The cool of the evening often is the best time to enjoy your outdoor living space. Enjoying your deck once the blazing sun has set, in the comfortable, cool night air. But essential to enjoying your deck in the evening is deck lighting. Deck lighting is essential to enjoying your deck in the dark. Before running any wires or ordering lights, we need to discuss deck lighting.
Deck lighting serves three purposes ambient, task and accent. A deck is best lite with a combination of all three, layer the light over your deck. Creating a pleasant night mood on the deck, drawing your eye to the focal points of your deck, while allowing you to move around safely.
There are many ways to light your deck, both practically and for style. Before we discuss deck lighting options, let’s think about what we are trying to achieve on your deck. Better equipping ourselves to select the correct deck lights. Lighting is not required for a deck, but the right lighting will make all the difference in your enjoyment of your deck when the sun goes down.
“Deck lighting is a great option to add beauty, safety, and security. As well as extend the hours of enjoyment to one of your favourite outdoor spaces. Good deck lighting also provides a pleasant atmosphere. From bright spaces for safe cooking and play to the serenity of subtle lighting”Cider Mill Landscape
Knowing what you seek to add to your deck, then you can select the deck light which will best serve you. If you are seeking an intimate sitting area out on your deck, a bright porch light is not the right light for your deck. But barbecuing on your deck is impossible with only facia stair lights or even post lights. Barbequing requires a brighter task light; ambience requires a dim, warm background light. Knowing the reason, the why and you can select the best lighting to achieve that, increase your enjoyment.
Let’s get to it!
What do I need to see on my deck? Deck Task Lights.
Enjoy your deck safely with a little light, seeing tripping hazards the activities on your deck.
Task lighting is the practical lighting of your deck, allowing you safely enjoy your deck. This can be lighting the stairs to avoid tripping in the dark or a light over the barbeque. Task lighting is the only lighting of your deck designed to illuminate the area. But even with task lighting, a low level of light is ideal. The workspace or stairs should only be lite enough to step or work but never to overpower safely.
“we actually require much less light in outdoor living situations than indoors.”Eric Reinholdt | NCARB, Maine Licensed Architect
Keeping this in mind while lighting your deck. Even when lighting your deck for activities like barbequing, you don’t want to overwhelm the deck with light. With large, powerful surgical lights to work by but just enough illumination to work by safely.
A switch for task lighting is a good idea. Turning the light off and on as required. Working safely by the task light but returning your deck ambience light after. Also, turning the lights on after the guest have left to quickly and safely clean up the deck before heading in for the night. The ability to switch of strong lights to enjoy the evening is invaluable on a deck.
Bringing us to ambience lighting.
What needs to be warmed? Deck Ambient Lighting.
A soft glowing light but not overwhelming. Think of the lighting at the Keg, a high-end steak house, soft, subtle and welcoming. Not a brightly lite dining room like McDonald’s, with every corner lite and visible. This will be the majority of your deck lighting. Lighting to raise the comfort and feel of your deck.
Ambiance lighting is to set the mood, not light the space. Interestingly surround your deck with light either landscape, railing or post lights increases the sense of intimacy. We feel more secure feeling when we can see around us without lighting even without filling the space with light. Soft perimeter deck lighting can do that.
“deck lighting should be artistic in design, not bright enough to read a newspaper by”Jonathan Davis
Ambience lighting can be a dim table light or patio light hanging over the deck. The key is soft lighting, without lighting the deck. There is a greater risk to over light your deck with ambience lighting than under.
Take care with ambience lighting to light the deck enough to make out shapes of the chairs, tables and the deck without drawing attention to them. Enough light to enjoy the smiles of your friends while not feeling like your sitting in a dentist’s chair. Comfortable, but not bright.
What needs to be highlighted, the focus of our attention? Deck Accent Lighting.
Accent lighting is the exception on your deck. Ambience a soft light basking over your deck, task lighting is focus lighting for a task, and accent lighting is the attention grabber. The feature of your deck you want all to see. The façade of a wood feature wall, or a particular beautiful planter. Small water falling trickle in the background or light shining down on the deck table. Calling out to all, look over here, this is where the action is.
Positioned to draw attention to whatever is highlighted by accent lighting quickly. Like a spotlight on the stage, keeping the focus on what is beautiful, not ugly distractions.
Accent lighting placed on your deck should be used sparsely but drawing people in. As moths to the porch light, is accent lighting on a deck. If there is an area of your deck you wish people to gather, accent light will also do that. Without a word, people will gravitate to the lite portion of the deck.
“Subtlety is of paramount importance in deck lighting. You want to avoid blazing spotlights that will overwhelm your evening outdoor experience.”Cider Mill Landscape
Even with accent lighting, you want a soft, warm light, not a powerful spotlight destroying the atmosphere of the night. Draw attention to one or two things on your deck while keeping a pleasant ambience. Returning to our original statement, decking lighting needs to be not one but a layering of all three.
Layering of light – ambient, task and accent light tips
Remember, we don’t want one to overpower the others. Decks to be enjoyed must be useable and beautiful. A comfortable outdoor space, pleasant to the eyes and enjoyable to be on. Achieving all three with a combination of deck lights. After answer our three main questions, it is time to see what some of our deck lighting options are.
- What do I need to see on my deck? Deck Task Lights
- What needs to be warmed? Deck Ambient Lighting.
- What needs to be highlighted, the focus of our attention? Deck Accent Lighting.
One light will not light your deck properly; many lights working together will. As we review lighting options, remember you are not looking for one lighting solution but a combination of lighting that will best enhance your deck, beautifully layering multiple levels of light.
“choose several smaller and softer lights that provide a nice ambience and light the deck at the same time.”Steve Hodes Jr
Starting with essential task lighting, whatever needs to be illuminated to be safely used. Followed by what area of your deck that a little light would make the space more comfortable in the evening. There is not a hard line between task and ambience and task lighting. Stairs are often best lite with small soft riser lights, not a bright light shining down on the whole stair run. Same with the deck table, a little light is great for eating by, but soft railing or post lights will enhance the space better than a powerful overhead light. Think the Keg, not McDonald. Most tasks are best served by soft ambience light more than a bright task light. Finally, an accent light for that part of the deck or yard that everyone should see on your deck. You may need to delete some ambience lighting to not distract from the accent light. Provide room for shadows and darkness around the highlighted feature. Otherwise, the effect is minimized.
15 Deck Lighting Options
Blend light fixture together, allow each to add to your deck without anyone overwhelming the others. I have grouped them according to lighting needs, but creatively fixtures can be borrowed from one group to work in another.
Deck Task lighting fixtures
The two most likely deck places requiring task lighting are the barbeque and the table. Both activities are more enjoyable when you can see what you are doing but should be separately switched. For they can be turned off without darkening the whole deck. Focus the light as much as possible on the barbeque without lighting the entire deck. The table light is best overhead or on a distant wall as not to draw attention to it when turned off.
1. Backyard Porch Light, a single light focussed on the barbeque, is often enough. A motion sensor light can double up as a yard security light. Just the other day, my wife watched as a skunk strolled across the yard as our porch light turned on, revealing the skunk. Being switched allows it to be turned on and of as required. Positioned beside the back-patio door, triples up to provide light to navigate the backdoor safely. With a more extensive or tiered deck at times, this can be left on, guiding people to the house door while people gather away from the light in the dimmer ambience deck light.
2. Fan and Light Combination, an excellent option for a deck with a pergola on hot summer evenings. The fan helping to cool every one while providing light to play cards around the table in the evening. Keep the bulb light lower than 450 lumens (40 watts) as not to overpower the atmosphere, a light dimmer is an excellent idea, dimming the light to match the evening sky.
Deck lighting fixtures both for task and ambience
The next two-light fixtures can be used both for task and ambience lighting depending on placement and level of light.
After a porch light, stair light are essential for a deck, both for the increased safety and the impact they have on the look of the deck. For stairs wider than 4′ (1.2m), multiple lights are recommended. Spacing the lights three to six feet (0.9-1.8m) apart horizontally, illuminating the entire tread.
3. Deck Stair Lights, popular on decks around the globe. Illuminating the stairs increasing safety while providing shadows of deck depth increasing the look of your deck stairs. The soft lite also adds to the ambience off the deck. Personally, I am a fan of riser stair lights but can also be recessed tread lights acting like runway lights, a leading path down the deck stairs.
Stair lights are beautiful while sitting out on the yard or a lower deck tier, looking back at the waterfall of lights on the stairs. Diamonds sparkling in the night, taking your deck and stairs to a whole other level.
4. In-floor lights, can be installed around the perimeter of the deck, lighted pathways across the deck or strictly a decorative artwork to be viewed from a higher deck or house window. Heavy duty in design, they can be safely walked on freeing you in placement.
A word of caution, a “starry night” design, limits your deck furniture placement. A chair or table moved on the deck may ruin your star constellation. On the other hand, a cloud will cover a star or two in the night sky at times.
Deck Ambience lighting fixtures
5. String lights, similar to Christmas lights, strung over your deck. Hanging from overhead structure or deck railing providing a low level of light. Bring with them a party atmosphere unto the deck. On a warm summer evening, the perfect lighting touch. Not designed to be strung and left, should be wrapped up in the fall, and bulbs replaced in the spring but a convenient lighting option which can be added later to a deck easily after construction. Unlike most deck light, the wires are not hidden but embraced as part of the look.
6. Rope lights, similar to string lights but the large decorative bulbs replaced with small LED lights integrated into the rope. Very low light not suitable for task or display lighting but excellent for decorating railing and deck posts. There 360° viewing angle easily bending and wrapping around objects. Also bending into letters and shape for a custom deck greeting, or tucked under railing or decking ledges creating a soft accent light without visible light fixtures.
7. Fiber Optic Lighting, with even smaller lights than rope lighting but the same versatility. A light to dim to read by or play cards but create a fun atmosphere on your deck. Taking it to the next level with different and changing light colours. Think art, not lighting, with fiber optic lights.
8. Recessed deck lights, there are so many surfaces on your deck that lights can be recessed in. Adding light to the deck without fixturing covering the area or catching your shirt as the sneak past. Recess lights are about the light, not the fixture, with the fixture hidden away. Soffit and fascia are excellent places for recessed light around your deck.
Often designed with a softer, more soothing light, excellent for deck ambience.
9. Post lights, resting on top of the deck railing post, casting light over the decking while enhancing and protecting the post tops. Where recess lights are about the light and not the fixtures, post lights fixture add to the deck even during the day but even more in the dark, with their wonderful perimeter deck lighting. Providing amble lighting surrounding your deck, often providing sufficient lighting for dining on your deck. With the right bulbs reading on the deck with post lights is an option.
“most post-cap fixtures spread light at eye level, making it unpleasant for anyone sitting nearby.”Jonathan Davis, the owner of Highpoint Deck Lighting in Colorado
Post lights shades need to be shaded, directing the light towards the decking and are a soft light. Placing chairs a few feet away from post light also helps to prevent uncomfortable light glare.
10. Hanging Pergola Lights, many lights suited for lighting a pergola have already been mentioned, but I want to mention them specifically regarding a deck pergola. An overhead structure on your deck creates many possibilities for deck lighting. The large structure allows you to hang any number of line lights like string, rope or fiber. The posts are wonderfully mounting places for lantern lights and focussed spotlights. All three aspects of deck lighting apply in themselves to pergolas, as this video shows.
A deck pergola is a beautiful opportunity for illumination. Spend some time thinking through your possibility. It is such a wonderful place to play with lighting.
11. Lantern lights, similar to porch lights except with one significant difference. Lantern light housing is art in itself. An aesthetically pleasing addition to the deck, both on and off. With their ornamental design, they will add beauty to your deck day and night.
Deck Accent lighting fixtures
Not designed to illuminate your deck but to draw attention to an architectural feature of the deck or yard. Light cascading walls, the pergola beams or trees just off the deck.
12. Wall Lights, differing from a porch light in focus. A porch light is spotlighting on a task area, while wall lights will cast a soft light along the wall. The point is not to light the area but the effect of the light on the wall. Wall lights often are shaded, directly the light across the wall, not the deck.
13. Under table lights, a creative way to define and illuminate a deck table while not overpower the area with light. The lite fixtures often string lights disappear under the table while drawing attention to the table.
14. Railing lights, highlighting the beauty of your deck railing while surrounding your deck with a curtain of comforting light. Mounted under the railing, the wires tucked underneath or running through the railing provide a comforting glow along the edge of the deck. This accent works to increase the feeling of intimacy by surrounding your deck with light. We all feel better surrounded by light as we feel in control of our settings.
15. LED strip light can vary from low to extreme levels of brightness. Working beautifully for highlighting around your deck. Either with a soft cascading light illuminating a wall or a bright light grabbing everyone’s attention. Ideally, LED strip lights should be hidden behind something with only their light visible. Giving that look of the heavens or the ground opening and light bursting forth. An almost magical sense focus point of the deck.
Because of the intensity of light, shields are a good idea. Along with a dimmer to adjust the lighting for the ideal atmosphere.
As you can see, there are plenty of options available to light a deck. Each contributing to your deck’s atmosphere in its own way with the light it provides. Before we discuss installation, we must consider the light produced by different bulbs. Light is not all created equal, varying in its effect and feeling it invokes. Some lighting fixtures are limited in bulbs types but still, the light they produced should be considered in their selection.
Warmth of decking lights varies by bulbs, changing the deck’s atmosphere.
The warmer and softer the light, the more relaxing the lighting will be. The calmer you will feel on the deck. Light is measure in Calvin, the lower the number, the softer and warmer the light. Here is a few quick reference points to evaluate the brightness of the light.
- Open flame 1700 Calvin
- Warm incandescent between 2500 and 3000
- Overcast sky 6500-10 500
- Clear blue sky 15 000
The rods in our eyes perceive blue light more readily, requiring less blue light. Thus, yellow light is in more demand with our eyes. Ideally, the deck lights provide more warm and soft light and less hard blue light, light over 3 000 Calvin.
“in lower ambient light situations, we actually prefer lower color temperature light (warmer); it’s actually visually more comfortable.”Eric Reinholdt | NCARB, Maine Licensed Architect
A few years ago, in a rush to embrace LED lights, I changed all my house lights to LED bulbs but with a Calvin over 3000. Quickly discovering that our eyes were strained with the intensity of the light. The mood of our house also became tenser. Realizing my mistake, we quickly switched to warm, lower Calvin bulbs returning the warmth of our home. The same is true with your deck. Warm light is better for a relaxing space.
LED versus Halogen deck lighting
LED is the new kid on the block with its efficiency and lifespan. Halogen has long been the go-to bulb for deck lighting, with its pleasant warm glow. It’s a great ambience light.
- Halogen bulbs last up to 2,000 hours, which is twice as much as incandescent bulbs but not as long as LED bulbs.
- Halogen bulbs produce infrared light, which can be damaging to artwork and fabrics
- Halogen lights are sensitive to your skin’s oils, so you need to wear gloves when putting them in your lamps
- Halogen bulbs get incredibly hot with use, and should not be touched until they have been allowed to cool (Another byproduct of their heat: they require air condition equipment to work harder).
- Halogen bulbs are fragile–particularly when they’re close to rotating equipment like fans or compressors. Because of their delicate filament, vibration can shorten their lifespan.
- LED bulbs can last up to 25,000 hours, while LED tubes are normally rated for 50,000 hours.
- LED bulbs can use as much as 80% percent less energy than halogen bulbs.
- LED bulbs are more expensive, but make up their cost over time by saving energy and preventing frequent lamp replacements.
- LED bulbs are generally shatterproof.
- LED bulbs are cooler to the touch after use (care is still advised!)
- LED bulbs are available in various colours and colour temperatures.
- LEDs are free of any harmful chemicals or gases.
Compare the two light sources and pick which is best for your deck. Word of caution LED is naturally a bluer light, high in Calvin, not a comfortable light for relaxing. If you go with LED light, make sure it less than 3 000 Calvins. Even lower is better. Halogen is a warm light naturally, but LED needs to be engineered for it. Read the labelling carefully, and you will enjoy your deck light for years to come.
Eric Reinholdt has a very informative video on outdoor lighting. If you would like to understand philosophy and techniques in outdoor lighting, it is well worth watching. Not directly related to decks but beneficial none the less in lighting your deck.
Power Source for Deck Lighting
There are three common power sources for deck lights 120, 12 volt and solar, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
12 volts deck lights
- Require an expensive transformer
- Transformer limit number of lighting fixtures options and output
- Doesn’t require trenching or armoured cables
- High energy efficiency
- Generally, bulbs last longer than 120 volts with lower heat production
- Large varieties of wattages, colour and beam options
- Safe for homeowners to installed with little chance of electrocution
120 volts deck lights
- Don’t require expensive transformers
- Cannot be installed near water without certified waterproofing and sealing
- Requires trenching and armoured cables
- Should be installed by licensed electrician, risk of electrocution with incorrect installation
- Permits required
Solar deck lights
- Easiest lighting to install
- Don’t require wiring, less drilling and feeding
- Lower light output than wired lights
- Batteries need to be replaced after about 500 charge cycles or 18 months operation
- Can only be installed high sunlight areas
The most popular deck lighting is low voltage, 12 volts. It is number one for a reason but look over your deck design and option of which lighting is best. Sometimes a combination of lighting will serve you yard and deck best.
- 120 volts porch light for its powerful task lighting
- 12 volts ambience lighting on the deck, for its safe wiring, diversity and soft light
- Solar lighting around the deck in the yard not requiring trenching and ease in moving and replacing as required
“I usually tend to steer people to low voltage if they’re willing to do the installation. It’s going to take a little more effort to get those low-voltage ones in there, but in the end, it’s going to be less of a hassle.”Steve Hodes Jr from Moonlight Decks
Should you install your deck lighting yourself?
There are many deck lightings kits designed for DIY lighting. Which if you are handy and comfortable working with electricity and tiny screws, you can install low voltage lighting yourself. Because of the higher risk of line, 120 volts lighting, hiring an electrician for installation is recommended.
Lighting wiring is best done during deck construction, which may be the deciding factor if you do the work or not. If you are comfortable building your own deck, you probably can do low voltage wiring yourself. If you are hiring someone to build your deck, work with your contractor in lighting your deck. Even if you go with a DIY lighting kit, the installation process will be smoother, having the contractor install the lighting as they are building your deck. Wiring is best hidden which requires the wires to be run during construction when the wires can be hidden. Opening up railing and decking after to install wire will cost more in labour and material than having it done during construction.
I hope this was helpful in lighting your deck. If you are looking for some more lighting inspiration, Click here to go to Next Luxury 60 deck lighting ideas.