3 Expert Tips for Perfect Outdoor Lighting

Posted March 15, 2017 by Natalie

3 Expert Tips for Perfect Outdoor Lighting

Cocktails on the terrace anybody?

If you’ve recently found yourself lingering around the recycling bins (for longer than you’d consider appropriate), don’t be alarmed. Many of us are now sensing that Spring and Summer are finally on their way and are looking forward to spending some of our hard-won leisure time in our gardens and outside spaces. Outdoor lighting can help you enjoy the warm evenings for even longer (people generally appreciate being able to see what they’re eating/drinking/talking to). But it can be tricky to achieve a space that’s usable as well as beautiful – whilst avoiding digging up the entire garden. Here, with the help of our director and lighting design expert Chris, we’ve come up with our top three tips to help you ensure that, this year, you get the outdoor lighting that’s perfect for you.

  1. Plan how you’ll use your outdoor area

When designing a lighting scheme, the first thing a good lighting designer asks their client is how they visualise using the space. When thinking about how you want to use your own outdoor living area, consider this: will you typically be using the whole of your garden when the light fades? Or would you just like to be able to enjoy a sundowner or three on the patio? “Most people don’t want their exteriors lit up like Blackpool Illuminations”, says Chris. “By highlighting key shrubs, sculpture or even the interesting architectural features of your house you can create the perfect zones for outdoor entertaining or relaxing”.

If sharing a meal with your family in the warm evening air sounds appealing, you may want your lighting to provide you with more than just an ambient glow. For this, Chris recommends installing a 5amp socket under your outdoor dining table. This allows for a large decorative exterior floor lamp to be positioned over it, providing a practical solution to your lighting requirements whilst quirkily bringing some home comfort to the great outdoors.

Vibia Plis exterior floor lamp

Your average family outdoor dining area. (Vibia Plis exterior floor lamp seen here).

A further consideration when thinking about your personal outdoor oasis is the ever-present health and safety aspect (cue *weary sigh* with *sarcastic eye-roll*). However, low level step lighting and path lighting are not only important for ensuring that your guests don’t spill their Chablis, they also have the power to turn a functional feature into a focal point. The image below shows how we concealed linear LED lighting beneath steps, using LED tape and profiles, to provide glare-free guidance whilst showcasing the eye-catching symmetry of the structure. We also employed uplights to subtly highlight the two columns located at the base of the steps, giving an understated but impressive finish.

Outdoor linear LED step lighting

Safety first – but don’t forget to bring the glamour.

  1. Consider the kind of overall feel that you want

From the many residential projects we’ve undertaken, we know that most of our clients prefer a warm ambient glow in their garden and so tend to avoid the cooler white lights that are out there on the market. This effect can work very well for different styles of outdoor space: from a sleek, contemporary seating area to a rustic, unstructured courtyard. To achieve this intimate vibe it’s best to go for warm white LEDs in a low colour temperature, around 2700K. These emit a more golden light. As a rule, the higher the colour temperature, the whiter the light. It’s also a good idea not to over-light areas; Chris encourages people to “play with the light and the dark” and to avoid flooding areas with light unless it’s for security purposes. For example, you can create an inviting atmosphere by installing subtle LEDs under benches and banquettes instead of fitting wall lights above them. Likewise, uplighting selected shrubs or trees using spike spotlights can help to define an area without completely saturating it.

Outdoor pagoda lighting

A warm golden glow wraps itself around the curves of this beautifully rustic space.

If you choose to enlist the help of a lighting designer for your scheme, you’ll be able to explain to them in detail the image that you have in mind for your space and they’ll suggest practical ways of making your ideas reality. Wherever possible, having listened to his clients’ requirements, Chris also installs in-situ samples of the lighting fixtures he recommends. These provide a good example of the effects that’ll be created when using particular products in particular ways. Services like these give you a really good picture of what your final scheme will look like and help you avoid any nasty surprises.

  1. Think about the functional as well as the aesthetic

For many people, mains fittings and IP ratings rank alongside health and safety on their list of Things-I-Like-to-Spend-Time-Thinking-About. So bear with us here, as we try and make them sound interesting. “One of the problems we come across time and again is where a client’s previous exterior lighting has stopped working due to having been wired in 240V mains”, says our Chris. Any water ingress from the great British wet weather in to a 240V system can cause the circuit to trip and never function again. However, if this happens on a 24V system, the circuit is much less likely to trip due to its lower voltage. “In order for your longed-for lighting scheme to last, I always recommend wiring external systems in 24V and mounting drivers in IP rated, above ground weatherproof boxes”.

If you’re concerned about ruining your beautiful garden by installing cables underneath the ground, be assured that there are ways to minimise any disruption. By combining smaller amounts of underground 240V mains with longer surface cable runs and surface-mounted IP junction boxes housing 24V drivers, you can minimise the amount of messy underground connections required. Sharp spades and even sharper teeth and claws can wreak havoc with outdoor cabling, but using Kopex conduit for the surface runs ensures that they’re protected against any accidental damage. It’s also possible to preserve the aesthetic of your outdoor living space by locating wires and junction boxes behind shrubs and other features. This allows access for maintenance but also lets you retain the look that you’ve lovingly crafted.

Shrubbery can hide cables and fixtures, which helps create an ethereal feel to your space

Shrubbery can hide cables and fixtures, which helps create an ethereal feel to your space.

Whilst we’re talking technical, Chris has a final piece of advice for when you’re configuring the wiring of your scheme: “If you have any security lighting, putting it on to a separate circuit and switch will enable you to have the atmospheric lighting you want without being blinded by floodlights”. Sage words indeed, Chris – that would not be a good look.

So, shall we have a quick recap? The best way, then, for you to achieve your exterior lighting dream-scheme is to plan and plan some more. Consider how you’ll use your space; think about the effects and looks that you want; and finally, take some time to think about how your system will work from a practical point of view. And remember, outdoor lighting isn’t only good for the Spring and Summer months – it works hard for your home all year round. Spotlighting a favourite tree or ornament enables you to enjoy it from the cosy warmth of your living room, whatever the weather. And even in the bleakest of midwinters, exterior lights have the awesome power to make your indoor space feel bigger by drawing the eye outwards into the depths of the garden. Something to ponder the next time you’re eagerly poring over weatherproof junction boxes.

Gorgeous outdoor linear LED step lighting

Imagine seeing this beautiful vignette from your kitchen window. Whilst soaking the pots.

If you’ve been inspired by this blog and would like to speak to us about your exterior lighting plans, we’d love to hear from you. Just give us a call on or pop us over an email at [email protected].

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As always, thanks for reading.

The DD Team.

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