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Color Temperature and Landscape Lighting

Color Temperature and Landscape Lighting

Choosing the color temperature of your outdoor lights is an important part of any outdoor lighting plan. With modern lighting technologies, consumers can choose not only the brightness of their lights, but the color temperature. Measured in degrees Kelvin (K), lower temperatures tend to produce a warmer amber light, while higher temperatures produce a cooler, whiter light.

The Best Color Temperature for Your Landscape Lighting

Color temperature is simply how “warm” or “cool” your light is or, put differently, how “yellow” or “white” your light is. Using the right types of lights for various outdoor lighting applications is an important consideration. There are no hard and fast rules, so depending on the mood or effect you are trying to create, you may require different types of lighting for different parts of your landscape.

The best color temperature for your outdoor lighting is really a matter of choice. And the best choice is the one that creates the effect you want.

Color Temperature and Landscape Lighting [infographic]

What is Color Temperature

The colloquial terms “warm” and “cool” light refer to human perception, and run opposite to the measurement of degrees Kelvin. So 2700K would be a “warm” light and 5000K would be a “cool” light similar to direct daylight.

This actually makes sense when you understand how the degrees Kelvin measure is determined. To get the degrees Kelvin measure, scientists determine the temperature at which in ideal black object would have to glow to give off a certain quality of light. Imagine a piece of metal in a blacksmith’s shop. At first, the metal gives of a warm, reddish glow. As the temperature increases, the metal becomes orange, then yellow, then finally “white hot”. So the lower the temperature in the degrees, the “warmer” the light.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will refer to warm and cool lights in the colloquial sense, using the degrees Kelvin measures simply as a reference, since that is how bulbs are labeled for purchase.

Color Temperature Choices

For nearly 130 years, the standard in incandescent lighting for the home was the “soft white” bulb. With a color temperature in the 2700-3000K range, “soft white” bulbs give off a warm, amber light that is relaxing to the eye. The warm light from these bulbs is great for relaxing spaces like living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.

The downside of “soft white” light is that its warmth can throw off our perception of color and contrast. For some applications, a cooler, whiter light, more similar to daylight, is preferable. Over a vanity or in a bathroom, cooler, whiter lights can make it easier to put on makeup or perfect your outfit choices. In a kitchen, truer colors and contrast can make it easier to see the changing colors of your ingredients as they cook together, or just make it easier to see while focusing on a detailed task. Cooler light is also great for reading or crafts that require good visuals, so sometimes an office or workshop could benefit from a cooler, whiter light.

Lighting the Facade of Your Home

Warm light in the 2700-3000K range is gentle and relaxing to the eye. When used with wash lighting over the facade of your home, it can give a warm and inviting glow to your home. Cooler lights often seem harsh at night, in contrast to the surrounding darkness.

In addition to the wash lighting over the facade of your home, you may want to add bullet lights to highlight particular features. Large columns, window dormers, cottage style beams, or other unique architectural features. As with all outdoor lighting, you want to be conscientious about where the lights shine and avoiding light trespass. It’s great to highlight a dormer, but you don’t want to light up the room behind it. Take care to aim bullet lights so that they don’t shine directly into windows.

If the facade of your home is particularly tall or wide or tall, you may need flood lights to cover the whole thing. In this case, it is best to use warm lights in w 2700-3000K range. Cooler flood lights can make a house look like it is being lit for construction or as a crime scene, rather than providing a natural and inviting glow.

Lighting Outdoor Entertainment Areas

Nighttime entertaining is a great way to use your outdoor spaces, especially during the warm summer months. You can use a deck, a patio, or even a pool area as a great place to entertain guests, but you’ll need some lighting to do it.

The danger with lighting for entertainment is that many homeowners have a tendency to put in too much lighting. You want to be able to see, especially if you will be grilling or eating outdoors, but you still want it to feel like nighttime. After all, we are not trying to make your patio feel like your dining room. We want to enjoy being outdoors.

For outdoor lighting, less is more. In addition to typical outdoor lighting fixtures, incorporating string lights or rope lights can provide just the right amount of light to enjoy the night.

When it comes to lighting fixtures around your entertainment spaces, it is often good to move toward very warm lights. On the lower end of the Kelvin scale, around 2000K, a warm reddish glow can mimic the light of a flame. It’s the same light you would get from candles, tiki torches, or a glowing bonfire. For a romantic or rustic feel, strategically placed lights in this range are all you need.

Artificial Moonlight

Everyone can appreciate the beauty of traversing a garden beneath the full moon. It is romantic and relaxing, and a great way to enjoy your outdoor spaces. But the moon doesn’t always shine. However, the right outdoor lighting can mimic the light of a full moon, providing you with beautiful moonlight all month long and in any weather.

For artificial moonlight, you will want to use very cool, almost bluish light. While moonlight is not actually blue, or silvery as some might say, it appears that way due to the Purkinje effect. The Purkinje effect, also called “dark adaptation”, is simply the tendency of the human to increase its sensitivity to blue light as luminosity decreases. So when it’s dark, your eye just picks up more on the blue tones. By shining a very cool bluish light, you can mimic what the human eye sees under the light of a full moon.

Artificial moonlight is achieved with downlighting. Place lights high in trees, or another structure if there are no trees. Then aim the lights down to provide a broad light that washes over the area below. Lights used this way are built with special glare shields that wrap around the bulb to ensure that light goes downward but not sideways, avoiding a glowing tree canopy.

Path Lighting

The color temperature of path lighting is really dependent on the surrounding lighting scheme and what mood you are trying to set. For the most part, soft, warm light is best for use in most landscape and outdoor lighting. But if the path lights are in an area that will be receiving artificial moonlight, you may not want the jarring contrast of warm and cool lights.

The general rule is that you want to avoid mixing lights of different temperatures. This doesn’t mean that every light around your home needs to match exactly, but maintaining an even tone at least within each area that is being lit will provide a more harmonious natural look.

To learn more about how you can use different light temperatures around your home, contact us today to schedule a free consultation. We’ll go over your unique needs and budget and suggest a lighting scheme to maximize your vision.