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Illuminating Ideas

Extending summer nights with outdoor lighting adds to the fun of the season, and outdoor lights always make a home look welcoming and festive. But illuminating outdoor spaces has other, practical benefits. Outdoor lighting can make a home safer, deterring crime. It can also prevent you and your loved ones from tripping or falling in the dark or in bad weather.

Depending on your main goal in crafting a lighting plan, however, different lighting technologies may hold different appeal. Most homeowners start on outdoor lighting by reviewing the extent to which their lighting makes their home safe for guests and too visible to attract intruders. Lighting appropriate for these two usages tends to be designed for the walkways and grounds near the house (burglary security) and along its walkways, doors and driveway (physical safety), according to the US Department of Energy. Interestingly, this lighting need not be bright to be effective, the agency says. For aesthetics, many “buried” lighting options exist; these lighting options involve using underground wiring and “planting” a partially submerged lighting fixture in or near bushes or plants. This sort of lighting is often sold in kits at hardware and home-and-garden stores.

To create a safe as well as energy-efficient lighting plan, be sure to start with outdoor-rated lighting wires and fixtures (typically labeled “water-resistant” or “UL approved for outdoor use”). An exception to this rule is solar-powered outdoor lighting, which emits a soft light and is commonly used in ground-level lights along sidewalks and drives. Outdoor lighting options include far more than the old lamppost standing where the sidewalk meets your walkway. Nowadays numerous sconces (for decks, front porches, and other spaces) are available, as are portable outdoor lamps which can be left outside. A “whole house” lighting system, which usually requires professional consultation and installation, lets you simultaneously illuminate multiple sets of outdoor lights.

Most consumers spend about 10% of their home’s annual utility bill on lighting, according to the Department of Energy. However, if you’re concerned about using your outdoor electricity wisely, it’s worth understanding the different types of outdoor lighting. Your options include incandescent (light bulb-based) lamps, fluorescent lamps (in which light is created in a tube containing mercury and inert gas), high-intensity discharge lamps, or low-voltage lighting. From an energy perspective, the DOE recommends fluorescent lamp designs, since fluorescent lighting lasts longer. Incandescent light, however, is easy to use with motion sensors and dimmers, meaning though it is more stereotypically “wasteful,” you can use timers or motion sensors to use it carefully. High-intensity discharge lamps take a long time to illuminate but, once lit, burn very brightly. They are common in city street lamps or for very dark areas of a large property.

Low-voltage lighting is often popular as a way to illuminate sidewalks or the ground running along a driveway or the side of a house. This type of lighting is considered to display more light than solar lighting. Regardless of your personal goals with illuminating your house, outdoor lighting can add value to your property in multiple ways.