How Many Lumens Do You Need for Landscape Lighting?
Selecting the right light level, or lumen output, can make all the difference in creating a beautiful and functional landscape lighting design. If you choose an output that is too high, the light might blow out a scene. This means washing out the subject, making it look visually unattractive while fatiguing the eye. If you choose a light level that is too low, a lovely feature may be left unnoticed, or a space may become dangerous to navigate.
When choosing the right lumen output for your LED lighting project (as opposed to watts, which are used for antiquated halogen lights), you should consider factors like the desired effect and mood, your lighting objectives, and the size of the subject being lit.
We generally categorize the lumen output by four different light levels. Let’s review when and how to apply these light levels to landscape lighting design.
Light Level 1
Light Level 1 is our lowest lumen output range at 80 to 120 lumens. We recommend Light Level 1 for lighting subjects at ground level to about 6 to 10 feet in height. Generally, this includes back porches, decks, sidewalks, bushes, shrubs, hedgerows, and other plant material. We also recommend using wide beam angles to wash light evenly across these subjects. To achieve this effect, we recommend using landscape lighting fixtures including deck lighting, path lighting, and area lighting rather than harsh spotlights. Remember, the goal here is cohesion and by using low and wide beam spreads to wash low levels of light across plants and shrubs rather than create abrasive hot spots that leave areas dark.
Light Level 2
Light Level 2 ranges from 140 to 180 lumens. This lumen output range is ideal for lighting subjects 10 to 20 feet high—like the soffit of a two-story home or the tops of trees. Understandably, the taller a subject is, the more light you will need to illuminate it. Light Level 2 is generally used to create a shadowing effect on the facade of a two-story home and medium-sized trees by placing up lights and/or well light fixtures in the ground and shining them up at the subject.
Light Level 3
Light Level 3 ranges from 230 to 270 lumens and is used to light larger trees and three-story homes. Three primary landscape lights fixtures used for this application are spotlights, well lights, and up lights. Light Level 3 is ideal for hitting the soffit of these three-story homes and grazing light on the front of larger homes and mansions.
At Light Level 3, now you can also begin using the moonlighting technique by adding outdoor light fixtures in trees and soffits 20 to 30 feet in the air. This technique results in a moonlighting effect, which is—you guessed it—an effect that mimics a full moon shining down on a property. The moonlighting effect can sometimes be achieved at Light Level 2, but generally this technique is done using Light Level 3.
Light Level 4
The lumen output range for Light Level 4 is an impressive 350 to 1000 lumens. Light Level 4 is used for launching light up into 50 to 80-foot-tall oaks and pine trees and to accentuate focal points of mega mansions like peaks of chimney tops that stand 70 feet tall.
Using spotlights, well lights, uplights, and moonlight fixtures are ideal for this lumen output range to create vivid uplighting scenes and moonlighting effects.
Layering Light Levels
As you can see, different lumen outputs are required for different jobs lighting an array of subjects of all sizes and shapes. All four light levels work together, in unison with proper beam angles, to create a magnificent landscape lighting design. This design is made up of layers, depth, cohesion, and symmetry meant to draw the eye from low-lit subjects to the brightest—the eye’s ultimate destination—the home.