Exterior Lighting Design

Jan 21, 2023 | Uncategorized

When arriving at a property, what do you expect? This design brief covers:

  1. The approach and façade, arriving and departing.
  2. Creating an extra room, the view from the inside out.
  3. Terracing close to the house, using the exterior space in the dark.
  4. Outbuildings: Garage, Pool, Workshop, Landscape, and Feature lighting.

Taking section 1 first, the property situation and the client’s aspiration obviously play a big part in the approach and departure of a building. However so does the practical side: which door will you enter from? Will you be able to see the key lock and find the right key? How much automation do you want? Would the light come on by a PIR or time clock, or a proximity detector from your phone? It’s all possible and technology is advancing quickly, but our advice: keep it simple.

Do you entertain? Will guests be able to find the house? Do you want the house to stand out? In the town, you do need more light due to the light pollution. In the countryside on the other hand, a full moon gives you less than 1 lux on the ground, which is actually more than enough.

If you use uplighters as a guide to the house, be very careful. Light needs to touch a surface to be seen, so don’t just point them into the sky, unless you want an aircraft to land!

Wall lights with lamps on the exterior of your house allow light to go in many directions, so are quite inefficient when it comes to lighting the ground. Also, their brightness can hinder reversing the car. Consider a wall light with a downward-directed light source instead.

Section 2 refers to creating a picturesque outdoor environment, which we can look out onto and appreciate during dark evenings. In the UK, due to our northern latitude, the summer days are long and the winter nights are short. Therefore, you use you lighting more in the winter than in summer… how often do we need to sit out after 10:00pm in the summer? When is it warm and dry enough?

Our tendency is to use more glass in new builds due to its efficiency, this is an opportunity to bring the outside in, creating another room and a little theatre. Lights used to be very energy hungry, but now we can light our outdoor spaces very efficiently.

Section 3: Lighting close to the house. It’s nice to showcase the house discreetly, this will also create a more practical pathway around the house which can be used in the dark. However, be careful not to create glare shining back into the house, this can be a real nuisance.

Section 4: Outbuilding and garden buildings like sheds, pools, workshops and staff accommodation will all need to be accessed at night. Therefore, lighting paths to these buildings is necessary. Lighting the surrounding landscaping can help to give you a great effect, whilst being practical too.

How much light do we need in the garden and landscaping? As mentioned before, light used in any scheme depends on competition from another lighting in the area, which differs between urban and rural locations.

Your lighting also needs to compete with shrubs and trees, and the people who look after them… carefully consider your cabling so it doesn’t get damaged when things grow, or by a spade!

For exterior lighting, we recommend Extra Low Voltage (ELV) as it’s very safe, unlike 230V. Also, consider the driver positions, again try and keep them inside, many good quality drivers can power ELV fitting up to 100 metres away.

You also need to think about the controls for exterior lighting. There are many ways to switch/control your exterior lighting, for instance:

  • Switching
  • PE’s
  • PIR’s
  • Time clocks
  • Programmable astrological clock
  • Holiday mode
  • Remote access

It’s a nice idea to light features and specific areas, which creates pools of light in the outdoor space. Try to cover the areas below:

  • Water Features and Fountains – light will follow the water, it’s one of the few ways you can bend light. Fibre Optics is a great example of how to light areas with water, as the light source is not in the water itself. Generally, try to keep fitting out of the water if possible!
  • Ponds – pond water can appear dirty, therefore we should concentrate the light across the surface.
  • Indoor and Outdoor Pools – check the colour of the pool, this will be the colour which you will see. If the lighting is left to the pool contractor, always check how they are going to control the lights – after all, the pool is an integral part of the lighting design. Pool areas have much more stringent restrictions and regulations on where you can position lights.
  • Pool houses – consider the function, is this a party room or a more dedicated swimming and exercise space? If it’s being used as an entertaining space, we can be a bit more creative with the lighting!
  • Trees – from the small specimen to the Redwood, consider the stem colour and what they look like in summer and winter. In the summer, the foliage will need lighting in a different way to the winter trunk and branches. Seeing as we will appreciate the lighting more in winter, it’s best to consider it then.
  • Paths and Steps – keep the lights low to help you get around. As a minimum, ensure you light the top and bottom steps.
  • Boarders – light these sparingly, flood lighting the whole space doesn’t give you any contrast, it’s the light and dark that gives you the atmosphere.
  • Walls including Arches and the Façade – washing the face of the building with light is an amazing look when you arrive at the property, but be careful not to light into the windows, as this will impede you view out. Lighting arches, especially if they have interesting coping stones, is a fabulous effect.

As well as the areas you’re lighting in your outdoor space, you need to consider the different effects which can be achieved:

  • Downlighting – an effective, simple and practical way to frame the perimeter of a building – assuming there is a surrounding canopy/soffit. Downlights can also be used to ensure that porches are sufficiently lit, once again, so that you’re not scrambling to find your keys in the dark! Also, consider downlighting in pergolas – it’s important not to forget to cast light onto your entertainment space. Downlighting is preferable to uplighting in areas under the ‘dark skies’ blanket (a strategy aiming to reduce the environmental impacts of exterior lighting); the less light we direct upwards, the less light pollution we create!
  • Uplighting – Despite the above point regarding light pollution, uplighting can be an impressive outdoor lighting effect, if executed correctly. Whether it’s to guide you to a doorway, graze a feature wall, or highlight a sculpture, there’s no doubt that uplighting has a striking impact. It is nevertheless vital that uplighting should be discreet, i.e. low wattage, anti-glare and just enough lumens to catch the eye.
  • Low-level and horizontal lighting – As well as using lighting to create a magical outdoor environment, we also need to consider the practicality of the exterior lighting. Pathways, steps and any ground-level changes need to be visible, largely for safety. We could use path markers or low-level floor washers to achieve this. Alternatively, consider raising the lighting from the ground slightly, for instance using a post/bollard, in order to make the otherwise practical lighting, something of more interest. It’s also nice to have some low-level lighting to add some depth, and level changes, to the overall design.
  • Spotlighting or highlighting – Whilst we are sat inside during dark evenings, it’s nice to have something to look out onto (rather than a dark blank screen where the glazing is!). Consider adding a feature outside, such as a sculpture or a tree, which can easily be lit using a spotlight. By putting a spotlight onto a ground spike, we can ensure that the lighting is sturdy in the ground, but we also have the flexibility to move it around. If you’re unsure of what features to add to your outdoor area, use a spotlight with an adjustable beam, meaning when the time comes to add the feature, we can perfectly highlight it.
  • Linear lighting – Linear lighting can be placed on the side of buildings for an architectural effect, whilst also showcasing the shape of a building by drawing the eye upwards. Consider linear lighting for a modern and clean effect, i.e. LED Tape to the underside of steps. Whilst the use of linear lighting has been used primarily in commercial spaces, it has a place in residential gardens if you’re after a contemporary, architectural or minimal aesthetic.
  • Feature / Decorative Lighting – Using decorative lighting outside gives the garden or exterior space personality and identity. This completely depends on your style and is a great way to reflect your individuality. Using outdoor decorative lighting is also a great way to create a feature in the exterior space in the daytime, before the light is even on, therefore drawing your eye to a unique statement piece day or night.
  • Washing / Grazing – Wall grazing is a lighting technique where lights are positioned close to a wall, either from the floor or ceiling, forcing the beam of light to hit the wall and highlight the different textures through shadows. Wall washing happens when we place the light source further from the wall, creating a smoother, more subtle effect. Consider grazing or washing exterior walls – a nice way to mark out the perimeter of the outdoor space, as well as highlight the architecture of the building it’s linked to. It’s particularly nice to appreciate a Cotswold Stone building from outside, even in the dark, something which washing, or grazing, can achieve.
  • Backlighting – Backlighting is a dramatic effect that adds contrast and separates the object from its background. This creates more depth, and shape, within an exterior space. For instance, a backlit feature in a garden is a way to add some interest to the area and is great if you want the feature to be lit slightly more subtly. Consider spotlighting instead if you would rather a punchier, more striking effect.
  • Task lighting – needed for reading and working. Often, we can use a portable luminaire. We need about 500 lux on the subject; however, this depends on how intricate the work is!

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