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How Bright Should Outdoor Lighting Be?

How Bright Should Outdoor Lighting Be

Outdoor and landscape lighting is a great way to accent your home. But we often run across homeowners who are split on the decision to install outdoor lighting. One partner is all for it. They imagine a beautiful home with resort-style lighting. More often than not, they have seen other homes with great outdoor lighting and appreciate the added curb appeal of those homes. But the other partner may be unsure. They imagine a house lit up light a hotel on the Vegas strip. Perhaps they have seen a house with old-fashioned flood lighting that sticks out like a sore thumb. We’re happy to tell you that modern lighting design offers improved curb appeal while avoiding the pitfalls of excessive light pollution. However, that still leaves a question. Just how bright should outdoor lighting be? Our Night Vision Outdoor Lighting experts are here to give you the low-down on why and how you should light your home.

Less is More

There was a time when outdoor lighting design was little more than shining some floodlights on a property and lighting up the night. You may see some classic buildings that are still lit this way. Huge, bright lights can be seen from miles away, glaring out of the treetops and behind buildings. Needless to say, times have changed and so have styles. As technology has developed, lighting designers have a lot more options. Designs have become much more subtle, using a variety of lights and brightnesses for an overall effect.

Modern lighting design usually combined lights of different brightnesses. Some lights, like motion-sensing security lights, could be pretty bright. Other lights, like step lights, may be just bright enough to see.

One issue to avoid in your outdoor lighting design is the dreaded light bomb. A light bomb is the effect you get when you step from a darkened room into a brightly lit space. Your eyes go into an involuntary squint as they try to adjust. The sudden bright light can be blinding. It may take several uncomfortable minutes for your eyes to adjust fully. At night, this effect can be even worse. If your home is unevenly lit, you may step in and out of dark and bright light several times just walking around the property. This prevents the eyes from adjusting and just means that you are blinded both by the light and the dark. More subdued and even lighting is the best way to avoid a light bomb, and should be one of the top concerns in your design.

Measuring the Brightness of a Bulb

It may make intuitive sense that your lighting should be varied depending on its function and location. But how do you measure how bright a light is? That’s important to know when planning your outdoor lighting design.

In the old days, it was all about wattage. You could tell how bright a light was by how many watts it used. A 45-watt bulb was subtle and typically used for decorative purposes. 60-watt bulbs were common throughout the house. They provided a useful amount of light for most purposes. 100-watt bulbs were extra bright for places where you need to be able to see really well. They were most common in work areas like a kitchen or garage workbench. For outdoor lighting, designers specified the necessary wattage for each light fixture.

With the arrival of LEDs, all that changed. LEDs could create the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb with just 23 watts. Wattage was no longer a reliable measure of brightness. So how do you measure brightness independent of wattage? The answer is lumens. Lumens is a measure of the actual light that comes from a bulb, regardless of the wattage used to produce it. In modern LED outdoor lighting design you will see designers refer to lumens, not wattage.

Another factor that has become much more pronounced with LED technology is light temperature. When incandescent lights were the primary source of lighting, we had just a few options. You could choose from soft white, cool white, and, more recently, daylight. With LED, the color temperature, a measure of how warm/yellow or cool/blue your light is, has become very precise. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K) and typically ranges from 3000K (very warm/yellow) to 6000K (cool/daylight).

How to Avoid Light Pollution

Everyone loves a star-filled night sky. But if you live in a city, or even a dense suburb, chances are you see very few stars. That’s because of light pollution. Light pollution is the result of thousands of lights in a populated area that combine to form a glow over the city. That glow makes it hard to see the stars. It also adversely affects many animals who use light to coordinate movement and behaviors such as sleep, feeding, and migration.

Another type of light pollution is called light trespass. Light trespass occurs when light shines in an unintended area or direction. Think of that light on your neighbor’s garage that annoyingly shines right into your bedroom window. When installing an outdoor landscape lighting system, it is crucial to consider light trespass and how to avoid it. Being a good neighbor means keeping your light to yourself.

Glare is another issue. If a light is too bright or shines in the wrong direction, it can be blinding from some angles. Whether the light is hitting drivers on the street or guests approaching your home, glare is unpleasant and unsightly.

The best way to avoid light pollution, light trespass, and glare is to use specially designed fixtures. Many fixtures are available with built-in glare and trespass guards so that light only shines in the intended direction. The type of lighting you use can also make a difference. Using more downlighting and less uplighting or floodlights reduces light pollution. If you can point light only where you want it, less light escapes upward toward the night sky. Using appropriate levels of brightness is another way to avoid light pollution. Keeping your lighting subtle and only using as many lumens as you need will reduce glare, pollution, and trespass.

How Many Lumens Do You Need for Landscape Lighting

With all that we have already said about brightness, style, and light pollution, you are probably ready for the punchline. Just how many lumens do you need for landscape lighting? The answer, like all aspects of landscape and outdoor lighting, is that it depends. A general rule is that you want to use as few lumens as possible to create the desired effect. The type of effect you are trying to create will determine the number of lumens you require.

Here’s a basic outline from Energy Today, a Florida-based electrical company:

  • Path lighting:100-200 lumens
  • Step lights: 12-100 lumens
  • Floodlights: 700-1300 lumens
  • Motion sensor lights: 300-700 lumens
  • Pond/pool lights: 200-400 lumens
  • Hardscape lights (on walls): 50-185
  • Landscape: 50-300 lumens (50 is good for a garden or small shrubbery)

You’ll notice that all of these examples are given as ranges. There is no single, objective measure of how many lumens you need for a particular application. That’s why it pays to work with an experienced lighting designer. They can help you get the light you need and none you don’t. At Night Vision Outdoor Lighting, we have the experience and expertise that come from building over 5,000 lighting systems. We’ve been working in the Atlanta Metro Area for over two decades. If you have a lighting need, we have probably filled a similar need before. Our technicians have a great feel for just the right lighting for your home or other projects. If you’re ready to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation, contact us today!