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Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

Source: Martha Stewart Living, March 2010


Plug in to the world of outdoor fixtures with stylish, energy-smart options for parties, paths, entryways, and stairs.

General note: Where possible, we chose fixtures that are night-sky friendly, meaning that they direct light downward, rather than up or out. Light pollution can be harmful to wildlife.

Lighting a Dining Area

Faux candles and lanterns illuminate the table, while overhead fixtures, strung from trees or a trellis, set the mood.

No extension cords necessary. Wireless lights can be installed anywhere in minutes (just make sure solar panels get a full day of sun to charge). Hanging solar lanterns, such as the Soji Modern (1) or the Gardener's Supply Company's Shoji (2), that turn on automatically at dusk make alfresco dining elegant. Solar string lights, from Plow & Hearth (3) and PureModern (4) add twinkle. Oxo's battery-powered Glow votive lights (5) and dimmable lantern (6) are a safer alternative to candles and stay cool to the touch. From Unica Home, a Mason jar with a solar cell (7) combines new technology and old-fashioned charm.

Lighting a Path

Line both sides with stake lights to create a safe passageway. If you tuck fixtures into shrubs, be sure they're six to eight inches taller than your plantings so the light isn't obscured.

Let the sun shine. Solar lights are easy to install and remove -- which makes them ideal for entertaining. Smart Solar's step lights (1) can sit aboveground or be installed permanently. Like all the path-lighting fixtures shown, they have an LED light source, which can last 50,000 hours (that's 22 years if used three hours a day). Plow & Hearth's solar spotlights (2) are best for beds with plants too tall for stake lights. They can be nestled among greenery and then adjusted so the light shines where you need it. Pagoda- or lantern-style stake lights, such as those by the Gardener's Supply Company (3) and Reviere (4), direct light downward. On the latter, the lamp detaches to become portable.

Lighting an Entry

To minimize glare, look for fixtures that have opaque or textured shades and use low-wattage bulbs. If you're installing only one fixture, mount it on the lock side of the door.

Warm welcome. The Mission-style Sierra hybrid wall light (1) has a sun-powered LED source and a compact fluorescent bulb (which must be hard-wired). The LED turns on automatically at dusk; switch on the fluorescent bulb when you need more light. A motion sensor inside the Hampton Bay Dark Sky lantern (2) is triggered automatically when someone enters and leaves the area, saving energy. The prismatic glass cover on Restoration Hardware's Hopper sconce (3) refracts light to cut glare.

Lighting Stairs

For safety, brighten as much of a stair area as possible. Make sure hazardous obstacles around steps, such as garden ornaments or planters, are also clearly illuminated.

One step at a time. The articulating head on the low-voltage Excalibur light from Sea Gull Lighting (1) allows for precise adjustment. Hinkley's Shell light (2) comes in an array of finishes and has a frosted lens that produces a diffused glow. Outdoor Lighting Perspectives's copper Classic Cone path light fixture (3) develops a patina over time.

Energy-Source Basics
There are many options when it comes to outdoor lighting. To narrow the field, take into account power availability and your budget. Here's what you need to know.

Panels on or near fixtures convert sun into electricity, which is stored in rechargeable batteries. Fixtures are inexpensive and earth friendly, and because they're wireless, they're a snap to install. They tend to emit weaker light than conventionally powered options, so they're best in areas that get a lot of sun, or to add glow when entertaining.

Battery-equipped votive candles and lanterns charge in a base module plugged in to a household outlet. Once charged, they'll stay bright for eight to 10 hours. They are safer than candles in fire-prone areas and households with children and pets. They're also good in windy spots, where keeping candles lit can be challenging.

Low Voltage
These fixtures operate on 12 volts of current rather than the standard 120 volts. Multiple lights are attached to a cable that's connected to a transformer. The transformer, which plugs in to a standard outdoor outlet, lowers the current to safe levels, so there's no risk of shock. Modestly priced do-it-yourself kits are available at home-supply stores and lighting showrooms. Cables don't need to be buried, so these systems are easy to install and rearrange.

Line Voltage
Fixtures operate on 120 volts and require professional installation and permits. Cables are wired to your house's electrical system and, for in-ground lighting, they must be buried at least 18 inches. Although line-voltage systems are the priciest option, they are useful for providing lots of light, especially in large areas, and if you want to use a mix of bulbs (incandescent and fluorescent, for example).

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