Ultimate Buying Guide: Outdoor Lights

Looking to buy outdoor lights for your backyard or outdoor space? Use this guide to help you understand the different outdoor light features and options to help you make the best purchase!

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Outdoor lights can improve your backyard and outdoor experience by providing ambiance, decoration, security, and general illumination. But do you know all of the different options or features you need to consider for lights? For example, how will you control the light, or how do you plan to power the light? 

This guide is designed to help you better understand your lighting options to help you answer key questions as you search for the right outdoor lights for your backyard. 

If you are ready to learn more, scroll down to start reading!

Outdoor Lights Buying Guide
Table of Contents

Location: Where should I put outdoor lights?

To start your outdoor lighting project, you first need to analyze what parts of your backyard and why you want them illuminated. The need for lighting will typically fall within four categories:

  • Functional use: Lighting to illuminate an area when it is dark outside.
  • Landscaping and Hardscaping: Lighting to illuminate plants, trees, and structures in your backyard in a decorative manner.
  • Decorative and Ambiance: Lighting that enhances the aesthetics of your backyard design.
  • Safety and Security: Lighting that illuminates areas of your backyard to primarily provide additional safety or security during the dark.
Although these are the four general categories for lighting, it does not mean that lighting will only fit within one category. For example, path lighting can provide a decorative touch and provide safety to ensure that people stay on the right path in the dark. As you plan your backyard lighting needs, use these categories to help inspire how you can creatively use different lighting options in various parts of your yard.

Power Source: How can I power outdoor lights?

Whatever lights you want for your backyard, you will need to find a way to power the lights. As you plan lighting for your backyard, you should also plan how you expect to power the lights so you can better understand what options fit your expectations.

  • Solar-powered: These lights draw the power it needs from the sun. The cost for these lights may be slightly more than other options but can provide you more flexibility in that you don’t need to connect to power from your home. Ensure that the solar panels are correctly installed to get the appropriate sunlight required to power these lights.
  • Hard-wired: These lights are directly connected to your home’s electrical power supply. Your house may already have some hard-wired light connections, or you may need to hire an electrician to install connections where you need them.
  • Plug Connection: Some lights are powered by plugging into an electrical outlet. If this is the case, ensure that all cords are appropriately protected to ensure they can withstand the environment.
  • Battery-powered: Some lights may be battery-powered. Like solar-powered lights, this option provides flexibility in your light setup. However, these lights will require extra maintenance as batteries will need to be replaced.

Control: How can I control outdoor lights?

Another key aspect of your lighting is determining how you want the lights to turn on and off.

  • Switch: Just like the lights inside your house, a switch can control outdoor lights. However, this will require that the light is hard-wired to your home’s electric supply.
  • Motion Sensor: Lights can be controlled to come on via a motion sensor. You will need to find a light that has this option built into the light.
  • Dusk to Dawn / Timer: Some lights allow the option to be triggered to turn on when the sun sets and turn off when the sun rises. Additionally, others provide more custom timing options. 
  • Smart Control: Some lights can provide the functionality to be controlled by a smart home app. These lights usually have another control option (switch) as well. Due to the smart control option, these lights tend to be more expensive than other lighting options.

Types: What type of light do I need for my backyard?

There are several common types of outdoor light fixtures. Which one is right for you depends on the space you need to illuminate and why you need to illuminate it.

  • Ceiling Lights: These are lights that can be added to the ceiling of your patio or porch, usually to add functional lighting to these common gathering areas. 
  • Wall Lights: Wall lights can add a decorative touch to your backyard, as you can find wall lights in various designs. Additionally, these can serve to provide functional lighting as well as ambiance and decoration.
  • Post Lights: These lights are affixed to the top of posts in your backyard. You will need to ensure that you have the proper electrical supply in your backyard to support these lights.
  • String and Rope Lights: These are a series of lights on a string or in a rope form, and these lights are typically used for decoration and ambiance. These will come in various lengths; be sure to measure your area to find the right length you need.
  • Landscaping Lights: These are lights designed to be placed in your landscaping to provide lighting to your plants and trees.
  • Hardscape Lights: These light fixtures are designed to be placed on your home, patio, and other structures to provide decorative light to your ‘hard’ surfaces.
  • Path Lights: These lights are placed near the paths in your backyard and very close to the ground. These lights are designed to provide enough light to illuminate the nearby path.
  • Security Lights: These lights are designed to illuminate a large area to increase visibility across your backyard and/or potentially deter people or animals from entering an area.

Colors and Warmness: What are color and warmness options for outdoor lights?

A relatively simple choice should be to determine what colors you want your lights to be. More often than not, your lighting option will be white. However, you can find some light bulb options that provide multiple color options.

An essential choice for your white color lighting will be how ‘warm’ you want your light to be. The warmness, or temperature, of light is measured in degrees of Kelvin, and you will typically find your lighting options listed between 2500K and 6500K (K denotes Kelvin). Lower Kelvin numbers indicate a ‘warmer’ white, whereas higher Kelvin numbers represent a ‘cooler’ white or ‘daylight.’

Brightness: How bright should my outdoor lights be?

The brightness of lights is measured by ‘lumens.’ The more lumens listed for a light, the brighter and greater the light output. How many lumens you need depends on the purpose of your light. Below are some reference lumen ranges for lighting purposes listed above.

  • Functional Use: Typically, you will want this between 100 – 500 lumens. But this depends upon the number of other lights you are using to illuminate the same area.
  • Landscaping and Hardscaping: 50 – 300 lumens are usually appropriate. Brightness will depend on your lighting application.
  • Decorative and Ambiance: Similar to landscaping and hardscaping, 50 – 300 lumens are path lights usually appropriate. Brightness will depend on your decorative plan.
  • Safety and Security: Floodlights will require over 700 lumens, and path lights will usually need 100 – 200 lumens.

Weatherproofing: What weatherproofing is needed for outdoor lights?

Outdoor lights will typically be rated for the type of locations they can be used in as being rated ‘Wet’ or ‘Damp.’

  • Damp Rated: These lights are designed not to receive direct exposure to rain and other moisture. These lights should be placed under a patio or porch to ensure that the light does not receive direct rain and moisture.
  • Wet Rated: These lights can be placed throughout your backyard and receive direct rain and moisture.
Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
Hi, I'm Ashley!

Hi, I'm Ashley!

I started Live Your Best Backyard to share my (and my family's) hands-on experience and countless hours of research on all things backyard to help you find the best products, ideas, tips, and information for your backyard!

Read More About Me
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