Illuminating your home’s façade may be the most prominent type of lighting to bring instant curb appeal, but pathway and stairway lighting is arguably the most important.
Path lighting and stair lighting is valuable for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Uneven areas with changes in elevation should be properly illuminated to avoid possible injuries. This is particularly crucial for elderly homeowners and guests because vision worsens as we age. Aesthetically, path lighting adds a warm ambiance, inviting guests to make their way up your driveway or walkway to enter your home.
Lighting these areas may seem fairly straightforward, but it actually requires a significant amount of planning and design forethought. Here are a few things to consider when adding lighting to steps or walkways.
Style of Lighting
We at Enlightened Lighting prefer path lights for most walkways because they are subtle yet effective. These fixtures offer a great light beam spread. Since they are positioned low to the ground, they don’t need to be overly bright to adequately illuminate an area. When installing path lights, you typically need to use multiple fixtures to emit the same amount of light as a taller post lantern.
Post lanterns put out a significant amount of light from a single fixture, so they can look more obtrusive. However, you can use fewer lanterns than path lights to achieve a similar effect. Popular places to install post lanterns include along the driveway, at the start of a pathway, or on top of stone columns.
Downlighting is another common method to illuminate pathways. The fixture must be installed in a tree or against a house/structure shinning down to illuminate the area below. Unlike fixtures installed at ground level, this type of lighting often has visible wiring as wires need to be brought up the tree or structure to the fixture source.
Moonlighting is a specialized type of downlighting intended to recreate the look of moonlight. The lights shine down from tall trees on your property, creating light and shadows, broken up by foliage. The light source can be blueish in color, mimicking the soft moonbeam hue, or can be a natural, warm, reddish light, depending on your preference.
Reflective lighting is another style which uses oblique lighting to illuminate pathways or steps. These lights are intended to illuminate other areas of your property, but if properly placed, they can cast a small amount of light onto your walkway. This indirect light can give added ambiance and some visibility to pathways and stairs.
Hidden, built-in fixtures are a discrete way to illuminate pathways. They are often used for stairways, especially when it is difficult to illuminate the steps using path lighting or other methods. Using built-in fixtures in a location with a significant change of elevation can be tricky though, because the lights may end up right in your line of sight. Adding built-in lights to a long stairway can also get expensive since the number of fixtures needed quickly adds up.
If you plan to build fixtures into concrete, make sure to choose fixtures that are designed to last as long as the concrete! Aluminum fixtures have a five- to eight-year lifespan, but patios or steps can last 20 to 30 years. When your fixtures die, it’s very difficult to remove or replace them when they are encased in concrete. Choose long-lasting brass fixtures instead.
Number of Lights
The number of lights you need will depend on the size of your walkway and the style of lighting you choose. With path lighting, you want to be sure not to over-do it. Too many path lights along a sidewalk can make your yard look like an airport runway. We recommend alternating path lights across opposite sides of a pathway, to provide ample lighting without over-crowding the path.
With any style of lighting, try to use an odd number of lights. Avoid precise symmetry unless your home is very symmetrical. Nature isn’t symmetrical, so asymmetric lighting design looks more natural to the eye.
Placement of Lights
When placing lights, you want to make sure to fully illuminate the problem spots on your property. You know these spots better than your lighting designer, so have a conversation about areas that are uneven or difficult to navigate at night. Flagstone is often problematic, so be sure to install ample lighting in areas with that material. Having a guest take a tumble at the end of the night is a surefire way to ruin a great party!
If you’re considering lighting a pathway or stairway on your property, contact Enlightened Lighting for a consultation or estimate. We love helping homeowners add safety and beauty to their homes with tasteful and practical lighting.