Home with well-designed exterior lighting

Lighting Tricks Designers Use for Awesome Curb Appeal

Easy outdoor lighting ideas to bathe your home in a warm glow.

Image: David Wakely Photography© / Ana Williamson Architecture

Think about it: most people you invite over, come in the evening, right? 

So maybe they don’t see that lovely japanese maple, or that subtle pattern you just painted on your porch floor to hide the ugly gray concrete underneath.

Maybe it’s time to consider an outdoor lighting plan.

And come to think of it, that single porch light is a more of a bug attractor than a burgler deterrent.

But where to begin?

Hang around lighting designers long enough and you’ll hear a lot of talk about “moonlight effect.” That’s a naturalistic look that features light no more intense than that of a full moon, but still strong enough to make beautiful shadows and intense highlights.

Here’s how designers get that natural moonlight look:

7 Ways to Mimic Moonlighting in Your Yard

  1. Highlight trees. Whether illumined from below or given presence by a light mounted in the tree itself, trees make stunning features.
  2. Use uplights. Uplighting is dramatic because we expect light to shine downward. Used in moderation, it’s a great way to highlight architectural and landscaping features.
  3. Have a focus. The entryway is often center stage, a way of saying, “Welcome, this way in.”
  4. Combine beauty and function. For example, adding lighting to plantings along a pathway breaks up the “runway” look of too many lights strung alongside a walk.
  5. Vary the fixtures. While the workhorses are spots and floods, designers turn to a wide range of fixtures, area lights, step lights, and bollards or post lights.
  6. Stick to warm light. A rainbow of colors is possible, but most designers avoid anything but warm white light, preferring to showcase the house and its landscape rather than create a light show.
  7. Orchestrate. A timer, with confirmation from a photocell, brings the display to life as the sun sets. At midnight it shuts shut down everything but security lighting. Some homeowners even set the timer to light things up an hour or so before dawn.

How Moonlighting Helps Security

Soft, overall landscape lighting eliminates dark areas that might hide an intruder, exposing any movement on your property.

Overly bright lights actually have a negative effect, creating undesirable pockets of deep shadow.

The Best Outdoor Lights Designers Recommend

Once disparaged for their high cost and cold, bluish glow, LEDs are now the light source of choice for lighting designers.

“They’ve come down in price and now have that warm light people love in incandescent bulbs,” says Paul Gosselin, owner of Night Scenes Landscape Lighting Professionals in Kingsland, Texas. 

Although LED fixtures remain twice as expensive as incandescents, installation is simpler because they use low-voltage wiring. 

Another advantage is long life. LEDs last at least 40,000 hours, or about 18 years of nighttime service. With that kind of longevity, “why should a fixture have only a two-year warranty?” asks Gosselin.

He advises buying only fixtures with a 15-year warranty — proof that the fixture’s housing is designed to live as long as the LED bulbs inside.

The Cost of Outdoor Lighting

Total outdoor lighting costs will vary according to the size of your home and the complexity of your lighting scheme. Expect to pay about $325 for each installed LED fixture. LEDs also require a transformer to step the power down from 120 volts to 12 volts, running about $400 installed.

A motion detector security light costs about $150 installed. Porch lights and sconces range from $100-$250 installed, depending the fixture and whether running new cable is necessary.

Contractor-installed outdoor lighting for an average, two-story, 2,200 sq. ft. house might add up as follows:

  • 7 fixtures to cover 100 feet of LED pathway lighting: $2,275
  • Transformer: $400
  • 4 LED uplights to dramatize the front of the house: $1,300
  • 2 LED area lights for plantings: $650
  • 2 motion detector security lights: $300

Total cost: $4,925

Related: Find Out How Much Value Landscaping Can Add to Your Home

Red flowers outside of a historic home

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