Why Outdoor Lighting Matters
We often give the advice that when you’re ready to take your property to the next level with landscape lighting, or even just toying with the idea, start small. Dip your toes by selecting one area of importance to light rather than the whole nine yards. This tends to be the backyard to add a level of security by warding off possible intruders. A very close second is illuminating areas and features that may be difficult or hazardous to navigate without outdoor lighting, such as pathways, stairways and steps. This adds a needed element of safety, allowing people to navigate a property more easily. Adding light to your balcony staircase, a patio doorstep, or beautifully hardscaped steps to a pool or entertaining area eliminates danger and potential injury. Outdoor lighting also adds a beautification factor that can set a mood and truly make a home stand out while adding value to the property.
Does Landscape Lighting Work for Me?
Maybe you like the idea of adding landscape lighting, but you don’t think there is room or can’t it be retrofitted into your landscape and hardscape design. This shouldn’t deter you in the slightest. Landscape lighting is all about creativity and problem solving. A lot of the time, landscape lighting is added after the fact to existing structures and landscapes that weren’t necessarily designed with outdoor lighting in mind. Post lights, down lights or moon lights, and core lights are all fixtures used for outdoor step lighting that are invaluable to every landscape lighting system. With all that said, now you be asking, “How do I choose which lighting fixture or technique is best for my application?” The short answer is not the simplest one. It all depends on how you are using the space where the steps or stairs are located and what effect you are trying to achieve beyond creating a safer environment. This is where chatting with a professional comes in handy—especially if you’re unsure of which lighting technique you want to use, which effect would look best, and what would be most effective overall. Here’s a quick summary of five outdoor step lighting to consider:
A lot of the time step lighting is accomplished not by adding lights to the actual steps themselves, but alongside them. This is otherwise known as path lighting—afterall, a stairway is a form of a path! Path lighting is a basic landscape lighting technique which uses path or area lights. Often times, the purpose of path lighting is to light planting beds and paths to provide seamless transition between lighting scenes for both safety and cohesion. One recommendation is to alternate placement of path light fixtures from one side of the step to the other to light the path evenly and attractively. The goal is to provide enough illumination to prevent tripping hazards, but also to space fixtures far enough apart to create distinct pools of light so your eye naturally moves through the space. Lighting both sides of each step, on the other hand, is not aesthetically pleasing and feels unnatural when walking along a path.
Another way to light steps or stairs is downlighting. A more advanced downlighting technique is known as moonlighting. Moonlighting uses tree lights with the purpose of providing soft natural lighting over large areas. Moonlighting serves as an ideal transition connecting different lighting scenes together and eliminating black holes from the project, and again, providing safety and cohesion. To successfully create a moonlighting effect, fixtures should be placed in a tree at least 25 feet high—at least two lights per tree—and directed down onto the stairway.
Hardscape lighting is also exactly how it sounds: Using engineered wall lights within stones, or a hardscape, steps and stairways can be lit safely and evenly using hardscape lighting. This is a lovely and sophisticated way to light outdoor steps while highlighting thoughtful hardscape design. Either the walls on both side of a stairway or the stairs themselves can be lit with hardscape lighting, which brings us to our fifth way to light outdoor steps: tread lighting.
Post rail lighting
These fixtures are exactly how they sound: They mount onto a post of railing of a stairway, effectively illuminating the path beneath them. One type of post rail light fixture that CAST offers is actually a deck light, which serves the same purpose and blends nicely with a wooden or metal railing. Be forewarned, though, installation and wiring of post rail fixture can get complicated and if the drilling and fishing isn’t done properly, it could result in a permanent and unsightly mistake such as a hole drilled in the wrong spot. Thus, we recommend working with a professional on this kind of lighting project.
Tread lighting is a type of stair lighting that uses step lights, strip lights, or slim hardscape lights. These strips of light that are placed under each step, washing each one with a gentle, even glow that gives it the illusion that it is floating. This is a dazzling and unique light effect that offers a customized look enjoyed by many.
We briefly touched on this top takeaway in our post rail lighting section—and that’s the consideration that all three of the above lighting installs require precision and technical prowess. Our #1 takeaway here is to make sure to consult a professional landscape lighting designer before trying your hand at this outdoor step lighting. It’s critical to select the right fixture and lighting effect to safely and beautiful illuminate your steps. And to take it one step further, it’s just as important to wire and mount the fixtures at the proper height and beam angle—then test and tweak the lights at night—to ensure a successful lighting project. Good luck, have fun, and enjoy the results!