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Outdoor Hanging Lights Buying Guide
You have dozens upon dozens of options to choose from if you’re in the market for a way to illuminate your backyard or patio area.
Though a variety of fixture types and functions are available, hanging lights are among the best for outdoor spaces.
Hanging fixtures provide a welcoming feel to your outdoor space while providing ample illumination for guests and highlighting any prominent landscaping or architectural features. They help illuminate the backyard which makes your backyard a much more usable space.
After settling on the hanging variety, you must choose the particular sub-type of the fixture as well as its aesthetic style.
Next, it’s important to choose a color, material, and finish that both looks great on your fixture and complements the rest of your landscaping and backyard décor.
Finally, you must consider fixture size and placement, overall lighting layout, and what type of power source and controls you’ll use to power and control them.
Here, we thoroughly break down each detail to help you find the right type of hanging lighting for your outdoor space.
Related: Types of Home Lights
A. Types of Outdoor Hanging Lights
The type of fixture you select influences the rest of your outdoor light’s overall design.
You have three main options here: pendants, chandeliers, and lanterns. Track lighting and ceiling fan lights can also be classified as hanging fixtures.
Let’s look closer at what defines each type of fixture and their benefits.
Pendants are the most common type of hanging fixture, for both indoor and outdoor use.
They consist of the fixture itself (often a bowl-shaped shade) suspended from a rod or chain that’s secured to the ceiling.
Because of the broad definition, pendant fixtures come in a nearly endless variety of shapes and sizes. However, there are some that are much more common than others. These include:
- Drum Pendant – Consists of a downward-facing bowl-shaped shade (often made from fabric).
- Bell Pendant – Features a bell-shaped glass shade.
- Mini Pendant – Small drum or bell pendants, often consisting of multiple shades hanging from a single fixture.
Technically, chandeliers, are another type of pendant lighting. Most people (including us) classify them separately though.
In doubt that a fixture is a pendant? If it looks like a pendant suspended on the end of a necklace, it probably is. In fact, that’s what this style of fixture takes its name from.
The benefits of pendant lights are numerous. Chief among them is their versatility. Depending on the specific fixture, they work just as well for general, accent, or task lighting.
In addition to their versatility, pendant fixtures simply look good. They look just as good on an outdoor patio as they door indoors over a dining table.
Pendant fixtures are sometimes even incorporated into outdoor landscaping (although this is rare).
One of the best non-patio outdoor applications for pendant fixtures is in a gazebo or similar structure.
An additional outdoor use of pendant fixtures is as work lighting for greenhouses, garages, workshops, and the like.
Source: Savoy House Lighting
As mentioned above, chandeliers are technically a form of pendant lighting, since they hang from a rod or chain.
What sets them in a different class is the number of bulbs on the fixture. Unlike pendant fixtures which tend to contain just one bulb, chandeliers have multiple bulbs situated on a single fixture.
Most chandeliers utilize a fixture with multiple “arms” (also called “stems” or “branches”). These hold the numerous bulbs (or, more traditionally, candles).
Once considered too fancy or elegant for outdoor areas, chandeliers are now a popular lighting option for a wide range of outdoor spaces.
Like pendant fixtures, chandeliers are available in a wide assortment of models. Three of the most popular include:
- Drum Chandelier – Features a shade around the chandelier to better diffuse light.
- Formal Chandelier – Often the entire fixture is cut from glass for an incredibly opulent look.
- Mini Chandelier – Small chandelier that’s perfect for small spaces or low ceilings.
Remember that any chandelier you buy for an outdoor area must be manufactured with outdoor use in mind.
Outdoor chandeliers are naturally much heartier than indoor chandeliers. They must be able to stand up to more extreme temperature conditions. It’s also a good idea to select a model that’s at least partially water resistant.
Chandeliers look great when used to illuminate covered patios, decks, and gazebos. Mini versions are hung from trees for a unique look.
Because of their branched design, it’s essential to select a chandelier that fits the size or space you install it in.
First off, you don’t want yours to hang too low. Select a rod or chain that ensures it hangs high enough not to hit anyone on the head.
For an outdoor chandelier placed over a table, you should select a rod or chain that ensures the bottom of the fixture is at least 30 inches above the table.
Hanging lanterns are one of the most unique types of outdoor hanging lights.
The first variety is pendant lanterns. Similarly, to the pendant fixtures discussed above, these simply hang from a chain or rod mounted to the ceiling.
The second variety is wall-mounted lanterns. Instead of hanging to the ceiling, these hang from a short length of chain mounted to a holder that sticks from a wall.
Because wall-mounted lanterns are so much more versatile, they’ve quickly exploded in popularity for outdoor use. You can use them on exterior walls, near decks and patios, and along fences.
Wall-mounted lanterns are also often very beautiful in design. This makes them a great visual component of your overall landscaping layout.
These distinctive fixtures can even be designed to hang from poles or columns. Installing these near the doors to your home looks fantastic.
4. Track Lighting
We’ll be honest – track lighting isn’t technically a type of hanging lights.
It’s close enough in design to fall into the same category. This is especially true when pendant fixtures are hung from a track mounting.
Because of how the track must be mounted, this track lighting isn’t nearly as popular outdoors as it is indoors.
One area where it is picking up some steam, however, is for outdoor kitchens. A track fixture is a great way to illuminate an outdoor covered cooking space as well as an outdoor dining area.
5. Ceiling Fan Lights
A ceiling fan is another type of hanging fixture that’s often combined with lights.
Place a ceiling fan with lights outside to accomplish two tasks at once: keep the area ventilated while also providing ample illumination for guests.
Outdoor ceiling fans are available in a vast variety of styles to suit all types of outdoor areas. They’re most commonly found in covered decks and patios as well as outdoor kitchens.
Make sure to select a ceiling fan that’s rated for outdoor use. Top models are rated for exposure to humidity and moisture.
B. Styles of Outdoor Hanging Lights
Now that you know what type of hanging lights work best for your outdoor space, it’s time to think about style.
Style largely relates to the fixture itself. Namely, the materials it’s made out of and its overall design.
Though there are a nearly endless variety of style options, the following are the most common.
Traditional outdoor hanging fixtures are perhaps the most common.
These fixtures work well with the widest variety of décor and furniture types. They tend to utilize a lot of details, materials like glass or bronze, and bring a vintage feel to your outdoor area.
Outdoor hanging lanterns are often created in the traditional style.
Source: Destination Lighting
For a cleaner, more updated look, try contemporary outdoor hanging fixtures instead of traditional.
These fixtures also work well with the majority of décor and outdoor architecture. They tend to utilize clean lines and simplistic design. They’ll bring an elegant feel to your outdoor area.
Outdoor pendant lighting is often created in the contemporary style.
Source: Switch Modern
Is the contemporary style still not up-to-the-minute enough for you? Then consider modern outdoor fixtures.
These fixtures tend to pair best with modern furniture and décor. They are often extremely stylish and minimalistic with clean, simple lines. They’ll bring a chic feel to your outdoor area.
Outdoor pendant lighting is often created in the modern style.
Not everyone prefers the simple, clean minimalism of modern or contemporary lighting. Those that want something more laidback and traditional should look at rustic fixtures.
These fixtures look great in most garden spaces. They are naturally stylish and look the most authentic. Many of these fixtures look worn out or weathered. They’ll bring a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere to your outdoor space.
Outdoor hanging lanterns are often created in the rustic style.
Transitional hanging fixtures are a blend between contemporary and traditional style.
These fixtures tend to feature the warmth and classic looks of traditional fixtures with just a hint more simplicity and brightness. The complex details of the traditional design are often muted for the clean look of the modern design.
Outdoor chandeliers are often created in the transitional style.
An exciting new style of hanging fixtures that have skyrocketed in popularity as of late is industrial fixtures.
These fixtures are utilitarian in nature. They look like something you’d find in a shop, warehouse, or other commercial space. They blend metal and exposed elements for a design that’s just as functional as it is beautiful.
Outdoor chandeliers are increasingly created in the industrial style.
Source: Home Depot
The Craftsman style is somewhat similar to the traditional and rustic styles.
These fixtures are very artistic in nature. In fact, many of them appear handmade with seemingly hand-painted finishes.
Outdoor chandeliers are one type of fixture that often features a Craftsman design.
C. Other Design Options
There are still a few more factors to consider once you’ve decided on your hanging light type and design style.
These other design options start with bulb type. The type of bulb you choose influences both looks and functionality.
Additional factors to consider include the color, materials, finish, and size of your fixtures as well as their placement and your overall lighting layout.
Here’s each additional factor broken down in more detail.
1. Bulb Type
You have more options than ever before when it comes to light bulbs for your fixtures. Here are the five most common:
- CFL Bulbs – Short for compact fluorescent lights, these bulbs use less energy than incandescent bulbs and last much longer.
- LED Bulbs – Short of light emitting diode, these bulbs are also extremely energy efficient and long-lasting. Unlike CFLs, they don’t heat up during use.
- Incandescent Bulbs – The least energy efficient option, these traditional bulbs are the cheapest option available.
- Halogen Bulbs – Another energy efficient option that lasts upwards of one year on average.
- HID Bulbs – Short for high-intensity discharge, these bulbs are the brightest of the bunch – best for illuminating large outdoor spaces. They’re commonly used in streetlights.
The best bulb for you depends on the specifics of your light fixture, including the type, intended use, and its location.
Remember that not only are energy efficient bulbs better for the environment, they also use far less electricity, saving you money in the long-term on utility bills.
Lowes provides a thorough light bulb buying guide.
2. Color, Materials, and Finish
As mentioned above, the style of your fixtures largely dictates their color, materials, and finish.
For instance, traditional fixtures tend to utilize a worn-looking finish such as antique bronze. A modern fixture tends to have a much cleaner, brighter finish.
A few popular finishes include antique brown, antique copper, brass, black, pewter, polished copper, and verdigris. Chandeliers are often found in an all-glass (or glass-look plastic) design.
Remember that you can find lighting fixtures in whatever color you want if you order customized one-off versions.
3. Size and Placement
The size of your hanging fixtures is very important. Not only does it influence how they look, but it also influences their functionality.
Case in point: hanging fixtures that hang too low get in the way. You must ensure that the rod or chain yours are connected to is short enough not to bump the heads of people using your outdoor space.
Still, though, it’s important the fixture hangs far enough from the ceiling. Yours should hang at least 12 inches down.
Naturally, these restrictions will limit the area in which hanging fixtures can be installed. If you don’t have enough space, it’s best to install a different type of fixture.
Placement is equally important as size. Once again, you want to ensure that the placement of your fixtures both look good and are out of the way of guests.
Another key factor related to placement involves the path of light and shadows. Each fixture must be placed far enough apart from one another that illumination is compatible rather than distracting.
4. Coordinating Fixtures
Source: Vogue Lighting
Hanging lights are only one type of outdoor lighting fixture. Blend your hanging fixtures with others for the best possible layout.
Many hanging fixtures come with coordinating post, path, and stair lights. Combine all of these together for a seamlessly designed landscaping and outdoor space.
5. Power Source
The most common power source for outdoor light fixtures is undoubtedly a low voltage system.
Low voltage power systems are available in 10V, 12V, and 24V varieties. They come with a power pack that connects to a standard GFCI outlet. The power pack converts the standard current (usually 120V for households) to a safer, lower current.
Not only do low voltage systems improve safety, but they are also energy efficient and easy to install.
Another power source option is a high voltage system. These don’t use a power pack to convert your household current to a lower voltage. Instead, they’re designed to run your fixtures at 120V.
High voltage power systems are more difficult to install. They require advanced equipment such as a conduit and electrical junction box. Professional installation is recommended.
Perhaps the fastest growing power source for outdoor lighting is solar. Fixtures with built-in solar panels are the most energy efficient (and easy to install) available.
Type, style, and design aren’t everything when it comes to buying the right outdoor hanging lights for your yard or patio.
Here are a few additional factors to keep in mind during the research and buying process.
A. Other Considerations
Don’t just install your outdoor lighting fixtures willy-nilly.
Take time to think about every aspect of the design and installation process. In addition to buying the right fixture, it’s important to create the right layout.
The most important factor to keep in mind is the purpose of your outdoor lighting. Do you require ambient, task, or accent lighting? Or a mixture of all three?
Additional tips to consider include:
- Create a Plan – Walk your yard at night to find the areas that require illumination. Use a flashlight to see how the illumination affects certain features.
- Do the Math – Do you have a large area that requires illumination? Take the total square footage of the area and multiply it by 1.5. The result is roughly the amount of wattage you need.
- Lighting Controls – Make life easier by installing timed controls. These turn your fixtures on and off at set times. Alternatively, they turn your fixtures on when the sun sets and off when it rises.
- Light Pollution – Respect your neighbors by opting for a layout that minimizes light pollution. You can also opt for special fixtures and bulbs rated by the International Dark Sky Association that minimize glare.
- Weather Resistant – Any hanging fixture you use outside, especially those not protected by a roof or cover, must be weather resistant. Waterproof materials are essential.
It’s also important to remember that your outdoor lighting can affect curb appeal. Do things right and your new hanging fixtures can improve the resell value of your home.
Another unique idea is to combine the beauty of your new outdoor hanging fixtures with motion sensors. Whenever they detect movement, they’ll turn on.
Hanging fixtures are a great way to utilize security lighting without unsightly spotlights.
You have two main options when it comes to installing outdoor hanging lights: DIY installation or professional installation.
DIY installation is undoubtedly the cheapest route to take. If you have the right tools and the willingness to work hard, this is the route to go.
In fact, most hanging fixtures are relatively easy to install. This is especially true for wall-mounted lanterns.
Heavy fixtures like chandeliers aren’t so easy to install. If you decide to DIY it with these, you probably need the help of a friend.
Don’t want to install your hanging fixtures yourself? Luckily, professional installation won’t break the bank.
Most outdoor lighting projects are relatively simple. You’ll likely pay no more than a few hundred dollars at most (and probably far less) for professional installation.
The DIY network offers a great resource on how to install pendant lighting.
C. Cost and Budget
The key to creating a reasonable budget for any home or landscaping project is understanding the scope of the project before setting it.
Basic factors that influence cost include location and fixture types. These will have the most sway over the final price.
Next up is installation method. As you probably assume, professional installation is much more expensive than DIY installation.
The key to finding a great deal on professional installation is researching multiple contractors instead of simply selecting the first one you hear about.
Request quotes from at least three local contractors. Compare these to ensure the price charged seems fair.
Remember that some contractors do a much better job than others. For big projects, it’s essential to check their reviews and reputation, especially with the Better Business Bureau.
As far as cost goes, Fixr.com states that the average cost for installing outdoor lighting in North America ranges from about $2,500 to $5,000.
They go on to list the national average, for an 800-square-foot yard with 20 fixtures, at $3,800 for professional installation.
Of course, it’s possible to spend well under even the low estimate if you DIY the project and buy the most affordable fixtures.
At the same time, it’s possible to spend well over even the high estimate if you hire professionals for installation and buy custom, designer light fixtures.
Remember that you can also hire a lighting, landscaping, or home designer to ensure that your new fixtures look the absolute best.
Top designers can easily add another $500 or more to the overall total for your project.
Where to Buy Outdoor Hanging Lights Online
The Internet is chock full of great places to find quality outdoor hanging lights at stellar prices.
However, a few retailers stand out high above the rest. Not only do they offer the absolute best prices, but they also have the greatest selections of relevant products.
Here are our favorite online retailers of outdoor hanging lights and accessories: