Outdoor Stairway Lighting | Types of Outdoor Stairways

One of the goals of outdoor lighting is to make sure that spaces are usable at night. Another function is for safety and security. Those two goals come together when it comes to outdoor stairway lighting. Of course, stairways themselves may take many forms. Indoors, stairways are almost always a simple way to get from one level of a building to the next. Outdoors, the use can be more varied. In all of these cases, outdoor stairway lighting is crucial for the safety and enjoyment of your guests.

Types Of Outdoor Stairways

Some outdoor stairways are very similar to indoor stairways, such as stairways that lead from a raised deck down to the patio or garden below. However, other stairs may look very little like indoor stairways. For example, many garden paths include some type of stairs as a way to ease guests along an elevation change. In this case, steps can be wide and far apart, and thus especially hard to see. Some stairs may be just a couple of very wide steps, such as steps leading down from a raised patio to a lawn or another patio below. In some instances, the entryway to the home may have steps. Entryway steps are often broad and inviting, and require special lighting techniques. For townhomes and more vertical houses, a set of steep steps may lead up to an entryway that is raised far off the ground.

The types of stairways you may encounter outdoors is as limitless as the imagination of architects and landscapers. However, with a few simple suggestions, you may find that lighting your steps is quite easy. Of course, the main concern is safety first. After that, design and appearance are key. For both safety and design, the aid of professional outdoor landscape lighting specialists in invaluable. If you need to light steps or stairs as part of your outdoor lighting design, Night Vision Outdoor Lighting has you covered. We can help you design beautiful and practical lighting for any type of steps or stairs.

Outdoor Stairway Lighting [infographic]

Adding Lights to Existing Stairways

One concern that many homeowners have is whether it is too late to add lighting to existing stairs. The answer is that while it may require some extra work, any stairway can be retrofitted with proper lighting. Stairways made of stone or cement are a particular challenge, but Night Vision has the tools to do it. We can drill into your existing hardscaped steps and add any type of light you prefer. However, we don’t suggest adding lights to hardscape steps yourself. Once you drill, there is no going back, so this is not a time for DIY experimentation.

Understated Outdoor Stairway Lighting

Stairway lighting, often called step lighting, can be subtle or pronounced. The choice is yours. We’ll start by discussing some of the more understated approaches.

One time-tested method of lighting steps is to use riser lighting. The riser is the vertical part of each step. A recessed light can be installed in the center of each riser which will shine enough light to help guests safely navigate. These kinds of lights are the dimmest lights in your whole outdoor lighting system. Step lighting, in general, is often no more than 10-15 lumens, compared to 300 lumens for a floodlight. Usually, the step light is more of a visual cue to show guests where the step is than it is an actual light source.

Another type of riser lighting is small sconces. These may not be completely recessed, so it is important that they don’t stick out too far and become a tripping hazard. The cover of the sconce can be arranged so that it only shines light downward, illuminating the step below.

Another way to light a step with almost no visible fixture is to use LED strip lighting. As its name suggests, LED strip lighting is a plastic strip with tiny LEDs embedded in it. It usually comes in a long roll, often with adhesive backing. Placing a strip of lights underneath the lip of each tread (the part of the stair you step on) lights up each step without any hint of the light source.

Outdoor Stairway Lighting for Traditional Stairways

There are some situations in which you might have a stairway that is pretty similar to an indoor stairway. These are often outdoor stairways that serve the same function as indoor stairways, getting from one level of the house to another. Let’s look at a few examples and some unique ways to light them.

Once common outdoor stairway is one that leads from a second level porch or deck down to the ground level. This type of step provides a few options. First, these stairways almost always have a railing, and usually some posts along the way. This opens up two possibilities: post lighting and rail lighting. Post lighting is what it sounds like, lighting the posts along the stairway. Since you won’t be lighting each step, post lights need to be a little brighter and spread their light a little wider than in-step lighting. Post lighting can be done with lights attached to the posts like small sconces. Alternatively, you can light the post itself, such as with a cap light. A cap light is a decorative cap for a post with a built-in lighting fixture. Often, post lighting and step lighting are used together, with the post lights mostly for decoration.

Some types of outdoor stairways may be built with a wall instead of a railing. If the steps follow a wall on one or both sides, you have the option of placing lights there. The advantage of a wall over a railing is that a wall reflects light back onto the steps. This makes sconces especially useful. Lights can also be embedded in a wall similar to step lighting on risers. If the wall has a lip at its top, you can also use strip lighting.

Lighting for Unique Outdoor Stairways

Sometimes an outdoor stairway is very different from a stairway you would find indoors. Some stairways may have four, five, or more steps rising from one level up half a level or so. However, the steps are not as numerous as steps leading from one floor to the next, or as narrow. This type of step is typical of some large entryways, which may have a small series of stone steps leading to a wide landing at the entrance to the home. You can still use riser lights, but these steps are often much wider than indoor steps and may need more that one light per step. Strip lighting also works in this case, you will just need more of it. These types of steps are often in areas that also have other forms of lighting, such as downlighting. In that case, the primary function of the step lights is just to signify precisely where the edges of the steps are, so no one trips.

Another unique situation occurs in gardens and unpaved areas. In these situations, long, broad steps may be separated by a few feet or more. Sometimes the steps are made with large paving stones. In other cases, they may simply be built into the dirt with a reinforced riser to hold the soil in place. In this case, lighting the steps is especially important, because the irregular shape and size mean you can’t just step down and know where the next step will be. For these types of steps, it may be possible to use pathway lighting. Instead of lighting each step itself, pathway lights can be installed along the path that includes the steps. If you are concerned about really seeing the steps, you can place a fixture at each step.

Professional Outdoor Stairway Lighting

Outdoor stairway lighting is vital to the safety of your, your family, and your guests. It prevents potentially dangerous falls. So it doesn’t pay to experiment. You simply can’t afford a mistake. To ensure that you have reliable, appropriate, effective outdoor stairway lighting, there is no substitute for professional experience. Night Vision Outdoor lighting has installed more than 5,000 lighting system over 20 years. That includes many, many steps, more than we can count. So if you need to outdoor stairway lighting, contact us today!