One of the primary motivators for the homeowner in considering a patio or deck area as an add-on to their home is its entertainment value. Cruise the neighborhood during the day and you will more than likely see only a few people using the patio or deck. However, as evening approaches the story changes. When parent(s) come home from work or when it’s the right time to plan a party for friends and relatives, the patio or deck is frequently used as the center of festivities that often last well into the night.
During the planning stages, it’s important to include a lighting plan to make sure that the patio and deck area are not only well-lighted but that the lighting design creates a magical effect for its visitors.
Starting with the most elegant (and usually the most expensive) deck and patio lighting we can take a look at lights that are built-in to the foundation elements of the patio or deck. These lights provide a soft uplight glow that can mark a pathway or just provide a non-functional source of beauty. The lights are generally installed by contractors during the patio and deck construction and are generally not a project that the average DIY should consider tackling. I’ve seen this type of lighting done in a variety of colors and have even seen systems that automatically change the colors during the course of the evening, providing a mood-altering effect.
Dimmers are also a worthwhile investment for ground level lighting, allowing the host to increase or decrease the intensity of the lighting depending on the mood desired. Ground lighting is very safe since the lights themselves are never in contact with the visitors. Contractors will make sure that the process for changing the bulbs is simple and straightforward.
Speaking of dimmers, it’s generally a good idea to keep your entire deck and patio lighting system under dimmer control. Bright moonlight can allow you to turn the lighting down a bit while dark moonless nights can prompt you to boost the light up a bit.
Ground level lighting can also be used to frame the patio or deck area particularly if you’ve planted shrubbery or other low plantings around the area.
Down lighting is another type of deck and patio lighting. As the name implies, this is lighting from above and can be used to simulate moonlight. Besides being a natural lighting source, down lighting also enhances the security of the area because a lighted deck or patio usually leaves the impression the there’s someone at home.
A creative way to use this as a security feature is to have your doorbell circuit tied into a switch that at least temporarily turns the down lights on.
Most down lighting is accomplished by the use of either or both floodlights and spotlights. The floodlight will provide more ambient lighting by illuminating the entire deck or patio area while spotlights can be used as task lighting to highlight such areas as stairways and entryways. Spotlights can also be used to accent special features such as fountains, plantings or cooking and eating areas.
Many deck and patio lighting is installed at the waist level to keep any glare away from the face and to provide an elegant touch. Some lighting can also be installed at the top of posts that are at the top of stairways or other areas that separate one part of the deck or patio from another.
Some homeowners use strip or rope lights to highlight the porch or deck railing or other areas that need special attention such as stair risers or seating areas. If you live in an area where you can use a deck or patio during the winter holiday season, give some thought to decorating the area with lighting that can be used year-round.
Have fun with your lighting plan for your deck or patio. Most of the lighting is relatively inexpensive and can be removed or modified relatively easily. You may want to divide your plan into lights, which need to be permanently installed, and lights that are movable and optional.
Please don’t get carried away with deck and patio lighting plans. This type of lighting is best understated although some decorative lighting such as hurricane lamps or tiki torches (used in moderation) are OK.
Bugs are often a problem at night and several manufactures offer lights that discourage or repel flying pests. Sometimes a bright light, strategically placed in a tree a bit away from the patio or deck will help keep these insects occupied elsewhere rather than with your guests.
Above all, keep in mind that you want to create a magic environment that will encourage visitors to congregate and socialize late into the evening.