What are the Different Types of Exterior Lighting?

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  • Written By: Robert Ferguson
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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In general, exterior lighting is designed to be mainly functional or aesthetic, depending on the intended use. Exterior lighting that provides a service such as security or safety is functional lighting. This type of lighting illuminates areas such as pools, sidewalks and porches. Aesthetic, or decorative, lighting illuminates architectural, landscaping and other exterior features. Another good way to distinguish between types of exterior lighting is to consider how the lights are powered.

Exterior lighting power sources include low-voltage, high-voltage and solar powered lights. Low-voltage lighting uses a transformer that plugs into an existing wall outlet. These types of lights are suited for decorative as well as functional lighting options. Common areas where low-voltage lights are used include handrails, stairs and around outside bars or gathering points to add an ambient atmosphere.

High-voltage lighting types include spotlights, floodlights and common overhead lighting. These lights operate off standard electrical circuits. In most cases, the lights connect to a separate circuit, which provides the electricity. Spotlights illuminate in a tight, more direct beam of light while floodlights provide a wider range of light.


Solar power is another type of power source for exterior lighting. These lights receive their energy from the sun. During the day, a solar cell located on the fixture charges batteries located in the fixture. These types of fixtures are extremely versatile as they are simply placed around driveways, decks or other areas requiring additional lighting. Another advantage to solar powered lighting is easy installation, eliminating the expense of hiring an electrician.

When purchasing exterior light fixtures, two features to consider are motion-sensors and photocells, which provide "dusk to dawn operation." Exterior light fixtures equipped with a motion-sensor turn on when the sensor detects any motion inside its range. This feature adds additional security by scaring off potential burglars, provides lighting for unexpected guests, and helps to conserve energy. The sensitivity of motion-sensor exterior lighting fixtures is adjustable, reducing unnecessary activation due to small animals or other natural movements in the yard.

Photocell exterior light fixtures automatically turn on at dusk and turn off at dawn. These types of exterior fixtures conserve energy by eliminating the possibility of lights being inadvertently left on during the day. The options available for today's exterior light fixtures provide improved security, better energy conservation and more attractive features than past options.


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