Cozy outdoor lighting ideas for your backyard and balcony

Once summer finally rolls around, Canadians are ready to make the most of every minute, and installing outdoor lighting is a great way to keep the festivities going long after sunset. There are many lighting options—from string lights to spotlights—and knowing what you want to achieve is the first step in deciding what to buy. Are you looking for ambiance during dinner alfresco? Do you want to make a pathway visible? Is security your priority? These outdoor lighting ideas will make the most of your space—whether it’s a backyard garden, deck, balcony or something in between.

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1Outdoor Lighting Types

Outdoor lighting can be useful for different tasks and some types check off multiple boxes.

Decorative lighting: This type is generally for ambiance rather than bright illumination.

Landscape lighting: This type of lighting can improve visibility, while also highlighting beautiful design elements.

Security lighting: These lights usually have motion sensors and illuminate dark areas of entry to the house, like side and garage doors.

String Lights

Outdoor lighting ideas for string lights

Outdoor string lights are used to create a warm and intimate ambiance that’s perfect for entertaining.

Features to look for:

  • Rechargeable batteries or solar power: String lights that don’t need to be set up close to an outlet are more versatile.
  • Shatterproof bulbs: A strong wind may tussle your string lights. Bulbs encased in a metal or plastic casing are more durable.
  • Length: Check how many feet the string will cover (and how many bulbs it includes). You may need to purchase multiple strands to cover the area or create the effect you want.
  • Flexible wire: A malleable wire that runs along the string makes it easy to bend the lights into a specific shape or wrap around trees or railings.
  • Waterproofing: Any light that will get rained on should be made specifically for the outdoors and be listed as waterproof.
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Decorating Tip
Fairy lights can look magical strewn around a bush or wrapped around a balcony railing, while globe string lights are best strung between supports like trees or posts. Create a ceiling of string lights to replicate the vibe from your go-to cafe and take your outdoor dinner party to the next level. You can even adorn the underside of a patio umbrella with string lights to recreate this overhead effect.

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Ceiling Lights

Outdoor lighting ideas for your porch including ceiling lights

Outdoor ceiling lights are typically installed over a covered patio or deck to illuminate common areas where you hang out with the kids or entertain.

Features to look for:

  • Shape: Square or rectangular pendant lanterns are a more traditional style, while ceiling lights with a shade are more modern.
  • Dimming ability: Dimmable lights can be brightened if you’re reading or playing a board game and dimmed for a romantic dinner.
  • LED bulbs: While more expensive upfront, LED lights last longer and consume less energy.[1]
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Decorating Tip
Install a flush-mount light to take up less vertical space or create more of a focal point with a chandelier or statement-making pendant light.

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Pathway Lights

Pathway lights for your backyard or garden

Pathway lighting helps you and guests safely navigate walkways, while also highlighting pretty stone or mulch paths.

Features to look for:

  • Solar power: These energy-saving versions require no wires and stay bright for several hours after dusk. If you opt for low-voltage lights instead, you’ll need to use a transformer to reduce the 120-volt house current to 12 volts.[2]
  • Stake installation: This installation method is fast and easy, plus it allows you to move the lights if needed.
  • Waterproofing: It’s pretty much a necessity for any outdoor light, but especially one that’s on the ground.
  • Motion sensors: If you’re mainly using the lighting for visibility when walking along a path, a motion sensor will ensure that the lights are on when you need them and off when you don’t.
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Installation Tip
Stagger the lights rather than place them in a straight line, or your walkway may end up looking like an airport landing strip. You can also place these lights around your flower beds to emphasize contours.

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Spotlights

Outdoor lighting spotlight ideas for the garden and backyard

Spotlighting, also known as “up-lighting,” is installed at or above ground level and shines a narrow beam of light upwards to showcase a tree, plant or ornamental feature.

Features to look for:

  • Adjustable beam angle: This feature allows you to widen the beam to spread the light, or narrow it if you prefer.
  • Timer: Instead of turning the lights on and off each night, you can set a timer to control them—even when you’re out of town.
  • Waterproofing or weather-sealing: You won’t be bringing these indoors lights every time it rains, so you need them to be able to withstand the weather.
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Installation Tip
If you want to highlight tall trees, choose bullet-shaped spotlights. This light type is driven into the ground with a stake and has an adjustable head that you can angle as needed. To put the spotlight on shorter shrubs or gardens, opt for well lights that are pushed into and hidden in the ground.[3]

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Wall Sconces and Lanterns

Outdoor lighting wall sconces and lanterns

Wall sconces and lanterns are installed on the exterior of your home to improve visibility in recessed areas often covered in shadows. They may also highlight architectural details.

Features to look for:

  • Open-bottom design: This type of wall sconce will cast the maximum amount of light downward onto the area below.[4]
  • Semi-flush mount: This design attaches to a narrow arm that’s mounted to a plate on the wall and usually requires less wall surface area (perfect for narrow walls or pillars).
  • Translucent glass cover: This type of glass helps diffuse the light, whereas a clear glass cover may give off glare and be too harsh on the eyes at night.[5]
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Installation Tip
Try layering different types of lights, such as spotlights and lanterns, to achieve the effect you’re looking for. This multi-light approach ensures you get both the safety element of increased visibility as well as the soft glow you love. (Think pretty and practical!)

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Deck Lights

Deck lights for your backyard

The main purpose of deck lighting is to provide a clear and visible path for you and guests to walk across the deck at night and safely navigate stairs. They can be installed on top of posts, along banisters or right into the floor or steps.

Features to look for:

  • Solar power: If your deck is in the sun, those rays provide an easier source of power than batteries or hardwiring.
  • Waterproofing or weather-sealing: Protect your lights from water damage in the summer and winter.
  • LED bulbs: LED is the best option to reduce energy consumption and it also has the longest lifespan, so you won’t need to replace the bulbs very often.
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Installation Tip
Installing deck lights recessed into the stair riser means you’ll benefit from the light but won’t have to see the actual light source. With lights that are recessed into the deck, you can seamlessly walk over them without risk of tripping.

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Flood Lights

Security flood lights with motion sensors for your home

Often the brightest type of backyard lighting, flood lights are installed in high spots like the eaves to illuminate large areas and scare off potential burglars or destructive animals.

Features to look for:

  • Motion sensors: The bright lights will only turn on if built-in sensors detect movement.
  • Automatic shutoff: After a certain amount of time has passed, the lights will turn back off unless they sense more movement.
  • Weather-sealing: Look for the words “all-season,” “weatherproof” or “weather-sealed” to ensure that your lights will work all year round.
  • LED bulbs: For longevity, choose LED bulbs.
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Installation Tip
Install flood lights at least nine feet off the ground so they cast a wide spread of light and aren’t easily accessible to anyone who might want to disable them.

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2Lumens

Lumens are a measure of the total amount of light coming from a bulb. The higher the lumen number, the brighter and more intense the light.[6]

The number of lumens you need all depends on the purpose of your outdoor lighting and where it’s located. This table will help you determine how many lumens you need.

Light Types Lumen Count
Step lights 12 to 100
Hardscape lights (on walls) 50 to 185
Landscape lights 50 to 300
Path lights 100 to 300
Pond or pool lights 200 to 400
Motion-sensor lights 300 to 700
Flood lights 700 to 1,300

Note: String lights are mostly decorative, providing more ambiance or mood lighting. Most will emit fewer lumens than a wall light.

3UL Listing

Outdoor lighting that requires an electrical source will have been tested and rated by an independent product safety certification organization like Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, which gives products like light fixtures a UL or cUL listing. This rating lets you know where it’s safe to install that fixture when it comes to dampness.

  • UL Listed for Damp Locations (Damp Rated): This product can be installed in an exterior location that might be exposed to condensation or moisture (think under a covered patio or porch).
  • UL Listed for Wet Locations (Wet Rated): This product is safe for open-air decks and patios, exterior walls, walkways and so on.[7]

4Power Source

There are four main types of power sources when it comes to outdoor lighting.

  • Solar: Solar-powered lights are a great energy-saving option if you can place the light or solar panel in an area that gets plenty of sunshine during the day.
  • Low voltage: These lights are energy-efficient and reduce the risk of injury from electrical shock, meaning they’re more pet-friendly if someone likes to chew wires or cords!
  • Line voltage: This reliable and strong power source can provide unlimited, bright light for extended periods of time. It may require an electrician to directly install the lighting.
  • Battery: Rechargeable battery-powered lighting is a budget-friendly option that doesn’t need to be set up close to a power source.

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