into grooves in the surface, so that you can safely walk over them, never even feeling them underfoot. Deck lights also belong around the perimeter of the deck surface, in between the individual steps of stairs, and/or along deck stair railings.
Our Pick for Deck Lights
Illuminating the edge of your deck and its steps is essential to preventing trips and falls in the dark. Whether you're fixing up an existing structure or setting out to build a new one, consider the Kerr's low-voltage incandescent lighting system (available at homedepot.com; $234.87). Its four-by-five inch lights are durable enough to withstand weather and foot traffic and maintain a consistent (while economical) glow. Plus, the 14-piece starter set should cover the lighting needs of the average wood or composite deck when spaced five to eight feet apart.
7. Spot Lighting
Also known as “up-lighting” or simply landscape lighting, spot lighting is standard-voltage landscaping lighting used to shine narrow, moderate- to high-intensity beams upwards, usually to showcase a plant or ornamental feature. You might install it at or above ground level below tall trees or a lawn ornament to make them look more statuesque.
To light taller objects, such as trees, opt for bullet-shaped lights on a base you drive into the ground with a stake. Bullet lights have an adjustable head that sits above ground and casts bright pins of light over longer distances at an angle of your choice. For shorter features, such as shrubs, try well lights, round lights that are pushed into the ground to cast light upwards over shorter distances. Because they’re hidden in the ground, they let small garden features take center stage.
Our Pick for Spot Lights
Cast a warm white light on your prized patch of landscaping around the patio or front lawn with the Portfolio LED low-voltage spot light (available at lowes.com; $34.98 each). Sold individually, these spot lights connect to your 12-volt low-voltage lighting system in a matter of minutes thanks to the user-friendly installation process. And it's a set-and-forget addition to your yard: Because the LED bulb is completely integrated with the light fixture, it's both highly efficient and maintenance-free.
Let There Be Light
There's a lighting option for every backyard.
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