Choosing the right outdoor lighting

Turn your outdoor area into a safe and welcoming night-time wonderland with carefully chosen lighting.

Well designed outdoor lighting
ARTICLE Joanna Mathers

Do you want some night-time ambience, an illuminated entertaining area or a sense of security after dark? The right outdoor lighting will help you achieve this. Here are some handy hints to help you make the right decision about outdoor lighting.

First steps

To make the most of your outdoor lighting it’s a good idea to work with an expert to develop a lighting plan. Dave Barlow from Lighting Plus explains:  “A plan or sketch with measurements is required to get the ball rolling for a design. The consultation is very important to assess the needs and wants of the customer. Budget is a factor too and when the designer has some basic information the process can begin.”
Consider what you are wanting from your outdoor lighting. Do you want to illuminate a pool or BBQ area, or provide lighting for a dark path? Does your house have architectural features that would benefit from ambient lighting?  Or do you just want a simple light outside your front door so you can find your keys when you get home from a night out?
Dave advises:  “If form is more important than function, highlighting structures and adding drama to the exterior of the building with light and shade can enhance the night-time appeal. Ideally a combination of all of these philosophies will be incorporated into a design.”

Light it right

Once you have established your plan, it’s time to focus on the fun stuff – choosing your lights. Be they minimal, modern or traditional, the light fittings you choose will play a key role in developing the ambience of your outdoor area. You’ll need to think carefully about the level of illumination you want for the area; suffused light will look lovely along paths, but won’t do the trick if you need a strong light source above your front door.
Again, it’s important to talk to the experts.  “Using a showroom or a website lighting designers work with you to narrow down the product likes and dislikes. The goal is to arrive at a design that is functional, cost-effective and looks great,”  says Dave.
There are eight main types of outdoor lighting, each designed to suit different needs and situations. Outdoor wall lighting comes in a wide range of styles – from up and down lights, which can help illuminate interesting architectural features, to cube lighting, which can create a subtle ambience in entrances or verandas. Tubular wall lighting is great for a sophisticated, soft radiance on walls outside the garage.
If you require lighting for an outdoor entertaining or garden area, bollards are a good option. These pole shaped lights come in a wide range of styles – from stylish cubic designs to traditional  ‘coach lantern’  lights – and will give your outdoor area a soft radiance. Some bollards are specifically designed for highlighting garden features; rocks, sculptures, low plants and garden edges will all benefit from some diffused illumination.
Architectural features are best highlighted when the light source is hidden behind an opaque fitting.  “Light fittings that shield the light source are best. Wash or graze the significant part of the building with light showcasing interesting features and leaving other parts of the structure or scene in shadow,”  explains Dave. Fully enclosed tubular cube lights are ideal.
Floodlighting is used to highlight particular features in your garden, such as a large tree or piece of garden art. It’s best to only choose one feature to illuminate; you don’t want your backyard lit up like a sports stadium at night!
Dave says that renovations and new builds often incorporate many different types of outdoor lighting.  “People don’t just have a light at the front and back door anymore and lighting much of the building is not uncommon.”
A beautiful outdoor place with outdoor lighting

Sense of security

We all want our home to feel secure after dark. Sensor-activated security lights can do a lot to put your mind at ease. There are many cheap security lights on the market, but these utilitarian lamps let the side down when it comes to visual appeal.  “A combination Par38 flood lamp [a sturdy, halogen or LED bulb] with attached sensor is cost-effective, but it is not very attractive and has limits for useful positioning,” says Dave.
Many different styles and types of outdoor light fittings can be attached to sensors and used as security lamps.  “Separate PIR sensors can be used to switch many different types and styles of exterior lights. These can also be very cost-effective,”  says Dave.
Some of the more attractive security light options include stainless steel tubular wall lights, sensor activated bulkheads, and swivel lights in materials such as copper. Your local lighting expert will be able to give you advice.

Technical considerations

The wiring needed for your outdoor lighting is dependent on what type of illumination device you are installing. If you are planning on having permanent lighting in the garden, it’s a good idea to get your electrician to install a 240-volt power supply to an outside point when your home is being built or renovated.  “This will enable you to use cost-effective 12-volt garden lighting at a later stage,”  explains Dave.
If money is an issue you may prefer to purchase a garden lighting kit, which attaches to low-wattage lamps. These kits contain transformers and cables, and retail for around $200. Kits make installation of outdoor lighting quite simple. You first establish where you want the lights to be positioned then dig a small channel for the cables to run along.  Next you affix the cables to the outdoor lighting (the lights should have a simple connection device) and connect to a transformer plugged into a mains in the house. Turn on the lights at the mains to make sure they are working.
If you aren’t comfortable doing the installation yourself, your local home handyman will be able to help. Any lighting that is affixed to the house (such as wall lights) or any wiring for fixed electrical equipment will require the services of a qualified electrician.

You might be interested in reading: Lighting advice.

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This article by Joanna Mathers featured in Issue 006 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.


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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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