The Ultimate Guide To Outdoor Lighting

The Ultimate Guide To Outdoor Lighting

Post Lights

post light in front of house
Post lights provide a great focal point.

Post lights are an outdoor-rated light mounted to a pole that is usually installed in the ground in a base of concrete. The popularity of the street light in the early 20th century brought this style of light into home yards. Post lights can be very basic with a single globe and bulb on a pole, up to a very elegant tree of multi-globes on a large pole. Pole lights do offer a very attractive accent to the side of the driveway and can illuminate a large portion of the driveway depending on the post light configuration.

Manual vs Dusk to Dawn Post Lights

If you read the previous section on wall lights, then you are familiar with the difference between manual (switch operated) light fixtures and dusk to dawn photoelectric sensor light fixtures. Post lights come with the same manual or photoelectric sensor options. Dusk to dawn post lights are the most popular option and is what is most common at home improvement stores.

Post lights are generally one of the more expensive options of lighting, considering that a new installation will require adding an electrical circuit (or adding to an existing one), trenching an underground-rated electrical wire to the location where the light will be, and pouring a concrete base for the light. The payoff for this effort is high, as the new post light will provide a great looking addition to the driveway and add some illumination to otherwise dark areas.

Driveway Lights

driveway lighting

Driveway lights are lights that are placed on each side of the driveway and provide a low level of illumination, mainly to see the edges of the driveway. The rule of thumb for the spacing of these lights is 6-8 feet apart. There is no rule for whether the lights should be staggered or not, but placing them side-by-side on the driveway every 6-8 feet will provide more illumination than staggering.

Driveway lights are the most expensive option of lighting because of the associated labor involved in adding an electrical circuit, trenching along both sides of the driveway, laying underground-rated wiring, placing and wiring in lights, and setting up associated lighting controls. Due to variations in living areas, the length of the driveway, difficulty of trenching along the driveway, etc., giving an estimate of cost is very difficult. It is best to request quotes directly from companies who install driveway lighting.

In relation to security, driveway lights offer the lowest level of protection of any of the lights mentioned in this guide. This is due to the lights being so low to the ground. When lights are mounted high (think huge streetlight), light spreads very efficiently over a wide area. When a light fixture is very low to the ground, that illumination spread is very narrow. You can test this at home with a lamp. Put a lamp high up, turn it on, and see how far the light spreads. Then place it on the floor, do the same thing, and notice how much narrower the illumination spreads on the floor. For this reason, security shouldn’t be the first thought when considering driveway lights.


floodlight with camera

Floodlights are a staple of homes and businesses alike. They meet the definition of a wall light fixture, meaning their support and mounting is provided solely by the mounting base and is mounted to a vertical wall. It is most common to find outdoor, wet-rated floodlights home improvement stores and electrical supply stores, but indoor-only floodlights do exist (so make sure you double-check the outdoor rating).

The recommended type of bulb for a floodlight is an outdoor, wet-rated bulb that provides a beam angle of light from 25-120 degrees. Beam angle (also known as beam spread) is defined as the exact angle in degrees to each side from the center of the bulb that the light intensity drops to 50 percent. The directed beam better projects light at a greater intensity to the desired area than a non-flood bulb. This is the main reason that floodlights are recommended over regular omnidirectional bulbs.

Pro Tip

The rule of thumb for beam spread calculation is to multiply the angle of the beam by the distance. For example, if you have the most common 40-degree beam spread angle and want to illuminate an area 20 feet away from the light bulb, the resulting highest intensity point of the light is 14.4 feet. This calculation can be used for any beam spread at any distance.

The most common type of floodlight found is the parabolic anodized reflector (PAR) bulb. PAR simplified means the bulb has a built-in reflector that focuses the light in a specific direction out of the bulb.

The other type of flood bulb is a multifaceted reflector (MR) bulb and is not used for outdoor applications. This type of bulb is common in track and recessed lighting and is usually low voltage (12-24v) with transformers in the fixtures.

When choosing which type of bulb you want: daylight, bright white, soft white, etc., consider what you intend to accomplish with the floodlight. Do you want to accent landscaping? Then soft white will bring a pleasant glow to plant life. Do you want maximum security? Then a brighter, harsher white will simulate daytime conditions by casting large shadows on people walking near the house.

Smart Flood Bulbs

These get an honorable mention because they’re very cool. Smart flood light bulbs like Phillips Hue or Sylvania Osram bulbs allow you to change the color output of the bulb with a phone app. There are 16 million color combinations, so color can be adjusted to exactly what you want. Additionally, they can be linked to a compatible smart home hub. I no longer recommend any other brands of smart bulb due to issues with reliability and bulb longevity and am sticking with these brands in the future.

Smart Floodlight Fixtures

This is another pretty cool innovation that I am excited to implement. Smart flood light fixtures have the ability to sync with smart home devices and hubs such as Alexa, Google Home,  and Ring. Managed services such as Ring have seamless integration with their app, so video cameras, front doorbell, and floodlights can all be controlled from the same place. There are several companies that have floodlights paired with a camera. At the time of writing, Ring is the only service to provide a reliable and seamless floodlight camera.

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