Making Your Deck Better with Correctly Spaced Lights

The spacing of decking lighting impacts the usability and atmosphere of the deck. Placed to close, and the light overwhelms the deck. Placed too far apart, and the deck is dark and eerie. Enjoyment of your deck in the evening is dependent on correctly spaced deck lights. Raising the question, how far apart should deck lights be spaced?

Deck Light Spacing

Deck Light FixtureDistance Between Deck Lights
Recessed floor lights4′ (1.2m) to 6′ (1.8m)
Stair lights2 per tread, between 3-6’ (1.2-1.8m)
Wall lights6-10′ (1.8-3m)
Post cap lights6-8′ (1.8-2.4m)

There are three functions for deck lighting, which needs to be considered when arranging the lights on the deck. These functions are task, accent and ambience. The light function often determining the spacing of the fixtures. A welcoming deck is neither one nor the other but a beautiful blend of all three. A layering off lights, so to speak. Providing enough light to enjoy your deck safely, highlight that which is noteworthy and warming the deck’s atmosphere.

Many deck lights can perform multiple functions. For example, a porch light can both light up your barbeque work area while highlighting the barbeque. Even better stair lights help your guest navigate the stairs safely, highlighting their design while warming the deck with a soft background light between tiers.

In another article, I discuss 15 deck lighting fixtures and their common deck function. If you would like to review and see what lighting options are available for your deck, click hereOpens in a new tab. to read the article. If your ready, lets layout deck lighting, get it “layout,” it’s still early in the morning.

But we will use the deck lights function when design the decks lights. Understanding that not only do lighting fixtures need to be properly spaced as a group but also different lighting fixtures within that group.

Spacing task deck lighting fixtures

One of the primary deck lights and the first we need to discuss is task lighting, both for practical and safety reasons.

Porch deck lights

Most decks will have a porch light a foot or so away from the house door. If your door does not already have one, I highly recommend installing one for your deck.

Install the porch light about 78” to 84” (2-2.1M) of the decking, a little lower than the top of the door. Higher than eye level as not to blind you but low enough to light the deck. Unless you have a large deck, no more than one floodlight on your deck is needed.

But you can have multiple wall lights washing the house wall with light. Wall lights can be placed a little lower, 60” to 72” (1.5-1.8m) from the deck, spaced 96” to 120” (2.4-3m) apart. Close enough to light the entire wall but far enough apart as to allow shadowing between the lights. These lights are not so much task lights but ambience and need to be focused down the wall not out unto the deck.

Deck Stair lights

Following porch light, the most common deck light is stair lights and rightfully so, keeping you and your guest safe on the most dangerous part of your deck. There are two common stair lighting fixtures, riser, and tread.

Riser lights installed on the risers and should 36”-72” (0.9-1.8m) apart, depending on the width of the stairs. For narrow stairs 36” (0.9m) or less, a single light in the middle is ideal. Treads wider than 36” (0.9m) multiple lights are ideal to light up the whole stair. These are for safety and you want the whole tread lite and visible. Install the riser lights approximately 4” (100mm) above the tread, roughly just above the centre of the riser.

Another option for stair lighting is recessed tread lights. Working more like runway lights than lighting up the stairs. Ideally installed near the sides of the treads, highlighting the edges of the stairs. Spaced far enough apart to allow people to walk in between the lights, at least 3’ (0.9m) apart. Not ideal for wider stairs as they leave to large of dark space in between.

Recess stair lights can be stepped on but people natural avoid it. Unless it is a game as a kid. So recessed lights need to be spaced to allow comfortable walking space between the fixtures.

Not providing enough light for navigating the stairs but railing lights along the stairs can help to light the area while defining the stairs. Similar in function as recess lights, but casting light down on the stairs from the railing. I nice look but should be combined with riser lights for safety.

Spacing for deck Accent deck lighting

Once you have arranged all the task lighting, now it’s time to highlight your deck with accent lighting. I am using the term accent lighting a little more loosely than traditional used in lighting to include lighting to draw people in. A soft overhead light to draw people to the deck table but not bright enough to work by. Traditional accent lighting is to highlight architectural features of the deck but highlighting functional elements of your deck should be included.

You may find that some task lights will need to be deleted as accent lighting is added as not to overwhelm the deck. With deck lighting if one light overpowers the other light it either needs to be deleted or switched to allow each light to be the star. A porch light less than 10’ (3m) from a soft overhead table light needs to be switched off or deleted. The porch light is to close and will ruin the effect.

Accent light and task lights are the most competitive deck lighting and must be spaced or switched as not to compete. Each deck is different, but a starting point is 96” to 120” (2.4-3m) apart. Having each light shining in their own world without infringing on the others.

Spacing for deck ambience lighting

Accent and task lighting are competitive by nature, but ambience is your deck’s background lighting. It truly sings when it is not the start but the wind beneath your wings. Ambience light can be spaced closer to each other and within the light of both ambience and task lighting, but it must not overpower. It must be spaced as to warm but not light the area.

Three popular deck ambience lights are post, railing, and recessed floor lights. All three need to be spaced to make the deck inviting but not overwhelm or make the deck “busy” with excess light fixtures.

Deck post lights are naturally limited by the number of deck railing posts. Which works well for spacing. Post lights spaced 72”-96” (1.8-2.4m) works well to illuminate but not overpower the deck. Most deck post naturally meeting this spacing the exception is stair railing and post and short return beside the house. Stair post with the top and bottom post at two different levels still work well even as close as 36” (0.9m) For deck post closer together than 60” (1.5m), every other one may be a better lighting pattern or a dimmer post light.

Deck railing lights is another attractive edge of deck lighting. Ideally, downlights cast light down the railing and balusters. Most often you are better choosing between post or railing lights but there are some dimmer railing light options which can be used with post lights. The key when combining the two is make sure the railing lights are dim enough as not to overwhelm. The focal point is the post and needs to be the brighter of the too.

Continues string railing light do not combine well with post lights. The lack of spacing between the post and railing lighting is to much. One or at the most two down railing lights per section can work well with post lights. Spaced far enough apart to allow slight shadowing between the lights, creating a sense of depth. Providing both ambience and accent lighting for the deck’s railing.

Recessed floor deck lights should be spaced around the perimeter of the deck 4’ to 6’ (1.2-1.8m). Spacing recessed floor light is not so much about distance as placement. Start by positioning lights near the deck corners and then fill in the spacing between the two points with lights. Being equally spaced is more important than if its 60” (1.5m) or not. Consistency is the most important element in spacing. Better to increase spacing then have one odd space in the row.

Wolf Creek has a good suggestion to landscaping but can also apply to deck lights.

“Another rule of thumb is to layout fixtures in odd numbers (3, 5, 7, etc.); the human eye tends to see odd numbers in a more cohesive way than even numbers of fixtures (when visible). “

Wolf Creek CompanyOpens in a new tab.

Sometimes it is better to divide the space by thirds instead of quarters. Creating an odd number of lighting fixtures.

Deck lighting spacing conclusion

Decking lighting can be the magic touch for deck atmosphere. The number one rule of deck lighting spacing is keep the light far enough apart so as to not overwhelm.

One more tip from Wolf Creek.

“It takes the human eye about 15-20 minutes to fully adjust to low levels of light”

Wolf Creek CompanyOpens in a new tab.

The deck should be lite for an enjoyable evening on the deck, not the minute you walk out of the house. If your eyes do not need to adjust to the light from your house to your deck. Its probably is to bright. An intimate, comforting atmosphere makes a deck pleasant, not surgical lighting. Keep it low and enjoy it.

This can be done with many different types of lighting fixtures. Often to achieve layering, you will want to have not one light source but multiple fixtures. There are string, post, railing, moon, wall recessed, just to name a few deck lighting options. Space them right and enjoy.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

Recent Posts