Outdoor Living Project Guide

Lighting & Tech: Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Outdoor Living Area

The delight is in the details.

No outdoor oasis is complete without the finishing touches. After all, it’s the details that have turned yesterday’s yards into today’s outdoor retreats. With purposeful lighting and shading, we can create a space that’s every bit as functional as it is visually appealing. And the latest climate control systems and outdoor-rated smart home technologies invite us to relax and socialize well into the evening — and even throughout the year.

“The really great thing about outdoor rooms is that they extend the luxury and comfort of your home to the outdoors,” says Eric Davis, spokesperson for the Hearth, Barbeque and Patio Association. “And manufacturers have responded to this: They’ve created an extensive product line from simple to high-tech to help set that mood for the outdoors. Your outdoor living room is a new room in your home; it’s just that your ceiling is the sky.”

If you were building a room in your house, explains Davis, you would follow a process for mapping it out. And the same goes for your outdoor spaces: First, you decide how you’ll use the space; second, you talk to experts and conduct online research; third, you create the foundation; and fourth, you choose the things you’ll put into the space to make it your own. In the realm of outdoor living, that includes your lighting, shading and technology, as well as your furniture and other features.

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Exterior Lighting: Illuminating Your Landscape

Lighting is among the most important elements in an outdoor living space. Not only does it provide functional path and landscape illumination after dark, but it also emphasizes unique features and helps you create the perfect atmosphere for both entertaining and everyday living. As Joe Rey-Barreau—lighting expert and associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s College of Design—explains, there are four types of outdoor lighting used to achieve four different objectives:

  1. Façade Lighting is used to illuminate the face of the home or another structure
  2. Path Lighting is used to illuminate pathways and walkways for wayfinding
  3. Security Lighting is used to deter burglary and other criminal activity
  4. Feature Lighting is used to illuminate special features and structures such as trees, pergolas, patios and seating areas

Do some research and consult with an expert before starting your lighting project. If you fail to plan, you’re likely to make a mistake.

Using feature lighting to illuminate landscape features such as trees, shrubs and flowers can create an extension of the living space by adding lighting that allows you to see what’s around you in the landscape that would otherwise be dark,” says Rey-Barreau. “And in the immediate area where you might be sitting, there are light fixtures you can use to illuminate the horizontal areas such as the deck itself or the floor of the porch.”

Fixtures can be complicated, explains Rey-Barreau, but there are basically two types: uplighting (spotlights), which are mounted in the ground and illuminate upwards; and downlighting, which can either be mounted or free-standing and shoots to the ground.

The best mix of fixtures for your outdoor living space will depend largely on your individual budget, objectives and preferences. But a very basic, small-scale exterior lighting system generally includes up to seven uplights and five path lights. It’s possible for a homeowner to install this kind of basic system DIY, but larger systems generally will require the help of a skilled professional. Rey-Barreau recommends consulting with a professional experienced in landscape lighting before digging into your project. And to prepare for your meeting, he strongly suggests saving some images and asking yourself the questions included in our Exterior Lighting Checklist.

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