Two recent news alerts are bringing increased attention to our outdoor living spaces. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has repeatedly recommended that upcoming family holiday gatherings be limited in number and held outdoors if possible. Then, a winter weather forecast released by The Weather Company (an IBM Business) in October suggests that the La Niña weather pattern will cause November, January, and February to bring above-average temperatures throughout the country with the exception of Montana and North Dakota. (The month of December is predicted to have temperatures that will be colder than average.)
This two-fold combination will mostly likely extend the season for enjoying the outdoors, which has led many homeowners to embark on sprucing up their outdoor living spaces. One of the first concerns, regardless of weather, is safety — especially if you will be entertaining guests.
First and foremost is making sure there is adequate illumination on paths and steps at all entrances (front, back, and side). Fortunately, there are plenty of decorative path and step lights available to complement every home's exterior.
Placement is important. Make sure path lights are not at a height where the light source will cause glare to anyone walking along the path; glare causes visual discomfort and interferes with a person's ability to see their surroundings clearly, which can lead to a fall.
The most common mistake homeowners make with landscape lighting is positioning lights too close together and spaced evenly in two parallel lines. Doing so often resembles an airport runway instead of a residential setting. According to the American Lighting Association (ALA), path lights should be staggered approximately six to eight feet apart to offer just enough light to see while walking.
If there are steps leading to a deck or porch, they should be illuminated for safety. There is a wide variety of deck, railing, and step lights that can accomplish this attractively. Step lights are typically installed directly into stair risers or along a side wall (if available), or tape lighting can be placed underneath each stair step or on the underside of a handrail.
And while we're talking about safety and convenience, is your address clearly visible at night? Not only is having an easy-to-spot address helpful for guests, but also for delivery drivers and taxi/ride share services as well as emergency aid. One stylish alternative many homeowners are choosing is illuminated numbers.
When it comes to the actual entrance of the home, take a look at the exterior from the street. Are you happy with the look of the primary fixture? Does the lantern or pendant fixture seem to be too small for the door's size? A common problem with many entryways is having fixtures that are under-sized.
According to the ALA's lighting pros, if installing wall lights next to the front door, select fixtures that are proportioned one-quarter or one-third the height of the doorway. Measure 66 inches from the floor to the center of the fixture, and 6 to 12 inches from the door casing. If space permits, having two wall lanterns – one on each side of the door – is a more attractive look because it provides visual symmetry.
The ALA pros advise that fixtures placed over the door should be sized at one-quarter or one-third the width of the door frame and centered six inches above the door. Hanging lights, such as pendants and lanterns, should measure one-fifth the height of the door and centered six inches above the door.
You don't need to have expensive landscaping in order to showcase your yard. Thanks to the magic of lighting, you can emphasize architectural elements you already have in place without having to blow the budget on a trip to the local garden shop.
One of the easiest techniques is to "uplight" a few trees. ALA experts explain the process as aiming light up into the leaves and branches of the tree while making sure the trunk is also bathed in light. The lighting fixtures used for this purpose are typically called "landscape lights" and are available in several color choices to either blend in or stand out, depending on preference.
Wall washing and wall grazing are two other techniques that can be used to highlight the exterior of the home. In wall washing, a spotlight is positioned a distance away from the house to provide an even, but flat, wide beam of light that covers a large surface area. In wall grazing, the fixture is placed closer to the wall and is best used with walls that have texture (i.e. stucco, shingles) to create more defined shadows.
In garden beds, the ALA's lighting experts suggest placing fixtures no closer than 20 feet apart to create pools of light that draw the eye from one area to the next. To highlight shadows and create visual interest, position lights close to the base of garden walls.
Whether your family entertains on a deck, a patio, or a covered porch, since the pandemic hit in 2020, you've probably been spending a lot more time there. Now that the CDC has been recommending that holiday entertaining be spent outdoors if possible, homeowners everywhere are interested in upgrading their outdoor living spaces.
Over the past several years, there have been great advances in outdoor lighting and furniture. The new designs in both categories very much resemble the beautiful furnishings found inside their homes. For lighting, fixtures, table lamps, and lanterns, it is important to check the label for products rated for wet or damp locations. With a "wet location" listing, the product is certified to withstand water exposure directly. A "damp location" rating means the product can be safely used in moist environments such as covered porches, where water will not be pouring onto the fixture.
With the addition of strategically placed mirrors, wall art, and lamps, you will be able to improve the look of a small room and make it feel more spacious affordably and as quickly as over the course of a long weekend.
Upgrading the lighting outside of your home – from making the best impression at the front entrance to enhancing your entertaining capabilities in the backyard – will help maximize your enjoyment of the time you are spending at home.