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How to Pick the Right Outdoor Lighting

Updated on August 6, 2010

Outdoor lighting can turn an ordinary backyard into something magical. I have seen some amazing lighting concepts that were created with minimal budgets and that were completed in only a day or two. I have also seen a few lighting ideas that seemed good conceptually, but that simply failed when installed. I hate to admit that I helped install a few that really looked badly when they were done. I am planning a new lighting concept for my own backyard, and wanted to look at what works and what doesn’t.

What doesn’t work is simple. I helped a friend of mine install a wired lighting system. We placed a small accent light every eight feet around his flower gardens and around his patio. We then installed a few more lights around his biggest trees in his backyard. Once night fell, we turned it on and we were both quite disappointed. The lights worked, but it looked way too planned out. Having the lights equally placed really ruined it. Lights were focused on small flowers, some on rocks, and some on nothing but mulch.

Another failure was my own. I installed solar-powered accent lights around my front porch and its’ accompanying sidewalk. The lights that I bought were cheap and looked it. But, even when they were all on, it looked stupid. Again, having the lights equally spaced ruined the look.

My parents got it right with their own backyard lights. They have a small patio with a lattice roof covered with flowering vines. The porch is almost hidden by more lattice and climbing vines, which is a neat look on its own. My dad took some normal white outdoor Christmas lights and wrapped them around the different areas of the ceiling and walls. He then drooped the strings of lights into the middle of the ceiling where a candle-lit outdoor chandelier hangs. He also installed just a handful of accent lights near the entrance that light up the large sandstone stones that slowly become a walkway into the patio. He placed them unevenly and under larger plants. The effect is truly amazing. It looks both whimsical and beautiful and provides just enough light that they never have to turn on the flood lights to see.

I have a small wood behind my home and a small patio right at the edge of them. I saw a concept that I want to build at a local lightscapping business. They had cleaned out a large stand of trees and had mocked up a path into them by simply placing a few large stones along the edges of the path and covering it with a light dusting of mulch. This kept the path looking natural. Along the path were small hanging light posts. You could only see a few at a time and, as my wife pointed out, had almost a Narnia feeling to it. It was fantastic. I will let you know how it turns out. I still have more research to do on what lights I'm going to use, but cannot wait to get started.


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