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So you’ve planned out a great outdoor lighting design. You’re all ready to install your system and bask in its beautiful light. There’s just one thing missing. Before you can start, you need to figure out what bulbs you will be using. But what is the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting? That’s a question that you will have to answer even before the first run of wiring is laid down. Which bulbs you choose to use will affect your choice of fixtures, your wiring, and even how you plan to use your outdoor lighting design. Unfortunately, this is one part of the planning process that many homeowners overlook until the last minute. That’s why at Night Vision Outdoor Lighting we encourage you to ask, “What is the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting?”

What Is the Best Bulb for Outdoor Landscape Lighting? [infographic]

Halogen vs. LED

Before you can pick a bulb, you will need to make your first big decision. Will this system be a halogen lighting system or an LED lighting system? The choice you make will have a substantial effect on how you proceed with your lighting design.

Before the introduction of LED bulbs, reasonable lighting choices were limited to incandescent, high-pressure sodium, and halogen. And for a long time, halogen was the king of residential outdoor and landscape lighting.

Incandescents were very inefficient compared to the competition. They took a lot of energy to produce the necessary light, and they burned out quickly.

High-pressure sodium lights were much more efficient, but they had a major disadvantage: color. Super-efficient high-pressure sodium light bulbs gave off an orange glow, the sort you still see on a lot of older street lights and commercial properties. The lamps were bright and energy efficient, so they were great for municipal and commercial applications. But they were too unattractive for most residential lighting.

Halogen was a great compromise. Halogen is much more energy efficient than incandescents, and although it is not as efficient as high-pressure sodium lamps, it gives off a more natural color. Because of this compromise, halogen ruled the residential outdoor lighting business for decades. But when LEDs came on the scene, everything changed.

Like most new technologies, LED bulbs were expensive and limited when they first came to market. They gave off a blue-ish light that could be jarring or unpleasant at night. But the technology advanced quickly. Today, LED bulbs are getting much cheaper and can produce almost any light temperature. They are far more efficient than any other bulb and can last 20 times as long as a halogen light when used correctly.

What color temperature is best for outdoor lighting?

In just a few short years, the residential outdoor landscape lighting industry has switched almost entirely to LEDs. As the price has dropped and available light temperatures increased, there is no question that LEDs are the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting. Even commercial and municipal lighting systems are gradually making the switch. However, you still need to choose which type of LED to use.

There are two main features of any LED bulb: temperature and lumens. Light temperature is not hard to understand, but it is a little backward. In colloquial terms, we often refer to light as warm or cool. A warm bulb is yellow and most similar to firelight. A cool bulb is white or blue-ish, like the light of an overcast day. To understand light temperature measures, you have to flip that. Light temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K), and the lower the temperature, the more yellow the light is.

To understand why the numbers seem backward, imagine a blacksmith working a piece of metal. The blacksmith puts the metal in the fire. As it begins to heat up to around 2000K, it starts to glow red. As the metal heats up to 3000K, it begins to glow a warm yellow. As the metal heats up even more, to around 4000K, it begins to glow white hot. If the metal got really hot and didn’t melt, it might start to glow almost blue, reaching a color temperature of 6000K or more.

Generally, outdoor lighting is best kept around 3000K. That’s a warm light, similar to the incandescents people use at home. It’s relaxing and easy on the eyes. For some special applications, 4000K is preferable. (Read more about that here.) 3000K or less is also recommended by the International Dark-Sky Association to reduce light pollution.

How many lumens do I need for outdoor lighting?

It used to make sense to refer to 45, 60, 75, or 100-watt bulbs. Everyone knew how bright those were. But wattage doesn’t actually measure brightness, it measures electricity consumption. An LED bulb can give off the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb with just 8-12 watts. So how do you know how bright your LED is? The answer is lumens. Lumens measure light, not electricity. A 60-watt incandescent bulb gives off about 800 lumens. To match it, you need an LED bulb that has 800 lumens listed on the packaging, regardless of its wattage.

So if we’re talking about lumens, the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting is the one that has the right lumens for the job. How many lumens that is varies. In the past, we have used this handy guide from our friends at Energy Today, a solar and electrical company based out of Florida. Here are their suggestions for how many lumens each application needs, and we think they make a good guideline.

  • 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)

So you can see that the necessary lumens vary greatly depending on what you are lighting. So picking the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting is really about choosing the best bulb for each fixture in your lighting system. Using lights that are too bright can overwhelm an otherwise well-planned design. Too little light will fail to create the desired effects. When you work with Night Vision Outdoor Lighting, we can help you find just the right brightness for each area of your outdoor lighting system.

Do you need special light bulbs for outside?

After picking the right light temperature and lumens for your outdoor lighting system, you may think you are ready to rush out and purchase the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting. But don’t go making a purchase just yet. There is one last factor in picking the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting that cannot be overlooked: wetness rating. Almost all light bulbs and light fixtures you can find for sale include a rating on the packaging. The three ratings are dry, damp, and wet. If you try to use a dry or damp rated light bulb or fixture in a wet environment, you risk damage to the bulb or even an electrical fire. The same goes for using a dry-rated bulb in a damp environment. (You can learn more about light bulb and light fixture ratings in this article.)

Any light bulb that you are going to use for outdoor lighting should be rated for wet use. That means that it can stand up to rain, snow, garden hoses, and sprinkler systems. In some circumstances, you could get away with a damp-rated bulb if the fixture and bulb are completely shielded from the elements. But if there is any chance that the bulb will be hit with rain even indirectly, you need a wet-rated bulb.

Select The Best Bulb For Outdoor Landscape Lighting With Night Vision Outdoor Lighting

There are many benefits to using a professional outdoor lighting designer and installer. Among those benefits is assistance in choosing the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting. There are literally hundreds of bulbs out there to choose from. A visit to your local home improvement store can be overwhelming. Even if you know what to look for, you may not end up with the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting in your specific situation. And you definitely won’t get the best price. The pros at Night Vision Outdoor Lighting are familiar with all of the options, and we order in bulk. That means that we can get the best bulb for outdoor landscape lighting every time and pass on the savings to you. Contact us to set up your free consultation today.