Shine On: Lighting That Will Enhance Your Deck
Lighting can extend the use and pleasure of an outdoor deck, increase safety and security and make the space more attractive and inviting. As the sun sets, you can still stay outside and enjoy your deck and company with a well-designed lighting plan that minimizes glare and energy use.
What to Illuminate?
Deck lighting can be practical and used for safety purposes, shine on an outdoor dining area, used at different levels–on steps, along railings–and to highlight landscaping, architectural features or a pool, spa or fountain. It can also create a certain mood or atmosphere for special occasions.
Step and deck path lights have a distinct function: to safely illuminate traffic throughout the deck and garden. They also help to enhance the view from indoors at night.
Call an Electrician or DIY?
Unless you have worked with lighting before, it’s best to work with an electrician. Most outdoor lighting is low voltage, using 12 volts of electricity. A transformer will be needed to power down the 120-volt current indoors to 12 volts outdoors. But before buying one, you will need to figure out how many outdoor lights will be attached, plus their wattage. A suitable transformer will be able to handle your current wattage needs along with an estimated 25 to 50 more so it isn’t operating at full capacity and it will be able to handle more wattage if you add more landscaping lights in the future.
Many modern fixtures use LED bulbs, which are energy and cost efficient. Solar lighting has improved but is usually not strong or reliable enough to provide adequate illumination.
Types of Fixtures
The most popular types of deck lighting and areas to illuminate include:
- Steps: The best fixtures include surface mounts, flush mounts, path lights and weatherproof LED strip lights.
- Well, Spot or Uplights: These can be used to illuminate paths, create drama by highlighting plant forms, etc.
- Downlights: Designed to be anchored to walls, eaves, patio roofs or trees.
- Balusters: Illuminated balusters for railings (balustrades) that are designed to replace existing balusters or be installed during new deck construction.
- Post caps and rail lights: Decorative lighting fixtures that can be attached to posts or rails.
While most landscape lighting is contemporary and works with a variety of architectural styles, specialty fixtures are available for certain types, like colonial, craftsman, Mediterranean, and mid-century modern. When it comes to lighting, resist the urge to go for an eclectic look, unless it reflects the character of your home’s interior and exterior.
We’ve found a diverse selection of deck lighting designs and solutions to hopefully spark ideas for your own project.
Architect Nick Leigh-Smith designed an ipe wood deck and surround for a London client’s existing spa. Located on the fifth floor of a residential building in the Clerkenwell district, the space was built for entertaining, and includes perimeter seating, an outdoor kitchen, a A Guide to Build an Outdoor Shower, two bars and a dance floor. As for the recessed lighting: it’s waterproof LED tape, which is sold in strips in various lengths and can be cut to fit.
Chicago-based dSpace Studio, an architecture, landscape and design firm, created illuminated risers for the deck of a residential client by attaching sandblasted frosted plexiglass with a linear cold cathode light fixture. The riser was painted white to diffuse the light evenly. The planter lights are stake lights by SPJ Lighting Inc. While not LED, cold cathode is energy efficient and has a long lamp life.
A Stream Runs Through It
CultivArt Landscape Design
Author and landscape designer Janine Mendel of the Australian firm CultivArt recessed miniature white LEDs under this wooden bridge/deck to illuminate the stream and river stones. She recommends using warm instead of cool white lights for outdoor spaces.
Chris Bradly / Bradley Foto
Designers like a challenge and can get really creative with urban spaces (LINK-A Guide to Transforming Small Gardens into a Irresistible Retreat) Case in point: this rooftop garden is on top of a garage in Chicago’s Wicker Park/Bucktown district. Using cedar, steel and frosted acrylic panels, Reveal Design LLC constructed a pergola with a green (living) roof which has a built-in irrigation system. The owners can view their illuminated rooftop deck from indoors and can control the low-voltage FX Luminaire LED lighting with their smartphones.
Al Fresco Dining
The goal: to provide intimacy to the dining space of a deck at a beach cottage in Portland, Maine without building a roof, which would block out the sky at night and sun during the day. The simple solution: Whitten Architects artfully drape Vintage Light Strings from Restoration Hardware over stainless steel cables that stretch over the deck.
Adding Security and Safety
McKay Landscape Lighting
The owners of this Omaha, Nebraska home hired McKay Landscape Lighting to illuminate their front and back gardens for increased safety and security. Steep outdoor steps with five areas allowing access to and from the deck called for well-designed lighting to ensure safe passage. Surface mounts were placed on the risers, right beneath the treads.
MONEAL for GrowsGreen
San Francisco Bay Area landscape design firm GrowsGreen created an outdoor space that comes alive at night, thanks to warm wood decking, low-mounted lights, landscaping lighting and fun string lights that swing from the fence to the two palm trees and over the sunken, lower-level deck.
Tricia Shay Photography
Bruns Architecture illuminated the narrow terrace deck of this Milwaukee, Wisconsin home by recessing canister lights into the soffit/roof plane. By placing the lights discretely under the eaves, the deck is illuminated without leaking lighting into the night sky.
Victor Coar for Karen Garlanger
David Schuck of Karen Garlanger Designs in St. Joseph, Michigan built this modern deck with planters using Fiberon Horizon Decking in ipe. The evenly spaced round exterior stair lights are 2-inch LEDs, which give the space a clean, contemporary look.
Michael de Leon Photography
In a narrow space where ipe decking meets sandstone pavers, R Design used in-floor lighting for a clean, subtle effect. This rooftop home and garden are located in the foothill city of Boulder, Colorado.
Deck for Waterfront Home
The narrow back garden of a contemporary waterfront home in Sydney, Australia is well designed to accommodate an accessible deck for entertaining, along with a lawn for children and pets. Designed by Bell Landscapes, lighting includes planter-box spotlights (sometimes called uplights) for the hedges, round lights on the deck levels and smaller step lights for safe passage.
Boho Tree House
Mike Kelley Photography
Sometimes, a designer can build upon a good design that’s already in place. The previous owner of this Los Angeles area home wisely had attached commercial step lights under the railing, correctly facing inward. When Ggem Design was hired by the new homeowners, they enhanced the outdoor deck by using French cafe style commercial-grade patio lights for an overhead ambient light source. The nature- and tree-loving owners wanted a natural, bohemian look, so Ggem placed the lights in two of the larger tree branches.
Deck with a View
McKay Landscape Lighting
For a deck overlooking a lake in Nebraska, McKay Landscape Lighting customized matching fixtures that were attached to the balustrade and are directed down onto the deck, so they won’t compete with the view.
The homeowners of this outdoor space in tiny Bear Creek Village, Pennsylvania requested that designers MasterPlan preserve the view from the house to the stream in the nearby woods. They desired an integrated, open outdoor space for cooking and entertaining. Landscape lighting and festive string lights across the deck make it intriguing, whether the homeowners are on the deck or viewing it from inside.
Acorn Garden Houses
The Melbourne, Australia-based architectural and design firm Acorn Garden Houses specializes in custom-built conservatories, orangeries, pool houses, cabanas, garden rooms and outdoor entertaining. This outdoor space and deck in Melbourne’s seaside village of Mount Martha features floor-mounted deck lights on the edge, along with an illuminated outdoor kitchen and dining area.
By Lisa Hallett Taylor