An outdoor kitchen adds to your home’s usable space, increases its bottom line value, creates a vibrant social center for your life and makes friends and neighbors green with envy. Really making an outdoor kitchen pop takes more than just a grille, some counter space, a fridge and some furniture, however, it takes lighting.
Since most of the entertaining, you’ll do in your new outdoor kitchen will revolve around dinner and the hours beyond the lighting scheme will make or break your outdoor kitchen experience. Below we’re going to look at how to combine standard 120 volt lighting with low voltage lighting to really bring your outdoor kitchen to life.
Table of Contents
Advantages of Low Voltage Lighting
With so many low voltage outdoor lighting options today it just doesn’t make sense to use standard 120 volt lighting – known as “line” lighting – to handle the whole job of lighting your yard. Here are some advantages of low voltage lights:
- They don’t present an electrocution risk.
- They can therefore be installed by anyone*.
- They make excellent fill lights and generate mood.
- All that’s needed is a transformer to convert the voltage coming from the house (1).
- In some cases, they provide energy savings when compared to 120 volt lights.
*120 volt line lighting needs to be installed according to very strict building codes by a licensed professional.
Advantages of 120 Volt Lighting
While there are some definite advantages to low voltage outdoor lighting there are still some things that 120 volt does better. Here are a few advantages of using 120 volt lights in your outdoor kitchen.
- Voltage drops (2) are nowhere near as big an issue as in 12 volt systems.
- There are many more different types of light bulbs available at 120 volts.
- No transformer is necessary. They can be hardwired directly into your existing system.
- Dimmers work much more effectively with 120 volt lights.
- Many 120 volt lights make excellent task and accent lights.
Proponents of low voltage lighting use to crow about how 120 volt lights were smaller and more energy efficient than standard lights. However, the advent of LED lighting has nullified that argument.
Mix the Two to Dazzling Effect
Now that we’re familiar with the benefits of each type of lighting we’ll devise a comprehensive mixed voltage lighting system for the outdoor kitchen. Beginning with the low voltage lights.
The Three Types of Low Voltage Fixtures
There are three basic types of low voltage fixtures used for landscape lighting. They are:
- Well lights – Well lights are typically used to up-light buildings, large plants and trees. They are mounted in the ground at the base of these things and pointed almost directly upwards.
- Area or path lights – Area lights and path lights are employed to illuminate paths, walkways and landscape beds. This type of fixture is usually mounted on a short post and a number of these fixtures are used to illuminate the border of the walkway, driveway or garden.
- Directional lights – Also known as ‘bullet lights’ directional lights produce a more concentrated beam than well lights. They are used for either up or down lighting and sometimes employed to create a distant focal point in the landscape.
Using Low Voltage Lighting for the Broad Strokes
Just as an artist creates a painting by using broad strokes in the background and then smaller strokes and brighter paint to fill in the details so too a lighting scheme for your outdoor kitchen should go from broad background strokes using low voltage lighting to more specific task and accent lights using 120 volt lights.
So, using this as our guiding principle we would deploy low voltage lights around the outdoor kitchen thus:
- On trees – Any trees in the vicinity will get the up-light treatment using well lights. This will add visual interest and break up the horizontality of the kitchen area.
- On masonry walls – Any masonry walls in the area will also get the well light treatment. This will help establish physical boundaries and context.
- On the walls of the house – The same idea applies here. The walls of the home that border the outdoor kitchen will also get the well light treatment to help establish a background and create context.
- On walkways – Any walkways leading into or out of the outdoor kitchen will receive path lights. If there is an inground pool the path lights will continue over to it and then around the deck area. If the outdoor kitchen is divided into more than one area path lights will be used to visually connect the spaces.
- On the pergola – Certainly not everyone has a pergola in their yard but if there is one on our hypothetical property we’re going to use directional lights to up-light it.
Now that we have established the background of the lighting scheme we’re going to use standard 120 volt lights to fill in the details.
Types of Outdoor Kitchen Lighting
Now that we have a nice low voltage background established it’s time to employ our 120 volt lights to complete the picture. Here’s how we do that.
- Install LED strips – The underside of countertops, bars and islands where they overhang is a great place to install LED strip lights (3). These add visual interest and reinforce the structural lines of the kitchen design. Strip lights can also be used on stairs and under the overhanging portion at the top of masonry walls. 12″Enviro ultra slim LED strip – 10 Wattage (Low voltage)
- Install ceiling fans – If you have any type of roof over the outdoor kitchen install ceiling fans with lights there. The ceiling fans are a great way to help keep guests cool on hot summer evenings and the ceiling fan lights can brighten up the area around that table so that people can see what they’re eating. Outdoor Ceiling Fan with a Clear Glass LED Light Kit and Remote Control – 5W
- Install a bright task light above the grille – It’s important for the grille to be well-lit simply because the chef needs to see what they are doing. The light above the grille and along any adjoining counter will sometimes be brighter than the surrounding lights in order to stand out from the background. Track lights are a good idea here. Though make sure you get fixtures rated for outdoors. Adjustable Track Lighting (Low voltage)
- Install pendants over the island or bar – A lot of outdoor kitchens have a bar or island counter where folks can sit as a central feature. By hanging pendant lights over the bar or counter you really establish this as an important gathering space, particularly for the time before dinner is served. Willowbrite Globe Branch Pendant Lamp – 12″ globe filled with 100 Warm White LEDs (Low voltage)
- Place lamps amongst the non-dining table furniture – In our hypothetical kitchen we have three main seating areas: a bar or island counter, a dining table and an area with more plush, relaxed furniture where folks can settle in after dinner. Intersperse table lamps among these plush chairs to provide the space a homey, relaxed atmosphere. Tiffany lamps or Turkish mosaic lamps are a great way to introduce a little color. Castillo Outdoor Table Lamp, Bronze Finish
A Few Reminders
- Don’t forget the dimmers – Dimmers allow you to shift emphasis from one area to another as the night progresses and to alter the mood as well. Don’t forget this essential tool for creating an effective lighting scheme.
- Always seek balance – No one area should overwhelm another area. The light fixtures should complement one another. Proper lighting is a conversation between the lights and the landscape, not a lecture or an argument between different lights.
- Use the right lights – Your electrician will know this but it’s important for you to also keep in mind that all fixtures used in the outdoor kitchen will need to be rated for outdoor use in damp or wet conditions.
Your outdoor kitchen is going to transform your home and your life in some very fundamental ways. Make sure you make the most of it by painting the picture you want people to see with a combination of low and high voltage fixtures.
Types Outdoor Kitchen Lighting (Ideas)
Rustic Iron Finish Pendant Prestigious (12 Lights Rod) – 120V Lighting
Willowbrite Globe Branch Pendant Lamp – 12″ globe filled with 100 Warm White LEDs) – 9.6 volts (Low voltage)
Wrought Iron American Retro Candle Chandelier – 110 volts
12″ Enviro ultra slim LED strip – 12V (Low voltage)
Industrial Woody Wrought Iron 3 Lights Pendant Light Chandelier – 110 volts
ELK Lighting 45089/3 3 Light Black Post Lights – 100 wattage
Source: Lights Canada
24 Light Black Chandeliers – 40 Bulb Wattage
Source: Lights Canada
Rope Pendant Light Ceiling Lamp – 90V (Low voltage)
Outdoor Commercial String Lights – 120 Volts
Low Voltage LED Deck Lighting – 12 volts (Low voltage)
Modern Outdoor Wall Lighting – 11- volts (Low voltage)
Outdoor Solar Spotlights Landscape Decoration Lighting Dusk to Dawn – 3.7 volts (Low voltage)
Outdoor Ceiling Fan with a Clear Glass LED Light Kit and Remote Control – 5W
Adjustable Track Lighting-120V
Castillo Outdoor Table Lamp
LED Semi Flush Ceiling Light (Low Voltage)
Flush mount ceiling lights (Low Voltage)
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