By Manasa Reddigari and Kathleen Corlett |Published Dec 29, 2022 5:19 PM
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Darkness needn’t put a damper on backyard activities like swimming and barbecuing. By installing backyard lighting, you can keep the party going long after dusk, boost outdoor ambiance, and protect your property from unseen threats.
The three main types of backyard illumination are safety lighting to deter prowlers and improve navigation, landscape lighting to accentuate garden features, and accent lighting to put the focus on the hardscape. Ultimately, you’d want all three types in your backyard to achieve different lighting levels for different needs—and within each of these categories, there’s a variety of lighting choices. So let us shine a light on the best backyard illumination options, so you’ll know what to put in your outdoor space.
Security lighting, generally the brightest kind of yard lights, is safety lighting to illuminate large areas and scare off would-be burglars or destructive animals. Powered by standard, 120-Volt current, this lighting is installed high spots such as the eaves or above a garage to cast wide beams of light down onto main walkways or the backyard fence entrance.
Your best bet for security is motion-sensing floodlights that mount to the surface of exterior siding or walls and contain two- or three-bulb housing units that go on only when built-in sensors detect movement in the area. Their intense light exposes prowlers and may fool them into thinking you’re home and on alert even if you’re not.
Our Pick for Security Lights: Available in black or white, Ring’s motion-sensing floodlight is weather resistant and can be connected to a Ring doorbell, other Ring lights, and even Amazon Alexa. Its two optical LED lights produce a powerful 2000 lumens to light up your landscape as bright as day, and it can detect motion from up to 70 feet away.
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Path lighting is soft to moderately bright safety and landscape lighting designed to help you navigate walkways while attractively highlighting them. Install it on the ground along both sides of main walkways from the back door to your fence door, along stepping stones from the main walkway to a backyard feature like a fountain, and/or around flower beds to emphasize their contours.
Path lighting is often available in low-voltage (12- to 15-V) and solar LED options consisting of a decorative bulb housing unit attached to a short stake you drive into the ground. If you choose low-voltage path lights, you’ll need to use a transformer to reduce the 120-volt house current to 12 volts; energy-saving solar versions, meanwhile, require no extra wires. Even if your walkways are shaded, these lights will stay bright for several hours after dusk, thanks to a solar rechargeable battery or remote solar panel you station somewhere else in the yard that gets direct sun.
Our Pick for Path Lights: With a stainless steel finish and cylindrical panes, this elegant 6-pack of solar path lights by Signature Garden earns high ratings from Amazon shoppers. The lights’ water resistance is another draw, along with their LED bulbs, auto on/off power, and crystalline solar panel. Emitting a warm white light, they are also super easy to install.
RELATED: Buyer’s Guide: The Best Solar Path Lights We Tested This Year
String lighting is soft, low-voltage accent lighting used to evoke a warm, intimate ambiance that’s especially desirable for entertaining. Hang outdoor string lights wherever the activity is, be it on the eaves of the home to brighten an outdoor kitchen or from the posts of a pavilion or gazebo to illuminate patio furniture.
Look for waterproof, rechargeable, traditional battery-powered or solar string lights (which usually come with a remote solar panel), preferably those with long-lasting LED bulbs. Such lights avoid the need for running extension cords across the yard, enable lighting in far corners of the yard without electrical outlets, and ensure that lights stay on safely even if spattered with rain.
Our Pick for String Lights: Hang 48 feet of Brightech Ambience Pro waterproof string lights over your patio table or under a pergola to lounge in the warm white glow of 15 indoor-outdoor bulbs. Not only are these Edison-style bulbs stylish in a retro way, but they are also energy-efficient. These LEDs will last longer than your average incandescent options and won’t cost as much to use over that long lifetime.
RELATED: 13 Breathtaking Ideas for Backyard String Lights
Outdoor wall lighting is a low-voltage, moderately bright form of safety and accent lighting used chiefly to illuminate and improve navigation in small recessed areas of the yard where shadows lurk. You can mount them on any vertical surface, such as along the interior of your pergola; above stairways; and around sunken seating areas, pools, and other low-lying spots.
Wall sconces with an open-bottomed design (i.e., the bottom of the bulb housing is uncovered) are the best options because they cast the maximum amount of light down onto recessed areas. If you have scarce space on exterior walls, consider semi-flush-mount sconces (i.e., the light is attached to a narrow arm that mounts to a plate on the wall) instead of flush-mount sconces with the whole fixture up against the wall.
Our Pick for Outdoor Sconces: Just as the market of indoor wall sconces is large and varied, so are your options for outdoor wall lighting. You’ll see all shapes, sizes, and metal finishes—this Lora outdoor sconce comes in seven finishes, from a shiny red to oil-rubbed bronze. The shallow fixture focuses light from an incandescent or LED bulb down toward the entertainment happening below, while the clean lines of the design blend easily with any other fixtures you may have in place around your exterior.
Lanterns offer soft, low-voltage accent lighting for a small expanse of an outdoor wall to play up architectural details or decor. They’re often installed in the vicinity of the back door to highlight a transom window, arch, or ornate wreath atop it. Most lanterns are semi-flush mount, consisting of a glass-and-metal exterior attached to an arm affixed to a plate on the wall. However, battery-powered tabletop lanterns bring that same visual interest to eye level while softly illuminating elements that you might reach for when outside entertaining: bowls of snacks, beverages, board games, and more. Choose lanterns with a translucent as opposed to a clear glass covering to provide diffuse, glare-free nighttime lighting that doesn’t distract from other backyard light fixtures.
Our Pick for Lanterns: While there are plenty of variations on the traditional wall-mounted lantern, with its hard corners and boxy shape, feel free to think out of the box. If your sense of style leans toward farmhouse or coastal, you may gravitate toward Globe Electric’s modern matte black caged lantern. The quality of this affordable fixture and its seeded glass shade constantly impresses Amazon buyers.
Deck lighting is standard-voltage, moderate- to high-intensity lighting designed to help folks get up, down, and across the deck by night, avoiding tripping hazards and visual clutter, and also accentuate nearby garden features.
It’s installed as a series of LED lights recessed into grooves in the surface, so that you can safely walk over them, never even feeling them underfoot. Deck lights also belong around the perimeter of the deck surface, in between the individual steps of stairs, and/or along deck stair railings.
Our Pick for Deck Lights: Illuminating the edge of your deck and its steps is essential to preventing trips and falls in the dark. Whether you’re fixing up an existing structure or setting out to build a new one, consider SMY Lighting’s recessed LED deck lights. The lights are just over 2 inches in diameter and about 3/4 inch deep. They are durable enough to withstand weather and foot traffic and maintain a consistent (while economical) glow. The 6-piece set should be ample lighting for a few deck steps when spaced 3 feet apart.
RELATED: Safety Check: 5 Tips to Protect Your Deck from Disaster
Also known as “up-lighting” or simply landscape lighting, spot lighting is standard-voltage landscaping lighting used to shine narrow, moderate- to high-intensity beams upwards, usually to showcase a plant or ornamental feature. You might install it at or above ground level below tall trees or a lawn ornament to make them look more statuesque.
To light taller objects, such as trees, opt for bullet-shaped lights on a base you drive into the ground with a stake. Bullet lights have an adjustable head that sits above ground and casts bright pins of light over longer distances at an angle of your choice. For shorter features, such as shrubs, try well lights, round lights that are pushed into the ground to cast light upwards over shorter distances. Because they’re hidden in the ground, they let small garden features take center stage.
Our Pick for Spot Lights: Cast a warm white light on your prized patch of landscaping around the patio or front lawn with hykolity’s LED low-voltage spot lights. Sold in sets of four with an IP65 rating that’s suitable for wet locations, these spot lights connect to your 12-volt low-voltage lighting system in a matter of minutes, thanks to the user-friendly installation process. They are a set-and-forget addition to your yard: Because the LED bulb is completely integrated with the light fixture, it’s both highly efficient and maintenance-free.
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