Landscape Lighting Buying Guide
The right lighting can make or break the look and design of the outside of your home.
Though choosing lighting types and creating a plan are intimidating, doing so is far less stressful when each particular factor and option are neatly broken down.
Below we break down all your outdoor landscape lighting options to make the process of improving the looks of your yard and adding resell value to your home, all the easier.
A. Type of Lighting
The type of lighting you choose dictates the rest of your outdoor landscaping project.
It helps narrow down options for lighting method, style, layout, and controls. It even dictates the best installation method and power source.
Here are the ten main types to choose from:
1. Path Lights
According to This Old House, path lighting creates a more welcoming home atmosphere by creating a lighted path to guide guests to your door.
By far the most common type of landscape lighting, path lights do exactly as their name implies: they illuminate the paths, walkways, and driveways that make up your home landscaping.
Additional uses include emphasizing a particular feature, highlighting a pond or foundation, or framing a specific area of your yard.
2. Postmount Lights
Postmount lights are made from outdoor lanterns mounted on top of tall posts.
Sometimes called piermount lights, they’re ideal for entryways, gates, and fences. Install them in areas where guests congregate, such as a deck or patio, to ensure adequate light for everyone.
A similar option is columnmount lights. Though they serve the same basic purpose, they’re mounted on top of stone, concrete, or brick columns instead of posts.
3. Deck Lights
Deck lights are a must on any outdoor deck or patio, especially those in an otherwise dark area.
Their purpose is to ensure the visibility of the entire deck surface at night. They usually line the outside of the deck area and are often even installed flush with the decking material.
Though their primary purpose is to improve safety by creating a visible boundary, they can also serve as primary lighting for entertaining.
4. Step Lights
It’s all too easy to trip and stumble on dark outdoor stairs and steps at night.
Step lights offer a nifty solution to this problem. This type of lighting is installed directly into the steps or immediately nearby to provide safe passage at night.
In addition to improving safety, these lights also improve the overall look and visual appeal of steps and stairs.
5. Bollard Lights
Source: Solar Illuminations
The heavy-duty cousin of path lights, bollard lighting accomplishes many of the same tasks, including illuminating pathways, walkways, and driveways.
According to Reliance Foundry, they’re also popular for their decorative elements. Because they’re larger than path lights, they tend to incorporate more complex designs and ornamentation.
Small bollards are ideal for illuminating paths while larger bollards are perfect for framing entrances and gateways.
The spotlight is arguably the most versatile type of outdoor landscape lighting.
Use them to highlight natural features such as trees, flowers, shrubbery, or other plants. Or to emphasize man-made features such as sculptures, buildings, or other architectural elements.
Because of the powerful illumination they provide, spotlights are also a good option for security lighting.
7. Flood Lights
Pegasus Lighting refers to flood lights as the heavy-duty cousin of spotlights.
While spotlights feature a narrow beam of light, floodlights feature a wider one that covers a more expansive area with the same wattage.
They’re an excellent choice for highlighting specific landscaping features or for providing illumination over a large area such as an entire yard or driveway.
8. Well Lights
One of the best fixtures for outdoor landscaping is undoubtedly well lights.
Partially buried into the ground, these recessed fixtures provide ample illumination without an otherwise noticeable visual impact. Their minimal profile makes them the perfect choice in situations where you want the fixture itself to remain hidden.
The purpose of these is similar to that of a spotlight. Direct them at a specific feature to highlight it more prominently.
9. Pond Lights
According to HGTV, water features for landscaping are quickly becoming one of the most sought after backyard components.
A pond, fountain, or waterfall adds a unique look to your yard while increasing your homes resell value. Those with moving water also bring the relaxing sound of nature to your home.
Use special underwater pond lights to better illuminate these water features during the day and night. Designed to remain submerged underwater, these fixtures are similar to waterproof spotlights in that their purpose is to highlight certain design features.
10. Hardscape Lights
Few types of outdoor lighting have caught on as much in recent years as hardscape lights.
Thanks to the impressive benefits of LED lighting, these fixtures use very small light bulbs to produce a lot of illumination. The small light bulbs also allow the fixtures to be tucked away in places where they otherwise wouldn’t be compatible.
Hardscape lights install directly onto or into your landscape elements to provide ample illumination for handrails, decks, and patios.
B. Method of Lighting
Just as important as the type of light fixture used for outdoor landscaping is the method of lighting.
Most fixtures are compatible with several lighting configurations. Each configuration is created with a specific goal in mind.
Though most of these goals are aesthetic, some are also functional.
Accent landscaping features with properly positioned uplighting.
As the name implies, this effect is created by placing the fixtures on the ground and pointing them upwards or towards an object.
Large tree trunks are a popular object to emphasize with uplighting.
Source: Gambino Landscape Lighting
To create a look like no other, consider silhouetting as a unique landscaping option.
Like uplighting, the effect serves to highlight specific yard features. The difference is that silhouetting features a light placed behind the object rather than in front of it.
The placement of the fixture behind the object creates a dramatic silhouette. Use multiple fixtures to create an even more unique blend of shadow and light.
Source: CAST Lighting
Shadowing is the polar opposite of silhouetting.
This technique utilizes a fixture between the viewer and the landscape feature. The light is aimed at the time (much like uplighting). The big difference between shadowing and uplighting is that the light is placed much farther away.
Shadowing works best when the feature is immediately in front of a flat, plain wall. The lighting hits the feature, creating an interesting, eye-catching shadow on the wall.
4. Moon Lighting
For an elegant, artistic outdoor landscaping setup, few illumination options are better than moon lighting.
The key to this technique is to utilize tall trees in your yard. Place the fixtures high at the top of the tree. Make sure they’re facing downwards.
The light then filters through the tree branches, bathing the ground below. When paired with trees with open branches, the effect is similar to night with a bright moon.
Source: Pegasus Lighting
Grazing is another popular technique that creates an eye-catching display by utilizing both light and shadow.
Homes with a lot of hardscapes are best for grazing. The fixture should be placed very close to a flat surface (usually the edge of your home). Aim the light up or down so that beautiful shadows dance across the wall.
Grazing looks best on textured home walls.
Create a beautiful nighttime landscaping experience by utilizing the washing technique.
This method creates more ambient lighting than any other. It works by flooding a wall, hedge, or similarly flat feature with bright light.
The bright illumination serves to “wash” the entire area, making it bright and easy to see.
7. Path Lighting
According to the Landscaping Network, path lighting is one of the best ways to spice up your outdoor landscaping at night.
However, it’s not as simple as it seems. Though anyone can throw a few path lights along a pathway or walkway, it takes a keen eye to do things right.
You must make sure you don’t use more fixtures than you need. They must also be spaced the correct distance apart. Too many fixtures, or fixtures that are too close together, creates a claustrophobic, cramped atmosphere.
C. Landscape Lighting Design Options
Just because you’ve decided on your lighting type and method, doesn’t mean the job or the decision-making process is done quite yet.
You must also consider the style of the fixtures (including color, finish, shape, and size) as well as your overall landscaping layout and plan. Finally, you must decide on the best controls for visual appeal and functionality.
All of these elements combine to give you your overall outdoor landscape lighting design.
1. Lighting Fixture Style
The style of your fixtures greatly influences the look of your landscaping as a whole.
Materials, color, and shape are the main factors that influence style. It’s these design elements that make your fixtures modern, rustic, or somewhere in between.
Select a style that works well with your overall landscape design and home exterior, especially for highly visible fixtures (such as post mount lights).
a. Modern Fixtures
Modern fixtures are notable for their clean lines.
Think of something you’d find in a high-end, luxury home – that’s likely the same modern style these fixtures incorporate.
Add these to your landscaping for a classy, sophisticated atmosphere.
b. Contemporary Fixtures
Contemporary fixtures take many of the elements of modern fixtures but tone them down slightly.
Clean lines and a minimalist design are still critical, but the contemporary style uses more traditional materials and finishes. Think antique copper and polished copper in favor of sterile white or gray.
Use these as part of your landscaping for a chic, showy look.
c. Traditional Fixtures
Keep your home atmosphere more laidback with traditional fixtures.
These fixtures are usually much more classic and traditional in style. Though not quite rustic, they look right at place outdoors in nature.
Utilize these for unassuming and inviting landscaping.
d. Rustic Fixtures
Think of the type of fixtures you’d expect in a log cabin: that’s what you can expect from these.
Rustic fixtures are working class in design. Though beautiful in their way, their overall style seemingly puts functionality first.
Add these to your landscaping for an eclectic, handcrafted look.
e. Victorian Fixtures
Victorian fixtures are a hallmark of Victorian architecture.
Homes built in the Victorian style, especially those with similarly designed gardens and grounds, must utilize Victorian fixtures.
Use these as part of your landscaping for an opulent, elegant atmosphere.
2. Color and Finish
The type and style of fixtures you choose largely dictates their color and finish.
It’s still possible to tailor the color and finish to your personal preferences. The most common options include antique copper, polished copper, black, verdigris, pewter, antique brown, and brass.
Ensure the color and finish you choose complements the rest of your landscaping project.
3. Shape and Size
The shape of your fixtures is mostly based on the style you choose. There’s not much wiggle room here. Most fixtures are either round or square in shape.
You have more flexibility with size. There’s an endless variety of fixture sizes as well as mount sizes.
With postmount lighting, for instance, you can select from numerous post or column styles to give your fixture the exact look you desire.
4. Lighting Layout
The layout you choose for your landscape lighting is one of the most important design elements, for both function and style.
The best layout for you depends on your needs and preferences. Answer these three questions to help find the best layout:
- Which yard features do you want to highlight?
- Which areas will look the best with a mix of light and shadow?
- Do you have a path, set of stairs, or deck that needs to be outlined?
Another factor to consider is the power source you’re using. Battery and solar powered fixtures give you much more flexibility than that which needs to be connected to the electrical grid.
Finally, it’s essential to be considerate of your neighbors when creating a layout plan. You don’t want the extremely bright lighting to bug your next-door neighbors.
Special fixtures and bulbs are available that minimize glare and keep the illumination produced contaminated to your yard as much as possible.
Look for products certified by the International Dark Sky Association if preventing light pollution is important to you – or if your neighborhood has an ordinance on it.
(Downlighting is another effective way to prevent light pollution)
5. Lighting Controls
Source: Touch Stone Lighting
The most basic control for outdoor fixtures is a simple switch.
Use it like you would for indoor fixtures. Flip the switch to turn the lights on or off.
Other options include motion sensors and timers. Motion sensors are great for pathways and entryways. Timers are a good option for everywhere else.
Special timers contain photo cells. These serve to turn the fixture on when they notice sunlight diminishing. When the sun comes up in the morning, they automatically turn off.
Here are some other important factors to consider when buying outdoor landscape lighting.
A. Power Source
The power source you use for your outdoor lighting influences your entire landscaping project.
The most traditional power source is a regular GCFI outlet. Ensure the products you choose for your project are compatible with this type of outlet.
Despite the popularity of GCFI outlets, solar lighting has caught on quickly as of late. It’s now one of the most popular options for landscaping.
No wiring or electricity is required for solar lighting. Each fixture comes with a small solar panel that collects energy during the day to power it during the night.
As mentioned above, most of these fixtures turn on automatically once the sun sets. In the morning, as the sun rises, they turn off again.
Another power source that’s quickly becoming more popular is low voltage lighting. Though installation isn’t quick as easy as solar, it still doesn’t take much effort.
Low-voltage power is safe and every energy efficient. Select low-voltage LED fixtures, and you’ll never have to replace your bulbs.
Many people also like the look of low-voltage power better than solar. It does away with the solar panels – a component some people consider an eyesore.
Most low-voltage systems utilize a GFCI outlet and a low-voltage power pack. Instead of utilizing the standard household current (120 volts), it converts the current to a much safer 12 volts.
12 volts is more than enough for outdoor landscaping use. In addition to saving electricity (and thus money), the lower current is also far safer for children and pets.
Most low-voltage systems come with a low-voltage lamp, power pack, and cable, so you have everything you need to get your new system up and running.
B. Planning and Installation
The scope of the planning and installation stage of your project depends on a lot of factors.
Chief among these is the style and amount of lighting you plan to use. The layout and power source are additional key considerations.
Basic projects won’t require professional planning or installation. If you simply want a few features to light a pathway or highlight a deck, you can usually install them on your own.
The same goes for simple uplighting and highlighting projects. Today’s fixtures, especially the solar power variety, are incredibly easy to install.
Large projects, on the other hand, often require a professional touch. Installing dozens of fixtures isn’t exactly hard – but it’s essential to install them in the right positions.
Improperly installed fixtures can all too easily create haphazard lighting. Once they turn on, the array of shadows can be too much for the eyes.
Certain types of fixtures also require professional installation. These include many postmount and columnmount fixtures.
Fixtures that are built into objects, such as step lights, also often require installation by a trained professional.
Angie’s List has a great resource to help you figure out whether or not you need to hire a professional for your next landscaping project.
Of course, many homeowners install their outdoor lighting at the same time as they get a landscape makeover.
If you’re hiring a professional landscaper already, why not have them install your landscape fixtures in the process. It ensures the job will get done to the highest professional standard.
Lowes has an excellent resource on how to install landscape lighting.
C. Cost and Budget
The cost of installing outdoor landscape lighting varies greatly.
The first factor that influences overall price is your location. While fixture prices remain largely the same across the board, installation costs can vary greatly.
That brings us to installation. DIY installation is naturally far less expensive than hiring a professional.
Hiring a professional has numerous benefits. In addition to limiting the work you do yourself, professional installation often results in longer lasting, easier-to-maintain landscaping. This in itself can save you more money in the long run.
The next factor that influences cost is the size and complexity of your project. More fixtures equal more money spent. The same goes for complex lighting plans.
Finally, you must take the type of fixtures used into consideration. LED fixtures often cost more, although they last much longer.
LED fixtures, and other low-voltage fixtures, require special systems for use. These power packs add additional money onto the overall price of your project.
Elaborate fixtures that are built into objects also add big money. Step lights and postmount lights are two examples.
Unlike other fixtures that are simply placed into the ground, these fixtures must be built into either steps or posts.
With all that information taken into account, HouseLogic.com estimates the average cost for outdoor landscape lighting at around $4,925.
This figure is based on the professional installation of multiple fixtures along paths and to dramatize certain features plus a low-voltage power pack. All fixtures used in the estimate are LEDs.
Homewyse gives a much lower estimate, although their estimate is based on DIY installation rather than professional installation. Their average figure is $509.86.
As you now see, the cost range for this type of project is vast. You can spend as little as a few hundred dollars all the way up to $5,000 and more.
An additional way to save money, and stay within your budget, is to use energy efficient fixtures.
Opt for LED bulbs or outdoor bulbs that are Energy Star rated. These all use far less energy than traditional bulbs, resulting in increased energy savings on each monthly utility bill.
High-efficiency bulbs also last far longer, minimizing the frequency of replacement. It might seem inconsequential, but these small savings add up big time over the long run.
Also of note is that many professional landscaper offer discounts on installing lighting if it’s part of a larger, more intensive landscaping project.
Where to Buy Landscape Lighting Online
Here’s our selection of the best online merchants to buy outdoor landscape lighting from:
Backyard and Landscaping Lighting Ideas (Photos)
Above is an example of some wild pool lighting. Check out our incredible pool lighting ideas photo gallery here.
A string of bulbs is a way to make your backyard space feel more lively and like an active party spot. This option does not require in depth installation and can be easily removed or replaced. See our outdoor hanging lights guide here.
In this yard there is a half wall dividing the patio from the rest of the yard. In the half wall there is installed step and path lighting. This not only illuminates the patio with ambient light but highlights potential trip hazards that would otherwise be hard to see at night.
Sconce lighting is a great addition to structures like archways. The sconce lighting casts light upward at the structure and down at footpaths. In this picture there are also light fixtures in the fountain which highlight this stunning feature. Source: Zillow Digs™
Here we see step lighting highlighting stone stairs. Without these step lights, it may be difficult to see the steps late at night. Tripping down these stairs could potentially be dangerous. For safety alone these lights are worth their weight. It is a bonus that they look great too.
Lanterns make for a wonderful lighting feature as they cast a great deal of light over a large area. Also, lanterns can be quite stylish. There are plenty of styles that can fit any decorating elements you have. Source: Zillow Digs™
This cute outdoor lamp has a unique visual appeal. The light cube casts light in every direction. It also gives your backyard area a special draw.
A simple and effective outdoor lighting option is a single bright lantern placed up high. This drenches the area in light, making everything around illuminated and bright.
With an abundance of step and path lighting you can create a glow in your area. The light reflects off of the ground, creating an ambient light effect that is soft and bright. Source: Zillow Digs™
If you have a pavilion or overhang, you can bring typically indoor lighting to the outdoors. Here we see a chandelier hanging from an overhang on a lovely patio.
Placing lanterns along a structure is a good way to highlight the edge. These lanterns are around the perimeter of a deck.
Many homes decorate trees with strings of lights around the holidays, but these kinds of lights can be used to great effect all year round. This tree is well lit by yellow string lights, creating a romantic glow. Source: Zillow Digs™
Underwater lighting is an amazing way to highlight your pool. The light reflects on the lining of the pool and is deflected by the pool’s water, making the pool appear to glow. This can make the pool a big draw at night.
Here we see some interesting outdoor lanterns. These stylish lanterns work in almost any space and can build an interesting and alluring atmosphere.
Here is a unique and attractive backyard. There are a few different interesting lighting elements here that are very appealing. There is an outdoor bar that is completely illuminated from the inside, as well as a very large lantern shaped like an over-sized desk lamp. These creative lighting elements make this yard intriguing. Source: Zillow Digs™
Here is an overhang with a string of bulbs hanging down over a table and chairs. These bulbs create a close and intimate atmosphere for a nice dinner outside. See more of this home here. Designed by Baran Studio
One of the most classic sources of lighting aside from the sun is fire. Using fire is always an option for lighting up your space, as long as you are careful with it. You can do this through use of fire pits, torches, or lanterns. Fire gives an unmistakable and unique appeal to a space. Learn more here.
Hanging bulbs can be used in many ways. Stringing bulbs from trees is a great way to use nature to your advantage in your backyard. You can leave the bulbs bare to cast as much light in the area as possible or use a shade to direct and soften the light. Source: Zillow Digs™
If you don’t want the bulbs hanging down in drooping strings you can wrap them tightly around structures. This gives these structures a bit of a glow.
Sconce lighting on pillars and poles can highlight your fence area. If you have plants around your fences and you don’t others to tread on them, these lights can also make sure people will be able to see to avoid them.
You can mix several kinds of lighting together to create a unique atmosphere. In this picture we see a number of different lighting elements working together to build a stunning light profile. Source: Zillow Digs™
One creative idea is to hang various contrasting lanterns from trees. In this picture, various lanterns hang around the space to create a floating-light effect. This can be a magical aesthetic.
The nice thing about a string of bulbs is that they can be strung between distant places, creating overhead light across that entire space.
A combination of well lights and underwater lights can give a backyard a glowing effect. This warm and welcoming ambiance makes it feel as though light is erupting from the ground. Source: Zillow Digs™
With multiple strings of bulbs you can cover an entire area with light. If you have enough, you can even make a ceiling of light. See more of this home here. Designed by Stocker Hoesterey Montenegro Architects.
If you have a small outdoor space to light up, a single hanging light can do the trick. There are so many styles of lights that you are sure to find a stylish and functional light to fit your space. Shop The Look
Tall lanterns are ideal for lining a path or driveway and guide people through the space. They are perfect for bridging the gap of light from one well-lit space to another. They can cast enough light to make things visible and don’t need to be too close together to be effective.
This chandelier provides a nice warm light to this backyard area. This is the type of lighting that is perfect for a romantic and intimate evening out in the yard. Source: Zillow Digs™
A string of LED lights is an amazing option for lining features of your backyard. This deck has a string of LEDs around the railing which perfectly outlines the space.
Here is a great example of path lighting that leads from one area to another. There is also accent lighting highlighting a feature on the wall. This draws the eye to the space and increases the visual appeal.
The proper well lights can fit in with all kinds of landscaping. Here we see square well lights fitting in with the masonry of the walkway. These integrate perfectly with the design, and are sleek and appealing. Source: Zillow Digs™
A string of bulbs looks great draped against a wall. The wall can be used as a backdrop to reflect the light back out into the area.
Garden Lighting Ideas
There are many lighting features you can get for your garden. These features are interesting lighting aspects. They provide light from all direction as well as add a fun design aspect.
Well lights work great in a garden. When plants grow around the well lights the light shining upward gives your plants a warm glow.
Lanterns are a great way to provide light to a garden. This lantern has a nice iron look that brings an old English charm to your garden.
Here is an interesting idea where fixtures are placed on the ground but left as standard light bulbs without shades or adornments. There are also rust colored lanterns hanging around the garden. This look has an industrial appeal, hearkening back to the era of steam.
Pairing your garden lights with other lighting features can tie together your garden theme. Here we see the well lights in the garden matching both the underwater lighting fixtures and the path lighting. Source: Zillow Digs™
Lining a walkway with glow in the dark bricks is a brilliant idea. If you want your garden to have a natural moonlit feel at night, but still want people to watch where they are walking, glow in the dark bricks highlight the path without adding much light pollution to your space.
If you have a tree or two in your garden, you can hang strings of lights from the trees to create a magical firefly-like glow. Brighter bulbs can illuminate your flowers even more.
Here is another lantern that fits well in almost any garden. The lines on this lantern are all very natural and rounded, allowing it to fit in with the organic shapes of your plants.
There are many different kinds of lanterns that can be used in your yard. Some are very minimal and provide light without making much impact on your design. Others have a very strong design presence and can be used to great effect to create a specific ambiance.
Here is a simple lighting element that does not take up much space. This sleek fixture can fit with many different kinds of landscaping designs.
Hanging lights can feel almost magical, like stardust or fireflies are dangling over your garden. It can transform your space from garden to fairytale with the flick of a switch. This would be an amazing place to escape to after the sun sets.
Here is another lantern with an iron look. This one has a bulb pointing downwards, providing focus and directing light to the plants underneath. No one will miss your spectacular garden with this lantern shining down on your plants.
Here we see a number of well lights casting light upward along the plants in this garden. With this type of lighting your garden and trees appear as beacons in the night.
A simple string of bulbs can be used in many ways. It is likely the simplest and easiest solution to your lighting needs. The things which can be done with a string of bulbs is only limited by your imagination.
Here is an amazing and interesting idea. These planters have built in lights, making the potted plants lamps themselves! This is a beautiful idea that is sure to draw plenty of attention.
These stake lights are great for a garden. During the day they blend into the garden with their color and shapes. At night they provide light while keeping with your garden’s colorful theme.
Combining many different lighting elements can make your garden almost as bright as day during the night. Using a number of different lights allows you to play with their various advantages to create a unique lighting profile. Source: Zillow Digs™
Here is a small and interesting lighting element. This light cube provides an interesting appeal while casting light in many different directions equally. These lighting features can be used solo, but if you have multiple you may choose to line them up or put them in a pattern to create different effects.
Stake lights are great if you want your fixtures kept somewhat discreet. When placed in small shrubs, the shrubs can help conceal the fixtures. At night it may even seem like your little shrubs are glowing.
Stake lights and directed lighting fixtures are perfect for highlighting paths and specific features in your garden. Pointing lights at features such as light colored rocks and walls can reflect the light over the rest of the garden, creating a softer feel. Source: Zillow Digs™
Here are a few lanterns that are very simple. If you want a lighting element that is functional and to the point, these are great options. This simple design is perfect for nearly any style of garden.
Simple stake lights and well lights can work well together to light your garden from multiple different directions, bringing out the depth of your garden.
Here is an amazing piece. During the day, this piece looks like artwork – a colorful element to spice up your garden. But this piece also glows in the dark, working at night to make sure that your garden goes unscathed.
Related: 19 Types of Outdoor Wall Lights