Buying Guide: Exterior Lighting

By Alison Mercer



Soho pendant light via Marset

Night lighting is a relatively new phenomenon in society: only in the 20th century did readily available electricity “illuminate” our days past the usual 14-16 hours to ones that could last for 24. This newfound freedom sparked a massive cultural shift, but it also came with a dark side: light pollution — too much light, where and when we don’t need it. Light pollution is proving to have far-reaching consequences, from health problems to the disruption of wildlife cycles. In this buying guide, I’m going to give you three factors to consider so you can create an effective and responsible exterior lighting plan.

Choosing the location

Exterior lighting typically falls into two categories: general and accent. General lighting provides light that allows for safe passage to and from specific locations. This can include path lighting along your walkway, an overhead light on your porch or step lights to signal a rise in elevation. Wherever there is expected traffic, light should be available.

Accent lighting, on the other hand, is purely for decorative purposes — ex. lighting that glorious weeping willow, or up-lighting your home to show off its architectural features. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Light-Pollution Abatement Committee recommends that accent lighting be turned off by 11pm or, better yet, reserved for special occasions when you’re expecting many people to enjoy the view.

Atlantis titanium outdoor lantern-Hinkley

Atlantis titanium outdoor lanterns via Hinkley

Finally, resist the urge to locate lighting as a crime deterrent. Police data shows no relationship between crime and light, and this is reinforced by the fact that most residential break-ins happen during broad daylight.

Choosing the fixtures

More and more, exterior lighting is mimicking interior lighting. You can get a gorgeous chandelier for your outdoor dining table, portable lamps for your outdoor living room and fixtures that are beautiful enough to work inside and out. No matter what kind of light you are shopping for, choose fixtures that are “shielded.” Shielded fixtures are categorized as “dark-sky friendly” by the International Dark-Sky Association because they eliminate upward light. Excessive upward light contributes to “sky glow” — the brightening of the night sky. Sky glow diminishes the natural beauty of the night sky, impedes astronomical research and interferes with our biological systems.

Sky glow-NYC and Mexico City

Sky glow over New York City via Why Files; sky glow over Mexico City via Vida y Natura

The good news is that almost all types of fixtures come in shielded versions. This Kichler arts & craft chandelier sells for about $600.

Zen Garden-Kichler

Zen garden outdoor chandelier by Kichler Lighting

Looking for something more modern? The Soho outdoor pendant by Marset (pictured, top of post), delivers high style and costs around $1500.

For the leaner budget, the Murray Feiss Redding Station wall sconce is priced at $150.

Redding Station sconce-Feiss

Redding Station sconce via Feiss

Canadian manufacturer Snoc makes these shielded path lights: a kit of 4 stems and an uplight plus transformer will set you back around $400, but comes with a lifetime warranty. This classic Progress Lighting sconce can be yours for under $60.

Snoc path light-Progress cylinder-Progress lantern

Cast aluminum path light by Snoc; contemporary outdoor cylinder by Progress Lighting; hanging lantern by Progress Lighting

To reduce energy consumption and unnecessary light, connect lights to a motion sensor or timer. For motion sensors, make sure the light is directed at a specific area (e.g. the door, so you can see well enough to get your key in) as opposed to directing it outward or upward where it will create “light trespass” — unwanted light on a neighbouring property. Choose a sensor with a shorter detection zone to reduce false triggers (ex. 150 degrees vs 240).

Light Trespass

Light trespass via Lighting Research Center

Choosing the wattage

Too often, we apply our indoor lighting needs to our exterior situations, and the result is over-illumination. We may want 100 watts to read by in our bedroom, but our lighting needs are much lower outside. Whatever light source you decide to go with, try not to exceed these per socket wattage guidelines by the RASC’s Light-Pollution Abatement Committee. Incandescent: 10-15 watts; LED: 1 watt; Compact Fluorescent: 9 watts (although this is still 10 times too bright, it is the lowest wattage available).

Philips 10W bulb_400px


Philips 10-Watt incandescent high-intensity light bulb via Home Depot

Over-lighting can actually reduce the efficiency and safety of our lighting by creating hotspots — too-bright areas next to areas that, in contrast, seem very dark. Hotspots make it difficult for people to comfortably move from one zone to the other while maintaining good visual acuity.





Creating an exterior lighting plan that serves your needs and keeps environmental impact to a minimum? Now that’s one bright idea!

Topics: Outdoor, Lighting

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