Lighting can make all the difference for outdoor living spaces, enabling you to enjoy time outside year round, as well as providing greater security and safety.
In the Seattle area in particular, we’ll take every bit of outdoor light that we can get, says Mary Peterson, the CEO and lead designer of Northwest Outdoor Lighting, a Seattle-based custom landscape lighting company.
“Most of our clients are interested in lighting that enhances their property and takes away the gloom of winter in our part of the country,” she says. “Extra security is also a concern. Lighting all around the property sends a message from the street to not come on-site, since there are no hidden dark corners to lurk in.”
But how do you choose lights that are effective during the dark days of winter and on balmy summer nights when the sky is light well past dinnertime? Seattle-area lighting pros have a few suggestions.
Create a welcoming entrance
You can make your home’s entrance and front yard feel safe and welcoming with a well-planned combination of wall-mounted fixtures and in-ground and pathway lighting.
“Strategically designing the lighting with every viewing perspective in mind provides the proper lighting and enhanced visibility at night,” Peterson says.
To illuminate an entryway, for example, it’s not always ideal to mount fixtures that direct bright light down or at the front door. Peterson recommends petite yet powerful fixtures that aren’t hard on the eyes of those approaching the house.
“Installing in-ground lights is always our first choice,” she says. “The proper beam width and lumen intensity ensures that the lighting brings out interesting details of whatever it’s highlighting. That could be tree trunks, textured stone walls or a front entrance.”
While driveway and garage lighting is typically bright and direct, pathway and front-entrance fixtures should be more subdued, Peterson says. Multidirectional lights along an exterior wall of your house or mounted on a fence are also effective ways to brighten multiple spaces.
Enhance your home’s character
Installing a variety of lights at different levels and angles can add creative ambiance to your landscape design. In-ground uplight luminaires aimed into a flowering tree or hidden among an artistically pruned hedge increases visibility while accentuating those landscape features.
Lantern lights lining a pathway or driveway give your front yard an “enchanted garden” vibe that can be enhanced with landscaping touches such as lilies, ferns and tall grasses, Peterson says. Path lights are available with translucent or colored glass shades to create an understated, candle-like glow.
For a contemporary touch, bollard lights come in a variety of styles, including their classic post shape. Mounted on the ground, they can also produce subtle or bold geometric patterns, depending on the brightness of the bulbs.
Torch-style wall sconces mounted on either side of a garage door add an elegant, vintage touch reminiscent of firelit torches on a medieval castle.
Use string lights year round
Whether adding a festive touch to a deck rail or a bold statement along a roofline, string lights can light up your home well beyond the holiday season.
“The trick is to choose bulbs that don’t scream ‘Christmastime’ and add subtle ambiance,” says Robert Hobart, owner of Brite-
scape, a landscape lighting design and installation firm in Seattle.
Hobart prefers warm white bulbs for year-round use. He also recommends using round bulbs, rather than the candelabra bulbs that are associated with holiday decorating.
When hanging string lights, keep the straight lines and angles of your home in mind. “The key to hanging trim lights like a pro is to make sure they’re straight along gutter lines and rooflines,” Hobart says.
For trimming a deck rail, wrap the string of lights tightly around the rail in a clockwise spiral, and use metal hooks and screws to keep them in place. Hooks will also make it easier if you need to occasionally take the lights down and put them back up.
Add ambiance with LEDs
“LED lighting is the way to go for energy efficiency as well as cost,” Hobart says.
He says the power used by one standard incandescent bulb costs about $40 per year, while a comparable LED bulb costs $4. Additionally, LED bulbs last longer, which saves on replacement costs, as well as the time required to climb a ladder and do maintenance.
Hobart recommends using an astronomical timer that you can set to go on and off automatically as the sun sets and rises. Another option for controlling LED lights is a phone app — you can dim and brighten your outdoor lighting from the comfort of your living room in winter, or while relaxing on the patio during warmer evenings. You can also adjust your lights while away on vacation.
“One trend we’ve been seeing is the warm tones that are available in LED bulbs,” Peterson says. “No more cold, blue LED lighting!”
Temperature measured on the Kelvin scale determines an LED’s color tone. A warm color temperature is typically 3,000 K or less. The higher the temperature, the cooler the color, with a bright white bulb producing more than 4,000 K.
With a greater variety of tones available for LED bulbs, Peterson says, you can mix and match colors to create just the right light for your yard.
Is solar right for your yard?
Seattle is known for its gloomy winters and rainy springs. But that doesn’t make solar lighting out of the question, thanks to summer days that can bring up to 16 hours of sunshine for collecting electricity.
If you’re wondering if solar lights are right for your yard, here are some facts to consider:
• Eight hours of full sunshine enables a solar bulb to stay bright for up to 15 hours.
• Solar lights need direct sunlight to work at maximum efficiency; however, reflective sunshine and diffused sunlight also help to charge the batteries inside solar lights. The general consensus is that shaded parts of your yard and covered patios are not good areas for solar lighting.
• Solar landscape lighting batteries commonly last for three to four years, and LED bulbs last even longer. Even if you’re only using solar-powered landscape lights in part of your yard, the savings can add up.