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Understanding Exterior Lighting for Your Home

By Alexis February 5, 2024

A home with exterior lighting

Exterior lighting shouldn’t be an afterthought. Purposeful lighting can elevate your landscape and make outdoor spaces more comfortable and functional.

When considering outdoor lighting, the secret is to think of its purpose. Do you need lighting in a corner or garage area for safety? Are you lighting a walkway or path? Outdoor dining and patio space? Or are you highlighting a feature in your yard - trees, a fire pit, fountain, pool or pergola?

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Below are some of the types of landscape lighting and why they are important:

Lighting the Front of Your House

Lighting the front of your home will make it more inviting. After your front door, porch lighting is one of the most commonly overlooked home elements. Updating a pendant on a porch or the sconces framing your front entry can immediately improve the looks of your home in both day and night. There is also soffit lighting, which are little lights placed in the recesses of your home that shine downward and illuminate the exterior.


If you have big trees, think about moonlighting. This is the opposite of uplighting, fixtures are placed in the trees and shine down on the pathways and lawn creating a soft, natural glow.

how to design landscape lighting
Moonlighting & Soffit Lighting

Pathway Lighting

Lighting a walkway is important from a safety and practicality standpoint. Here, less is more. Try to use fewer larger fixtures and when possible place them in planting beds rather than the lawn where they can be run over by lawnmowers. Beware of the runway look with too many little lights!

landscape lighting along a brick pathway
landscape lighting along a stone pathway
pathway lighting along a curved pathway
Pathway Lighting (Photos: Lamps Plus, Birch Lane, FXL)

Step Lighting

Step lights are set into either the wall or steps that wash down and illuminate the area below are important from a safety perspective, but can also look really amazing. These must be installed at the time of masonry construction and are hard to retrofit so we recommend not skimping on the fixtures if you decide to add them to your landscape. Once installed they are difficult to replace.

lighting next to a retaining wall on stone steps in a backyard
stair lighting in a modern backyard
landscape lighting on brick stairs in a large backyard with flowering shrubs
Step Lighting(Photos: Ever Brillance Lighting, Houzz, Iconic)

Uplights & Wall Lights

Uplights can be a nice way to highlight a few features in your landscape. Consider lighting a specimen tree, stone facade, or clean line of shrubs. Wall lights are a great way to create ambiance, showcase a stone wall or clearly mark a yard’s perimeter.

landscape lighting next to a large tree in a backyard
landscape lighting for backyard trees with a stone pathway next to it
Uplights & Wall Lights(Photos: Unkown, This Old House)

Atmosphere Party Lights

String lights are a finishing touch to any outdoor space. They are festive, fun and add intimacy. One of our favorite DIY bloggers, Sarah of Ugly Duckling House recently offered great plans for DIY outdoor pole planters to hang lights from!

When it comes to installing your lighting, we recommend speaking with an electrician or the team that handles your sprinklers as they often will install lights as well.

If lighting sounds overwhelming, Tilly offers a Lighting Plan in our design package that outlines which types of lights will complete your design and maximize the new look of your home.

Browse Tilly’s Pinterest page Landscape Lighting and Front Door Lighting for inspiration!

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Gardening Tips