Nothing says “warm summer evenings” like sitting in the garden surrounded by the pearly glow of patio lighting. It is something often seen in movies and thought of as a gimmick reserved for the rich and famous in their mansions. It is, however, surprisingly easy to install patio lights in your garden or on your patio once you have worked out exactly the effect you want to achieve and looked at your budget.
Do you want to have enough lighting to read or entertain by or just to create a background of soft ambience? Do you want light to illuminate a walkway or a light attached to a wall or convenient tree? These are just some of the ideas we will discuss in this short article.
Types of Patio Lights
The simplest and cheapest to buy are the strings of fairy lights with LED bulbs. They don’t provide much illumination but are more in demand as a decorative accessory. They are very cheap to buy but can cost a lot if you have to keep on replacing batteries all through the summer. These are definitely temporary and probably will not last more than a year of exposure. LED strings are best draped across shrubs or along fences or from tree branches.
Solar powered lights:
Solar powered technology is becoming more efficient all the time and there are plenty of solar powered lights for sale at reasonable prices. Solar lights can be bought in strings with one solar panel or as an individual light with its own panel. These are especially useful as illumination along a walkway or to provide a warm glow in selected areas of the garden. The amount of light produced by these lamps is not really strong enough to read by but is quite adequate for entertaining and providing a warm background glow. Although these do not require any special installation they can be placed in the garden permanently and as long as the panel is kept clean will continue to produce light for many years. They have the added advantage that they are able to be lifted and rearranged if you become bored with them in a specific position or if your garden design changes.
Low voltage lights:
These are outdoor lights wired together and use 12V electricity supplied from a transformer plugged into the mains supply. These are perfectly safe for the amateur to fit and provide a good light.
Mains voltage lights:
These are the most permanent and the most expensive to buy and to install as they will require fitting by a qualified electrician who will not only install the lights but also the cable from your household electrical distribution board together with the required circuit breakers needed for outdoor electricity. These lights are the most versatile as you can use them for decoration and as purely utilitarian lighting. They will always give the brightest illumination.
Useful ideas for locations of patio lights
Once you have decided on which type of lighting you are going to use, it is then time to play with ideas for the locations. There is no right or wrong way to decorate your patio with lights. Whatever works for you and produces a pleasing effect is the correct way to do it. If you still want some ideas then maybe I can give you some starting points from which I can hopefully give the initial push to make something pleasing for your garden.
The hub of your garden as far as lighting is concerned is probably going to be your patio and surrounding area. Do you have certain features on the patio that you would like to enhance or have you any features that would look good supporting some lights? Typical examples would be:
Posts or low wall around the patio area. This marks off the boundary of the patio area and encloses the warm and comfortable living space.
Handy tree branches. If you have any trees or branches or a fence running near the patio perhaps you can illuminate these and bring them into the warm space.
Sculptures and architectural features. Have you any garden sculptures or fountains that can be used? How about a pond that will accept underwater lights? Maybe the overhanging eaves of a veranda can be incorporated.
Backgrounds. Draping lights across sturdy plants or across a wall will add a subtle background to your entertainment area. Fill see-through containers or buckets with strings of LEDs to produce pretty lanterns.
Flower beds. Dense sturdy plants in a low lying flower bed look gorgeous if string lights are half buried within the foliage.
Eating area. If you have a dining table set up under an overhanging tree, pagoda, pergola or roof structure, try hanging strings of lights down to illuminate the eating area. This method can also be used around the perimeter of a fire pit.
Pool. We suggested earlier about using a garden pond. What about taking the idea one step further and draping the lights over a small swimming pool?
Rope lighting. Running rope lighting along flower borders, footpaths or the perimeter of your garden will produce a soft glow to your garden.
Lamp poles. If your patio hasn’t got any convenient places from which to hang lights, you can try to make your own by pushing lengths of timber or broom handles into the ground or cement them into large pots. Add some hooks to the top ends and you have instant light poles.
There are many different types of lighting fixtures available and we have already touched on string lights and rope lights. All the different types are specifically designed for various purposes and we will discuss them now.
These are typically installed so the top edge is flush with the ground. Can be dug into lawns or ground covering plants or mulches. This type takes a lot of installation time as each light is fitted inside a protective underground metal cylinder.
Use these where you have trees, sculptures or some other focal point. As the tree grows and matures you will want to adjust the position of the light so choose a light that is adjustable.
High power up-lights
These are used to illuminate taller trees and the sides of buildings. Floodlights may be used to provide the required illumination.
When these small high intensity lights are fitted on high positions looking down, they can illuminate places beneath.
These are often called ‘mushrooms’ and are freestanding single lights. They are typically used to safely illuminate walkways and areas around pools.
This type is fitted to house and garage walls and is mainly used for security or subtle illumination. These can be used with lampshades and sconces and are often incorporated with motion sensors.
Patio Lights Cost
The cost of a typical lighting system will vary with size and type of fittings. However if we specify a standard 20 bulb low voltage system using LEDs the costs will be as follows.
|Wire & Cable||$200
For a typical front garden system the following costs will be indicative.
|7 pathway light fixtures||$3000
|4 LED up-lights||$1500
|2 LED floodlights||$700
|2 motion detector security switches & lights||$350
DIY tips for installing patio lights
If you are thinking of installing mains voltage lights you will have to use a qualified electrician to do the work. Most outside lights are low voltage however, and will be perfectly safe for a beginner to install. Bear in mind the following points and don’t forget to follow the instructions supplied with the lighting kit.
Underground wiring installed after planting. If you decide to install low voltage wiring, remember that the transformer must be stored away from the weather and the wiring must be installed after all planting has taken place. Otherwise you might find that you will cut through the wire with a spade or shovel.
Bury low voltage wire deep enough. Always bury low voltage wire at least 6 inches below ground level. This will keep it out of the way of fingers when weeding and away from pets and other animals such as birds who like to scratch and peck in the soil.
Retrofit bulbs. If you already have outdoor low voltage lighting installed, the chances are that the bulbs are halogen. If you want to change to more energy efficient LED bulbs, there is no need to remove and change the old halogen fixtures, just remove the halogens and retrofit with the correct equivalent wattage LEDs.
Don’t overlap light. The purpose of outside light is to either provide ambience or to provide safe illumination. If you want ambience then do not over illuminate by overlapping pools of light on decks and patios. You can however overlap on stairs and walkways where safety is paramount.
Solar lighting. In recent years solar lighting has gained in popularity with more efficient technology and lower prices. They don’t give as much light as mains voltage systems but good reasons to choose solar are:
- Instant installation
- No wiring
- No increase in electricity usage
Use indirect lighting. Don’t focus lights directly onto a patio or deck, instead use the lights to illuminate features. This will create a softer light, interesting shadows and will eliminate glare.
Use kits. If you just want a small basic system, buy a kit from home décor and garden centres rather than trying to design and buy the individual components separately.
Plan ahead. Before you decide to buy anything, draw a plan of your patio or deck on a large piece of graph paper including all the large plants, trees and architectural features. Then buy a clamp light with a metal reflector shade and a range of different types of lightbulbs. Wait until dusk and try out the different types of bulbs in different locations to get the best effect. Mark on your plan the best bulb for each location. Don’t forget to include steps and pathways for safety.
An extra transformer. If you decide to add extra bulbs to your lighting system, you can still use your old transformer as long as there is enough wattage to spare. If there isn’t then you can buy a second transformer or upgrade your original one.
Stagger your lights. When you place your lights, do not position them perfectly parallel, stagger them and put them at different heights if possible. This will prevent your patio from looking like an airport runway!
Protect wire under walkways. Place your wire under walkways rather than across them otherwise someone will eventually trip and fall. A simple way to push a wire under a walkway is to dig a small trench either side. Push a piece of metal conduit or copper pipe, using a sledgehammer if necessary, under the walkway and feed the wire through the conduit.
- If you are using mains voltage lighting always use an electrician to install the cable and fittings
- With low voltage lighting, always bury the wires at least 6 inches underground
- Don’t leave wires where people can trip over them
- Properly illuminate stairways and walkways
- Always keep the low voltage transformer indoors and out of the rain
It is very easy to make your patio, deck or garden into something to be envied. All you need are a few low voltage or solar lights strategically placed. If you can afford to have mains voltage outdoor lighting installed by a professional then the effect will be even better. DIY kits are available for low voltage lights and solar powered lights from your local home décor store or garden centre and require just a few basic tools to install. Above all use your imagination when designing your layout.