Shine On: Lighting That Will Enhance Your Deck
Lighting can extend the use and pleasure of an outdoor deck, increase safety and security and make the space more attractive and inviting. As the sun sets, you can still stay outside and enjoy your deck and company with a well-designed lighting plan that minimizes glare and energy use.
What to Illuminate
Deck lighting can be practical and used for safety purposes, shine on an outdoor dining area, used at different levels–on steps, along railings–and to highlight landscaping, architectural features or a pool, spa or fountain. It can also create a certain mood or atmosphere for special occasions.
Step and deck path lights have a distinct function: to safely illuminate traffic throughout the deck and yard. They also help to enhance the view from indoors at night.
Call an Electrician or DIY?
Unless you have worked with lighting before, it’s best to work with an electrician. Most outdoor lighting is low voltage, using 12 volts of electricity. A transformer will be needed to power down the 120-volt current indoors to 12 volts outdoors. But before buying one, you will need to figure out how many outdoor lights will be attached, plus their wattage. A suitable transformer will be able to handle your current wattage needs along with an estimated 25 to 50 more so it isn’t operating at full capacity and it will be able to handle more wattage if you add more landscaping lights in the future.
Many modern fixtures use LED bulbs, which are energy and cost efficient. Solar lighting has improved but is usually not strong or reliable enough to provide adequate illumination.
Types of Fixtures
The most popular types of deck lighting and areas to illuminate include:
- Steps: The best fixtures include surface mounts, flush mounts, path lights and weatherproof LED strip lights.
- Well, Spot or Uplights: These can be used to illuminate paths, create drama by highlighting plant forms, etc.
- Downlights: Designed to be anchored to walls, eaves, patio roofs or trees.
- Balusters: Illuminated balusters for railings (balustrades) that are designed to replace existing balusters or be installed during new deck construction.
- Post caps and rail lights: Decorative lighting fixtures that can be attached to posts or rails.
While most landscape lighting is contemporary and works with a variety of architectural styles, specialty fixtures are available for certain types, like colonial, craftsman, mediterranean, and mid-century modern. When it comes to lighting, resist the urge to go for an eclectic look, unless it reflects the character of your home’s interior and exterior.
Architect Nick Leigh-Smith designed an ipe wood deck and surround for a London client’s existing spa. Located on the fifth floor of a residential building in the Clerkenwell district, the space was built for entertaining, and includes perimeter seating, an outdoor kitchen, a shower, two bars and a dance floor. As for the recessed lighting: it’s waterproof LED tape, which is sold in strips in various lengths and can be cut to fit.
Chicago-based dSpace Studio, an architecture, landscape and design firm, created illuminated risers for the deck of a residential client by attaching sandblasted frosted plexiglass with a linear cold cathode light fixture. The riser was painted white to diffuse the light evenly. The planter lights are stake lights by SPJ Lighting Inc. While not LED, cold cathode is energy efficient and has a long lamp life.
A Stream Runs Through It
Author and landscape designer Janine Mendel of the Australian firm CultivArt recessed miniature white LEDs under this wooden bridge/deck to illuminate the stream and river stones. She recommends using warm instead of cool white lights for outdoor spaces.
Designers like a challenge and can get really creative with urban spaces. Case in point: this rooftop garden is on top of a garage in Chicago’s Wicker Park/Bucktown district. Using cedar, steel and frosted acrylic panels, Reveal Design LLC constructed a pergola with a green (living) roof which has a built-in irrigation system. The owners can view their illuminated rooftop deck from indoors and can control the low-voltage FX Luminaire LED lighting with their smartphones.
Al Fresco Dining
The goal: to provide intimacy to the dining space of a deck at a beach cottage in Portland, Maine without building a roof, which would block out the sky at night and sun during the day. The simple solution: Whitten Architects artfully drape Vintage Light Strings from Restoration Hardware over stainless steel cables that stretch over the deck.
Adding Security and Safety
The owners of this Omaha, Nebraska home hired McKay Landscape Lighting to illuminate their front and back yards for increased safety and security. Steep outdoor steps with five areas allowing access to and from the deck called for well-designed lighting to ensure safe passage. Surface mounts were placed on the risers, right beneath the treads.
San Francisco Bay Area landscape design firm GrowsGreen created an outdoor space that comes alive at night, thanks to warm wood decking, low-mounted lights, landscaping lighting and fun string lights that swing from the fence to the two palm trees and over the sunken, lower-level deck.
Bruns Architecture illuminated the narrow terrace deck of this Milwaukee, Wisconsin home by recessing canister lights into the soffit/roof plane. By placing the lights discretely under the eaves, the deck is illuminated without leaking lighting into the night sky.
David Schuck of Karen Garlanger Designs in St. Joseph, Michigan built this modern deck with planters using Fiberon Horizon Decking in ipe. The evenly spaced round exterior stair lights are 2-inch LEDs, which give the space a clean, contemporary look.