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Lighting extends the use of your deck late into the evening and makes it safer and more secure at night, even when you’re not using it.

Adding lights to a deck takes planning and care, but it’s not difficult. Choose the lighting system you prefer, review the installation guidelines, and prepare to enjoy your outdoor living space any time of day—and night.

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Lighting Sources

Decorative and concealed light fixtures lend style and atmosphere to outdoor space, as well as bolster home security.

CONCEALED: Concealed light sources focus attention on an object or area. Tucked among plants, in a tree, or at ground level, their strong bulbs typically cast their beams a long distance. Place the fixtures carefully so the bulbs aren’t visible from any angle.

DECORATIVE: Decorative fixtures throw a more diffused and weaker light than concealed fixtures; you should be able to look at them without squinting. They come in two forms—either as freestanding units mounted on short pillars, or made-for-mounting units you can attach to posts or walls. Decorative fixtures should fit their setting. For example, small lanterns perched atop chunky pilasters or hanging on a large, empty wall will look out of proportion.

Lighting Strategies

Getting the right light in the right places on your deck means combining light from various sources in different strategies.

Lighting With Style

Low-voltage lights are available in styles that range from Victorian Revival to high-tech. Most are designed for in-the-ground installation, but many can be mounted on deck railings, under stairs, or along fences. Halogen bulbs cost more initially but are less expensive to operate.

New Light For An Old Deck

When building a new deck, you can lay polyvinyl chloride pipes through the area before installing the paving so you can run wires easily for lighting. But if it’s too late for that, you can hide wiring by attaching it to the underside of structures.

You can install perimeter low-voltage lighting at any time. And where the space gets at least six hours of sun, consider installing solar fixtures. They don’t require any wires at all.

DOWNLIGHTING: Downlighting casts a soft, indirect glow on horizontal surfaces such as steps, paths, floors, balconies, and tabletops. Mount the fixtures on tree trunks, branches, or overhead rafters. On arbor rafters, thread wires through the center of hollow columns, or cut a rabbeted groove along the length of a solid post to create a cavity for the wiring.

Keep downlighting fixtures out of sight so that they don’t draw attention from the illuminated object. As with other lights, aim them to illuminate your yard and outdoor rooms, not your neighbor’s.

PATH LIGHTING: These short, decorative fixtures cast light downward along a walkway, linking your outdoor room and other parts of your yard, such as the driveway, parking area, or pool. Use a single or matched pair of path lights to illuminate short flights of exterior steps or to mark points of entry.

Beware The Glare

Artfully placed fixtures cast gentle pools of light that transform your deck into evening-friendly space. Choose lighting that improves the setting and helps guests feel comfortable. Mounting bright spotlights to shine on the deck will provide plenty of light, but that’s all. Your guests will feel uncomfortable under the glare.

Line Voltage Or Low Voltage?

Lighting systems come in two forms: line voltage, which uses the 120-volt AC power in your house, or low voltage, which uses power reduced by a transformer to 12 volts of direct current. Working with line voltage is easy enough for homeowners with experience doing their own electrical work. But it can be dangerous to use outdoors; you may want to hire professional electricians.

  • Most outdoor line-voltage installations require approval from a building inspector. Low-voltage systems are safer for outdoor use and seldom require inspection unless you add a new 120-volt circuit to feed the low-voltage system.
  • Line voltage is compatible with the wiring you already have, and it’s useful for outdoor appliances and power tools, as well as lighting. Low voltage is safe, easy to install, and inexpensive to operate. If you can’t decide which system to use, think about which one matches your needs best.
  • A line-voltage system requires conduit, fittings, junction boxes, receptacles, fixtures, bulbs, wire, and connectors. Your supplier can tell you what other materials, tools, and hardware you’ll need. Low-voltage systems are designed for use outdoors and require fewer accessories.
  • Several kinds of fixtures are available for both systems, but low-voltage systems generally offer more options. You can find lights to illuminate deck surfaces, walkways, and stairways. Other lights are made to show off plantings, walls, fountains, and other special features. Fixtures are available in many materials, including molded plastic, hand-finished teak, and cast bronze.

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