Exterior Lighting: The Art of the Glow

We know it when we see it. Maybe it’s while driving through an ideal neighborhood in the evening. Or maybe it’s an elegant photograph spotted in a magazine or while browsing online.

It’s that perfect glow. The right accents in the right spots. A sense of warmth and security.

These are primary elements of a beautifully illuminated home. And they’re created mostly through thoughtful placement of the right outdoor light fixtures.

So let’s explore some interesting ways to make a home shine even at night.

Start with an evening assessment of what you already have in place. Then consider what areas could use a little light and think of ways to tone down areas that are too bright — often just by using a lower wattage light bulb. With its earlier sunsets and cooler weather, autumn is an ideal time to explore how different exterior lighting options can enhance your curb appeal and backyard living.

Highlighting Features and Creating Ambiance

Let’s start with the fun stuff — creating a warm, relaxing environment and showing off the best attributes of your property.

In the front of the house, safety lighting and security lighting, which we’ll get to in a minute, will be primary elements. But, for now, let’s think about accent lighting that might help serve both purposes.

If you have a nicely landscaped front yard, consider highlighting its best parts with ground lights that shed light on attractive plants and the exterior of your home. Upward facing ground lights are one of the most popular ways to illuminate landscaping. See an example of that here. But there are many innovative ways to give your front yard a cozy look, including traditional stake lights and funky, glowing plant pots.

Using a string of outdoor lights — no, not the little Christmas lights college students use — is a low-cost ambient lighting trick for patios and other gathering areas that is popular in Austin. The key is choosing the right style of lights and hiding the cords when you affix them to the house. Here’s an attractive example.

Strings of light can also be used to illuminate little gathering places that are too far from the home for traditional light fixtures. That may be a little reflecting area in a garden, a campfire pit or a treehouse. Here’s an example of how low-cost lighting can create ambiance even in simple settings.

Consider tucked away light cables and even some interior-style fixtures to add a cozy glow to a well protected pergola or gazebo. And, as is true inside, remember to have layers of light, including some that provide direct light to cooking or work areas and other layers for gentle light that creates a relaxing mood, such as this one.

One popular way to provide ambient lighting is to light up trees and gardens. Sturdy plants, such as trees, bushes and some cacti make great places to wrap stringed lights. Trees, for example, are nature’s original light stands. Or you could carefully illuminate a desert plant, like this. Or this.

Creating Safety and Security Through Lighting

Now that we’ve had some fun, let’s think about function. How well can you see the walkways around your home? Is there enough light in the driveway where guests may be getting in and out?

Consider lighting walkways to ensure evening guests can watch their step as they head to their vehicles. That can be done with relatively inexpensive stake lights, such as these. But, beware, many stake lights run off of solar powered batteries that have limited lifespans, and many of the cheapest models are made from plastic that may be difficult to push into hard, rocky ground.

Homeowners seeking a more luxurious look may go further and have more substantial fixtures wired in. One of the most popular and practical projects is lighting along a path, to clearly light up a walkway and also provide beautifying ambient light. Here’s an example of that.

Now let’s look at how your home’s lighting when you’re not there or everyone has gone to bed for the evening.

After you turn off the ambient lighting, what’s left? Is there a utility light illuminating the street or backyard? Do you have some exterior fixtures that you always leave on? Are there motion-sensing lights that will illuminate if someone approaches?

These are some of the same questions a burglar or vandal may have.

A big part of deterring burglars is making them uncomfortable with lighting that keeps all doors and windows in plain sight, even at night. That means installing lights near entry points. Motion sensor lights can help cut energy costs by only coming on when there’s movement in the area. Into addition to your home, any storage buildings or a detached garage should also be well lit.

Place light fixtures out of reach so that would-be burglars can’t easily unscrew the light bulbs — or consider tamper-resistant light covers. And reduce shadowing as much as possible so that it’s difficult to stand just outside the light.

For example, these homeowners opted to direct ground lights upward around their home. It’s the type of exposing lighting that would likely deter most criminals from getting too close for fear of being spotted from the street.