Outdoor Lighting

Don't be left in the dark when it comes to outdoor safety lighting.
Tanner C. Latham

We've all taken evening drives and noted the aesthetic pleasures of a well-lit house. Outdoor lighting accents the home and adds life to a nighttime landscape. However, safety and security are two other advantages to proper illumination. Exterior lighting protects your family and guests from personal injury and also discourages prowlers. Statistics show that an unlit home is three times more likely to be burglarized than a lit one.

Designing Your Lighting System
Start with a plan. Poorly placed fixtures result in a poorly lit house. To avoid giving your home a ghostly effect with deep shadows and harsh contrasts, consult outdoor lighting guides found at home-improvement centers and bookstores. They often call for multiple, low-wattage lights rather than a few high-wattage ones.

Use lamps that are designed to withstand the elements. Rain dripping on an ordinary light bulb will cause it to crack. Bulbs designed for exposed outdoor use, such as PAR lamps, feature heavy-duty glass that withstands breakage. Although it's hard to have too many outdoor light fixtures, it's very easy to have lights that are too bright and glaring. Inside your home, 60 watts is a low number, outside, it's often too bright for accent lighting. Experts recommend a 35-watt bulb for exteriors, but they are often hard to find, so try the more common 25 watts. Another solution is to use fixtures with baffles that shield the bulb from view and direct the light. (Note: Fluorescent lamps should never be used outdoors, because cold weather reduces their light output.)

Line or Low?
Landscaping lighting fixtures are available in standard 110-volt (line) and 12-volt (low) systems. Line voltage systems call for buried wire that's rated for in-ground use. Installation is time-consuming and permanent. Also, individual line fixtures often cost more than low-voltage ones. Because of risks when working with higher line voltage, always consult a professional. Low-voltage systems use a transformer to step down line voltage to 12 volts. These inexpensive systems are generally safer than line ones and are often sold at home-improvement centers. The biggest disadvantage is that they are less effective for lighting areas away from the house because the voltage declines with longer distances. Multiple transformers can solve this problem.

On and Off
Use a timer to switch the lights on and off at predetermined times. Many kits include a timer. (Note: Timers may need to be reset seasonally as the time of sunset changes and after power failures.)