Effective Landscape Lighting Planning and Design


When you are landscaping, or installing outdoor lighting for a newly-built home, or redesigning an existing landscape, the results will be much more satisfying if you plan first. This sounds obvious, but when you start landscaping a property, or installing outdoor lighting, the urge to begin planting, or placing outdoor lights immediately is almost overwhelming.

Developing The Basic Plan

A landscape and the associated landscape lighting is a picture, with a great opportunity for artistic composition. With a home the central feature is the house and the fundamental objective is to make good use of every part of the grounds and to avoid scattering trees and bushes all over the area surrounding the house.

So you need a definite plan on paper for the location of the key features of the landscape and the associated outdoor lighting. Consider the features and functions of the different components – the residence itself, outdoor areas and patios, any out buildings, walks and drives, the service areas, the border planting, flower-garden, and possibly a vegetable-garden.

To begin, it is recommended that you draw a base plan to scale. For most properties a scale of 1/8″=1′ is workable; for small properties or a particular area of a larger development 1/4″=1′ may be better. Graph paper with lines indicating a particular scale is also helpful.

Include all the major features of your property on your drawing. After you have prepared the base plan you can either use tracing paper or transfer the drawing into a suitable PC drawing/graphics program. Then you can sketch possible ideas and solutions to your landscaping and outdoor lighting needs.

Steps For Drawing The Plan

  • Indicate the compass directions in relation to the house by drawing an arrow (N->) pointing north.
  • Measure each property line and record the measurements.
  • Accurately locate one corner of the house on the plan by measuring the distance from the back edge of the curb or edge of the street and nearest property line. From this corner of the house, measure each side of the house and place it onto the plan.
  • Locate other existing features on the plan by measuring from known reference points, such as the street, property line or house.
  • Identify potential outdoor living and entertaining areas. Terraces and patios are now an integral part of many homes. They should be located, if possible, where they will receive summer breezes and afternoon shade. If sun is a problem, add trees or overhead shading structures.

Once key features are located on the plan, next decide which of these will require outdoor lighting. Some will need functional lighting e.g. patios and decks, paths and walkways, others will be lit for aesthetic value and other lighting will be for security purposes.


  • Don’t go overboard with the number of lights. It increases the costs for installation, maintenance and the running the outdoor lighting.
  • Too many lights also don’t look good.
  • The best (and most used) outdoor living areas are usually located adjacent to living areas of the house where they can easily be served and seen from inside. Even when they are not in use, well-planned, attractive decks and terraces adjacent to the house give a feeling of added space to interior rooms.
  • A terrace is sometimes placed away from the home to take advantage of a striking view, good afternoon breezes, or the shade of a large tree.

Feature and Aesthetic Lighting

There may be some striking features on your property that you wish to highlight. There is a huge range of lights available. Again be restrained – less is more here – and remember that just like you trees and shrubs don’t like to be brightly illuminated night after night. It interferes with their natural rest cycles.

Lighting Paths and Entrance Areas

The amount of path lighting required depends on:

(a)    The amount of ambient light from other sources, such as streetlights, “always on” security lights and outdoor lighting attached to your home and outbuildings.

(b)   The smoothness of the surface of the walkway, the presence of steps.

Outdoor lights linked to motion detectors are a popular and efficient choice for entrance areas as the light only comes on when needed.

Security Lighting

The main objectives with outdoor security lighting are to illuminate dark areas and detect and recognize movement in “protected areas”.

The best vision with outdoor lighting is obtained from downward directed and shielded security lighting that is “always on”, supplemented with instant-on lighting triggered by motion detectors.

Overall, the best position for security lights is mounted as high as possible on your property, directing light in a downward position for safe and reliable operation.

Motion detectors sense movement and turn outdoor security lights on when movement is detected and are ideal for both security lighting and energy management. They are often used in conjunction with floodlights that raise the overall brightness. However, the aesthetic drawback of floodlights is they can make your home look like a jail.

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