Outdoor lighting ideas

Guest blog post by: Arthur Smith

Outdoor lighting is a wonderful way to beautify your home, beef up the safety and security surrounding it, AND go on enjoying your outdoor living spaces long after the sun goes down. Understanding what lights will work best with your property exterior’s layout, AND with the intended purpose of your outdoor lighting, will go a long way towards helping you select the most appropriate lighting fixtures for your balcony, deck, garden or backyard. And if you live in a place like the east coast of Canada where you have to deal with humidity, salt air AND winter weather, you will want some outdoor lighting that stands up under all climatic conditions. Here we have some great outdoor lighting ideas for those living in this type of climate. Read on below to find out more.

1. What is the purpose for which you are installing outdoor lighting?

Outdoor lighting enables you to enjoy your outdoor living spaces well into the wee hours. Whether it’s night-time cocktail events, pool parties or just relaxing on the balcony with friends, your lighting should be able to handle it all. Maybe you want to be able to show off your home at night, accenting and illuminating your landscaping, flower beds and home decor. Or security might be your number one concern: you want to keep your property well lit in order to ward off intruders. A good motion sensor light, placed on your front porch, may be an option here. Finally, maybe you want to increase the visibility of your pathways and front steps, so you don’t have to risk breaking your neck when you come home late at night. Before you go out and select your lights, keep in mind what your overall objective is on lighting up your home’s exterior.

2. Choose the right type of lights for your intended purpose and location

Outdoor lighting is available in a huge variety of forms depending on its intended purpose and location. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Overhead (ceiling, pendant or chandelier) lights by your entryway.
  • Flood lights: install these in your garage, driveway and carport. They are best suited for improving security around your property.
  • Wall sconces: these are a good decorative lighting option; suitable for enhancing your home’s decor, install them along your exterior walls, stairways, and on the front porch.
  • Recessed lights: hang these up by your deck, stairways, pathways – they will improve safety and visibility in these areas.
  • String lighting: another good decorative lighting option, line your garden paths or gazebo with them and use them to highlight your home’s landscaping and décor.
  • Landscape lighting: again, accentuate your beautiful landscaping by installing these lights along your walkways, garden paths, flowerbeds, etc. They can be either hung or staked in the ground.

3. There are many styles and aesthetics you can go for in selecting your outdoor lights as well. Here are a few more ideas for you to mull over:

  • Antique: with its classic design, this is ideal for vintage or historical houses.
  • Rustic: suitable for cabin and lodge-style homes, generally made from hand-forged metal.
  • Modern: smooth clean lines; materials include stainless steel, chrome or nickel. Best suited for modern and contemporary homes.
  • Nautical: classical colonial look with iron, black or satin finishes. Ideal for coastal homes and bungalows on the beach. Particularly relevant for those living on the east Canadian coast.

4. Choose the right materials

Having the right design and style is nice, but it doesn’t count for much if you choose the wrong materials – for you then run the hazard of having to replace it all within short order anyway. If you live in a climate like coastal East Canada, you will want some outdoor lights that will withstand weather conditions like high humidity/air moisture levels, and cold, windy winters. In particular, studies have shown a huge difference in the levels of air salt levels in a home mere feet away from the beach, and one much farther away, so you’ll want the materials best suited to dealing with salty air. Here are some ideas of the materials you can use for your outdoor lighting, and what conditions they are best suited for:

  • Aluminum: definitely cheaper than copper and brass, however it corrodes really easily, unless it has a weather resistant coating. However, even special powder-coated aluminum that is supposed to be longer-lasting due to its durable paint coating, still rusts out pretty quickly.
  • Stainless steel: if they have a protective layer of chromium oxide, stainless steel light fixtures are OK to use in coastal areas. You need to clean it regularly though – the shinier is the finish of your stainless steel light, the less debris and dirt will cling to it.
  • Brass: brass – a compound of zinc and metal – is a fine outdoor lighting choice in coastal regions because of its durability and resistance to corrosion. However, it is definitely more expensive than other materials. Also, make sure that your fixture is pure brass and not brass-plated, which consists simply of a brass coating over an underlying metal, that will eventually wear off and expose the metal to corrosion.
  • Copper: with its attractive color, it can add quite a decorative flair to your home’ exterior. It is another good choice for coastal areas, being resistant to corrosion and with long lifespan. It also withstands heat, cold, wind, rain, snow and scorching sun. Copper is a good option for any climate, really. It isn’t quite as tough as brass is however.

Also important is that your light fixture be able to stand up to humidity and moisture. Look for the Underwriter Laboratory (UL) rating of your light fixture to determine it’s suitability for such a climate. ‘UL Damp’ products are suitable for humid locations that are not exposed to rain, snow or any moisture other than air moisture – for example partially covered locations like canopies. A ‘UL Wet’ rating means the fixture can come into direct contact with rain, hail, snow and ocean spray – you can use it anywhere, uncovered locations as well as covered ones.

Remember, whatever material you choose, you need to maintain your light fixtures, especially in a coastal environment. Douse your fixtures with fresh water at least once per month in order to wash off any accumulated dirt. Bird excrement is also damaging to ALL metals, so be sure to wipe it off the moment you spot it. And remember: make sure all the screws and hardware supporting your light – and not just the light body itself – are also made from corrosion resistant materials.

5. Controls

Figure out what controls you require in your lights: some ideas are dimmers, motions sensors, timers that switch the light on at a particular time (for example, you might want lights that are configured to turn on automatically at dusk, turn off at dawn).

6. Other features

Here are a few other things to consider in searching for a lighting fixture:

  • Bulb type: for example, do not choose the light fixture with the maximum wattage as the amount of light emitted may blind your neighbors and passersby! Dark sky light fixtures may be an option here, as they are specially made to minimize glare and light pollution.
  • Energy efficiency: LED lights are generally the most energy efficient, if you combine them with controls (timers, dimmers, motion sensor) you can save a huge amount of money.
  • Lighting source: do you want solar landscape lighting – the advantage here is that it makes you independent of the electricity grid, and of the need to go out and buy replacement batteries. It is also an eco-friendly power source, AND because it is wireless you can place it anywhere. However, solar power is only available when the sun is shining. Though battery options do exist, it might not be a viable options in climates with long winters and high cloud cover. In this case, you might be better off getting battery-powered lights, or a light fixture that is wired up to the grid.

7. Decorative/novelty lighting ideas

Here are a few ideas for creating some beautiful novelty lighting, that will really impress your guests when you invite them around for outdoor events:

  • Outdoor tables: create an enchanting mood for your outdoor parties and events by creating a table filled with kerosene lanterns; you can also hang them up along your garden or terrace.
  • Glowing shells: here’s a good one for those of you living on the coast. Buy some sea shells online (they should be of a decent size), place them in your desired locations, and light up a votive candle in the center of each one. This can really bring a romantic feel to your home and outdoor event!
  • Origami lanterns: lanterns hanging down from bamboo poles, built over the top of what are actually battery powered lights. Bring a touch of the Orient to your home!

There you have it then! Although outdoor lighting in a coastal environment has its own challenges, there are still plenty of options out there for you to choose from, as the ideas presented in this article make clear. Good luck finding the right set of lights for YOUR property.


Arthur Smith is the main editor of LEDwatcher.com , an independent blog about renewable energy with main focus on solar panels and solar lighting. If you want more information on LED lighting, please visit his site to read more!

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