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Common Outdoor Lighting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Common Outdoor Lighting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Outdoor lighting can add value and beauty to your home. But since most homeowners have never done this before, they make some common mistakes. Too often, you spend time and money on your outdoor lighting, only to find that the results are not what you expected. If that’s the case, chances are you made some simple mistakes. But you can learn to identify common outdoor lighting mistakes and how to avoid them. Here are some tips from the pros at Night Vision Outdoor Lighting.

Common Outdoor Lighting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them [infographic]

Starting Without a Plan

The biggest mistake that do-it-yourselfers make is to jump in without a plan. You may want to get right to the installation of your new outdoor lighting. It’s exciting to start picking fixtures, buying lights, digging trenches, and laying down cable. But if you start without a plan, you are bound to fail. It’s important to take time to evaluate your home and its landscape.

Draw out a preliminary sketch of your design, taking into account your goals and budget. Budget is important. You don’t want to get halfway through your project and find that you have already spent more than you expected. A good rule is to install your outdoor lighting in sections. Don’t try to do your whole property at once. For example, you can work on the facade of your home first. Then move to a deck. After that, think about your yard and the landscaping there. Breaking the job down into pieces will make it easier to plan and execute.

Breaking the job into parts doesn’t mean that each part exists separately. Even though you will be installing the lighting system in sections, think about an overall plan. Even if you are not ready to plan your whole property, think about what your goal is. What kind of mood do you want to create? Will you eventually be lighting outdoor living spaces for use at night? Or are you just trying to highlight interesting features to view from inside you home or the street? Having some idea of your general approach before you begin will save you from trouble down the line. If you don’t plan, you may end up having to move around lights in the future. Or you may find that you have backed yourself into a corner and can’t using the lighting you want because it wouldn’t go with what you already installed.

Too Little Contrast

When planning your outdoor lighting system, think about contrast. During the day, sunlight hits your entire home all at once. Once your home is built, you have no control over areas of light and shadow. But with outdoor lighting, you have complete control. Make sure that you are layering different types of light.

It is a good idea to use some wash lights for a soft, broad light over the facade of your home. Then, add some spotlighting for unique accents on your facade, like dormers, columns, etc. You can also achieve various effects with downlighting coming from under the eaves of your roof. Just make sure that you are not using only one type of lighting over your whole house. In general, you want to think about layers of light. You need some soft background lighting, then on top of that you can add primary and secondary layers to create accents in both light and shadow.

The same is true of lighting fixtures. Usually, you want your landscaping features and the architecture of your home to take center stage. But some kinds of lighting will have visible fixtures. This is most common with path lighting. Pick a style of path lighting, but realize that there is no rule that you have to use only one type of fixture. It’s important to plan carefully here. You don’t want your lights to look like a hodgepodge of clashing styles. But when used properly, a few different styles of fixture placed around your garden can add interest and keep things from looking too cookie cutter. This is not the simplest technique to use, but with some good planning it can add a lot of interest.

Too Much Lighting in One Spot

Good planning ahead of time can help you avoid this mistake. Your outdoor lighting should be evenly distributed. Even if you think you have a greater concentration of interesting features to highlight in one area of your garden, look again. Having one section of your garden all lit up while other sections have large dark patches will look sloppy. Try to find features throughout your garden to spread the light around.

If you think you are going to have dark spots where there’s nothing to highlight, consider some other types of lighting. You may not have a specific tree or structure to focus on, but lighting itself can create a feature. Think about ways to add different types of lighting to create an interplay of light and shadow. If you really just have a wide area of grass with nothing in it, think about downlighting that can cast a broader light without being too overpowering.

Wrong or Mismatched Color Temperature

In these blogs, we’ve talked a lot about color temperature. Color temperature is how warm/red/yellow or cool/blue/white your light is. Different color temperatures can give different effects.

Lighting on the low end of the color temperature scale is redder, even mimicking candle light or firelight. This might be a great choice for an area that needs to be subdued, relaxed, or even a bit romantic. If you have an outdoor dining area, like a deck or outdoor kitchen, this might be a good choice. In an outdoor kitchen it can also be a good idea to get a dimmer. A dimmer will allow you to turn the light up for cooking and back down for eating and entertaining.

For the facade of your home, lighting in the 3500K range is standard. It’s a “soft white” light that will be relaxing to the eyes. Any lower would be too red, giving your home strange and inaccurate colors. Any higher would make your home look too commercial, or too stark and cool. Just make sure that all of the lighting on the facade of your home has the same color temperature to avoid some very weird and clashing effects.

For some areas you may prefer artificial moonlight. That uses the 4100K range. It can be beautiful, romantic, and relaxing.

The main goal is to avoid mixing light temperatures in a single area. You can use light temperature to your advantage for different purposes in different areas. But trying to use too many different temperatures in a single area will look messy and uneven, so plan accordingly.

Ignoring Glare and Light Pollution

Avoiding glare is a matter of using the right lighting fixtures and pointing them the right way. Think about all the different angles you will be viewing your lights from. Avoid pointing your lights in a way that they may shine directly into the face of someone viewing them. For instance, you may be tempted to shine your driveway lighting out across the driveway to light the whole length of it. Unfortunately, that can end up shining the light right into the eyes of someone driving up your driveway.

To avoid glare, think about every angle from which you will be viewing your light. This can be a bit tough to imagine during the day, but you can make adjustments even after installation. Walk around your outdoor area at night and look for potential problem spots. Reposition lighting fixtures as necessary.

Light pollution is similar to glare, though not exactly the same. Light pollution means that your outdoor lighting is going somewhere you don’t want it. That could mean a light that shines into a living room or bedroom window. This is especially important when lighting the facade of your home. It may be a good idea to shine a spotlight on a dormer. But make sure you are coming from enough of an angle that you are not lighting up the room behind the window.

Light pollution also means keeping your lighting on your property. No one wants to be the flashy neighbor whose lighting system is lighting up the whole block. Make sure you position your lighting to avoid lighting up your neighbor’s home or property.

If you live in an area with dark skies (anywhere outside of a city or dense suburb) you may also want to consider environmental light pollution. A dark night sky is a beautiful sight. Many residents in these areas may enjoy the night sky as a key feature of their location. So don’t ruin it for everyone. Use light fixtures that direct the light downward. With uplighting, make sure that you are shining light on the item you want to highlight and not at the sky beyond. Keep dark skies dark.

Not Getting Help

Designing an outdoor lighting system takes a lot of planning. And installing an outdoor system can be more complicated than you anticipated. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not bringing in the professionals when you need them. You may be able to install a few path lights on your own. But if you are considering a larger outdoor lighting scheme, don’t hesitate to call in an outdoor lighting company. The experts at Night Vision Outdoor Lighting have completed thousands of lighting jobs. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can contact us for a free estimate to get your project started today!