The Essential Guide to Outdoor Lighting

lights on a tree for romantic dinner
By Mina Phillips

Carefully selected and designed landscape lighting can create ambiance as well as improve the safety and functionality of your home. Discover how different styles of lighting can serve various purposes; such as spotlights, string lights or fibre optic lighting. In this article we show you what your options are and help you make some important lighting decisions.

With so many options to choose from, the selection and design process can be a little daunting. To achieve a better sense of direction in your design, ask yourself the following questions:


  • What do I want to achieve with my outdoor lighting?
  • How can I achieve this through layout?
  • Will I need to consider the placement of a power supply, transformer or cables?
  • How bright do I need the lights to be?
  • What type of lighting control will be most convenient?
  • What styles and materials will suit my landscape?


Outdoor Lightning Plan

When creating an outdoor lighting plan consider what kind of look you want, any surroundings you would like highlighted and what your budget is. Are you wanting lights to illuminate a pathway, a barbeque area or perhaps highlight specific features of your garden? The purpose of your lighting will influence how bright the lights should be as well as whether or not you prefer dimmable lights.

There are a range of lighting options to choose from, depending on your requirements. A focus spotlight is a great choice if you are looking to highlight a garden feature. For more of a decorative and rustic glow, you could opt for solar powered lanterns or string lights. There are a huge variety of outdoor light designs so it’s a good idea to start making a list of preferences.

Another thing to consider in your lighting plan is lighting control. Options include motion sensors, solar power, switches, remote control, timers and smart bulbs. Depending on your choice, you may also need to think about the placement transformers and cables.  

For outdoor lighting to last you need durable, weather resistant materials. A Zones landscaping specialist can advise you on the best IP rating for your lighting placement and environment. These ratings grade how sufficient a light’s seal is against rain and dirt.  


Entrance Lighting

For safety, appearance (and being able to find the keyhole to unlock your front door), entrance lighting is a must. The intention with entrance lighting is to provide you with safe and easy home access. It is a good idea to go for an LED light or something with medium to high output so that your entrance is easily visible.

With a huge amount of lighting styles and cover materials to choose from, it's not hard to find an option that suits the style of your entranceway. If you have an enclosed entrance, wall mounted lights are a convenient option. Floor lighting is another choice which can add a decorative feature.

outdoor lighting on a path

The style of your home can also play a part in the look you go for. Cedar wood, stone, and log entrances tend to suit lights that have a rustic or natural feel to them, although this does not have to be the case. Art deco or minimalistic style lights are good matches for modern homes.

Timers can be a great choice with entrance lighting, especially if they include dusk to dawn sensors. Lights which include a motion sensor are another option that will turn on and off as needed.


Entrance and Passage Lighting

Like entrance lighting, safety is a priority with stairway and passage lighting. LED lights, or lights with a medium to high output, are best for lighting up a space. Another aspect to be wary of is the angle of the lights, so as not to block anyone's vision. Lights should be angled in a practical direction, ideally sideways on downward.

safety outdoor entrence light

Common controls for this type of lighting are switches, sensors, solar power and timers. That being said, any type of lighting control can work well here, provided the lights are good quality.

The positioning of your lighting will depend on the environment. If you are using lights to illuminate a garden pathway, lights that can be staked into the ground are a practical option. Ground level spotlights or bollard lighting are other safety conscious choices for stairways or passages. If you have a handrail, wall mounted or hanging lights will work well.

Another aspect to consider with this type of lighting is the neatness of cables, as stairway and passage lighting tends to be two rows of multiple lights. Unless you are going with solar or wireless lighting, you will need to look at what options will work best for you, be it cable clips or burying the wires out of sight.


Deck and Patio Lighting

The most important aspect of deck and patio lighting is highlighting any safety concerns such as steps, ledges and swimming pools. Floor lighting is a practical way to light up steps and social areas or, if your space has a shelter, there is the option of ceiling lights. An open space with a surrounding garden could be a good opportunity to insert some stake in lights or bollards.

deck outdoor lighting

There is also the question of what lighting styles will look nice with your deck or patio. Subtle wall lighting creates a minimalistic feel. For a more modern look you might want to consider colour-changing lights. If rustic and cosy is more you, hanging solar lanterns and string lights are worth thinking about.    

Creating a pathway for cables to connect your lights to a transformer will also impact the look of your space. Cable clips will come in handy here, especially for string lights.

Timers, sensors, switches and remotes are all practical lighting control options. You can even choose to control the light settings off of your phone through the use of smart bulbs.


Garage and Driveway Lighting

To create a safe passage for cars to come and go in the dark, consider  installing a trail of lights along both sides of your driveway and up to the garage. This can be achieved with bollard lights and ground level lighting. Make sure the angle of the lights are pointing sideways or down, to avoid any driving distractions. For the garage, mounting lights on the outside walls or ceiling is a practical placement.

Solar powered and wireless lights are easy driveway lighting options. For the garage, consider using cable clips for external cables or discuss the possibility of internal wiring with a specialist. A landscaping specialist can ensure cables are safely connected and kept tidy.

driveway lights

Timers and sensors are good ideas for this type of outdoor lighting. If you opt for smart bulbs, keep in mind that you will only be able to control them when you are in range. The same goes for remote control.

Uplight Trees

Spotlights or string lights are attractive choices if you are looking to create an uplight tree feature. There are extensive options available, from colours to brightness.

uplight tree with green spotlight

For a mellow glow you will want your lighting to either have a dimmer setting or have a low output. To highlight the tree as a garden feature, a high output spotlight on an upward angle will work best.

String lights can easily be arranged around the tree base or branches as desired. Spotlights can be staked or pinned into the ground. Timers or sensors are an ideal option for spotlights while solar powered lights are common for string lights.   

string lights arranged around tree trunk

A Zones Landscaping specialist can assist in the planning and installation  of your uplight tree lighting. If you are considering installing outdoor lighting yourself, contact an expert or registered electrician regarding outdoor cables and safety aspects. Power supplies are normally installed on the exterior of homes but, if need be, an electrician can install one in a garden location that works for your landscape design.  


Light Up the Barbeque Area

The arrangement of your barbecue area lighting depends on your personal taste and environment. The lighting should work as a safety feature for cooking and being social in the evenings. However there are many ways to achieve this while also creating a sense of atmosphere.

barbecue area lighting

Consider any stylistic features of your barbeque area. Does it feel modern, classic or rustic? What types of lighting would suit this? Lanterns and string lights add a nice surrounding touch but you will likely need additional lights with higher outputs for safety, especially near the barbeque and any steps or edges. You will also want to ensure any outdoor power cables are hidden or kept tidy using cable clips.

Light switches are common for barbeque areas, to allow easy control as you enter and exit the space. Smart bulbs are another option, allowing you to control the lights from your phone.


Spot Lighting

Spot lighting is a great option for those wanting to highlight a specific landscape feature. Spotlights usually provide a high output, so generally only one is needed per feature, depending on the size of the feature.

garden spotlight

The angle of your light is important, so ensure the light you choose is either at the angle you need or is adjustable. Depending on where you choose to place the spotlight/s, the placement of a power supply will need to be taken into consideration as will the positioning of outdoor cables.  

Switch on, solar powered, motion sensors and timers are common control features found among spot light options. Timers and sensors are practical options if you want the spotlight/s to be in use nightly. Solar powered spot lights are an easy choice. Motion sensors work well for added home security.   


Fibre Optic Outdoor Lights

Fibre optic lighting is safe to be used almost anywhere, as fibre optic cables do not carry electricity, heat or ultraviolet light. This type of lighting is a creative option for ambient outdoor settings due to the flexibility of fibre optic cables and the ease of being able to run the cables long distance. Fibre optic light is carried from an illuminator, through a fibre optic cable and is then transmitted as light.

Outdoor options for fibre optic lighting include swimming pools, spas, water features, deck/patio spaces and garden features.

In pools and spas, fibre optic lighting can safely guide swimmers down stairways and can create a modern look. A dry box, containing an illuminator, will need to be stored outside of the pool. As the fibre optic cables can reach over a long distance, this is easily done. It also makes for easy bulb changing.


Security Lighting

A high output light with a motion sensor is the best option for security lighting. Twin LED wall mounted lights are popular and can come with both motion sensors and timers. Detection ranges vary, with 180 degree detection being common. Some heavier duty lights will offer 360 degree motion detection.  

Security lighting is designed with weather resistance and a high output in mind, so a good quality security light should last long past its warranty.

There are a variety of security light products out there, whether you are seeking a heavy duty, 2000 lumens bright, 360 degree motion detection light, or something slightly more humble. Either way it is worth investing in a light with a decent detection range and brightness.  

security lights installed

Placemakers and Mitre 10 offer a range of security lights to suit different homes and budgets.      


Ambience Lighting

Lanterns and lighting pillars can make attractive additions to an outdoor space, as can outdoor torches. String lights are another visually pleasing option. Those seeking ambient lighting usually lean toward mellow lighting with some practical layers, blending both safety and style.

Placing lighting at different levels is an effective way to create a sense of ambience. String lights across the ceiling, practical wall lights and the odd floor light to guide your way can create a charming scene. Choose lights that fit your surroundings. Multi coloured lights, or spotlights highlighting a feature, suit modern homes. Bollard lights sprinkled throughout a garden present a sweet and timeless look.    

ambience lighting outdoor dining

Almost any control system can work for this type of lighting. Choosing lights that have a dimming option is always an added bonus when trying to create atmosphere. Timers and light sensors make this type of lighting consistent and easy to manage. If you are wanting more control over your options, smart bulbs could provide an innovative solution.


Outdoor Lighting Cost

So you have an idea of what type of lighting you want to add to your landscape, but how much will it cost? The best way to achieve an accurate cost estimate is to speak with a landscape consultant.

Basic Budget

If you have a modest budget to work within, simply focus on what you want to achieve through lighting. Is it one area of the garden, or the entire circumference of your property? The latter can be achieved within a small price range if you plan carefully. Affordable and reasonably sturdy lighting can be found within the range of $15 - $100 per light. On top of this, you will need to consider the costs of hiring a designer, labour and potentially an electrician. All costs included, you will want to set aside a minimum of $1,500.

Mid-range budget

If there is a bit more wriggle room in your budget, prioritise quality and a good lighting plan. Opt for lights that offer long term durability. This might cost a little more initially, but will save you from having to replace lighting in the near future. You also have the option of automated lighting. Factor in a basic garden makeover and some potentially complicated electrical work, and you could have yourself a stunning garden lighting display for $10,000 - $15,000.

High-end Budget 

If your budget allows, opt for the highest quality lighting and start your garden landscape from scratch. A blank canvas not only makes it easier for electricians to install lighting and cables, it also allows you to focus on creating a lighting plan that highlights your ideal garden. Designer outdoor lighting can range from $100 - $500+ per fitting. On top of this, you will be paying a designer and electrician each between $50 - $150 per hour. To change the appearance of your garden through hard landscaping and planting, you will need $30,000 minimum. The total cost of both landscaping your property and installing a new lighting design will depend on the size and complexity of the project.


Contact Zones

Whatever your outdoor lighting ideas are, our Zones Landscaping Specialists will be more than happy to help. Zones provide services in all areas of landscaping and stay with your project from the original briefing through to final maintenance. If you would like more information, get in touch to find out more or to arrange a consultation.

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