Outdoor lighting is very important for any home. Lighting provides security at night. And keeps you safe when you are outside at night. But, your home needs the right kind of light fixtures that compliment the home’s style and provide sufficient lighting. This Old House has some suggestions for choosing just the right lights.
All About Front Entry Lighting
More than just a beacon leading to the front door, exterior lighting helps define the look of a house. With planning and a bit of math, you can put your home’s best face forward.
Drive down any residential street, and we’d bet your eye is instantly drawn to the house with the inviting, well-lit front door. Done right, exterior entry lighting makes the most of what you’ve got, complementing your home’s architecture, increasing security, and helping guests navigate their way to the front landing.
That said, it can be a real challenge to select the perfect fixture. Just stroll down the lighting aisle of any home store, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the countless styles, finishes, bells and whistles—and that’s before you look online.
Start by evaluating your space to determine the type of fixture (or fixtures) that best fits it, whether wall-mount, ceiling-mount, or, in very large entries, a combination of the two. In every case, the overall goal is to cast a wide pool of light that illuminates the entry, banishes dark corners, and casts a warm glow that’s easy on the eyes, says San Francisco-based lighting designer Jody Pritchard. We’ll explain how to determine the correct size, placement, style, and finish of your front-door lighting. Follow these steps to make your house the one that says “welcome home.”
Anatomy of a Light
Here are the basics of a pendant; sconce and flush-mount fixtures have similar housing and inner workings, and a mounting plate.
Front Entry Light Vitals: Cost
What does It cost? There’s an option for every budget, but expect to pay $250 and up for a quality fixture made from solid-cast or hand-wrought metals.
DIY or hire a pro? Changing a light fixture is a relatively simple job. Installing a dedicated junction box for a new fixture takes more skill—and tools. For that, you may want to go pro.
Front Entry Light Vitals: Maintenance
Maintenance? While unlacquered brass requires polishing to keep it shiny, most fixtures can be cleaned with a damp cloth. Regularly applying a thin coat of wax to exposed metal parts helps protect against oxidation.
How long does it last? Warranties range from 30 days to a lifetime for some lights made from solid copper. One to two years is the industry average.
Deciphering UL Ratings
Light fixtures sold in the U.S. should carry an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rating on the label that indicates what kind of location they can be used in. Dry-rated lights cannot be subjected to excessive moisture and should not be hung outdoors. But tolerances vary for those that are damp- and wet-rated. The difference between the two is in the construction. UL-rated fixtures for damp and wet locations use different combinations of drain holes, seals, and protective gaskets to prevent water from accumulating on live wires and other electrical parts. Select the right fixture rating based on your entry’s level of exposure.
Damp-rated: Suitable for sheltered porch areas that are protected from water—even during storms—and from excessive moisture, such as salt air.
Wet-rated: Necessary around doors fully open to the elements, where rain, snow, and heavy fog or salt air can come into direct contact with the fixture.
Design Math: Get Some Perspective
Not sure how a fixture will look once you take it out of the showroom and install it at home? Before pulling the trigger on your purchase, double-check that it follows the guidelines for scale on the opposite page. Then make a mock-up of your selection: Cut cardboard to the size and shape of the light and affix it to the house near the door. Back off and take a look from the bottom of the driveway or the middle of the street to be certain it looks right.
Door-framing lights, placed 6 to 12 inches from the door casing, are a natural choice for symmetrical entries. A 13- to 15-watt LED bulb (labeled 60- to 70-watt equivalent) per fixture is usually enough.
Design Math: Single Sconce
When space is limited and there’s no surface overhead, one fixture—with a single 13- to 15-watt LED bulb (60- to 70-watt equivalent)—can suffice. Hang it on the doorknob side for a well-lit view when greeting guests.
Design Math: Flush-Mount
This is an ideal solution for entries with low ceilings, screen or storm doors, and porches open to wet weather. Use a 23- to 40-watt LED bulb (100- to 125-watt equivalent) or multiple bulbs with the same total wattage.
Design Math: Pendant
A hanging fixture lights a high-ceilinged entry, but not where it’s windy. With opaque glass, use a single 23- to 40-watt LED bulb (100- to 125-watt equivalent); for clear glass, use several smaller bulbs with the same combined wattage.
Front Entry Light: Good
Price Range: $50-$150
Base metal: These basic fixtures are usually made of inexpensive steel sheet metal, which can be easily bent around a form and welded.
Finish: May be sprayed on or applied with more expensive and more weather-resistant powder coating. As the finish wears, exposed steel surfaces will oxidize and eventually rust.
Glass: This is usually clear, with no faceting.
Front Entry Light: Better
Price Range: $150-$250
Base metal: Typically made of more rust-resistant aluminum, which is difficult to weld. Fixtures are assembled from multiple (and potentially more detailed) stamped, spun, and die-cast pieces.
Finish: May involve several layers of sprayed or hand-applied color. While aluminum can oxidize, it does so at a slower rate than steel. Powder-coated fixtures resist oxidation longer.
Glass: Options include decorative beveled or seeded glass.
Front Entry Light: Best
Price Range: $250 and up
Base metal: Generally made of brass—or, less often, of copper—cast from an intricate mold or constructed by hand. Details will be sharper.
Finish: Expect long-lasting electroplated and hand-applied, multilayer finishes. Lacquered brass resists oxidation for years. Polished or left to patinate, uncoated brass and copper last for decades.
Glass: Decorative options may include double-beveled or intricate art glass.
Get The Right Look: Cottage
For simple exteriors, opt for quaint details, such as lantern arms that curlicue or panes of vintage-look opaque glass that emit a soft glow.
Get The Right Look: Tudor Revival
A house with arched windows, stonework, or a steeply pitched roof calls for medieval-inspired lighting, often featuring hammered metals and seeded glass.
Get The Right Look: Arts and Crafts
Fixtures with angular profiles and ogee edges are a good fit for a bungalow and other clean-lined early-20th-century styles.
Get The Right Look: Colonial
Unadorned houses of the era, such as salt boxes and Cape Cods, were often lit by copper onion lanterns, durable enough for seaside living. Today, reproductions lend the same rustic charm.
Get The Right Look: Ranch
While traditional-style lights are often used on mid-century homes, linear, almost aerodynamic silhouettes and burnished or powder-coated metals are also true to the period.
Get The Right Look: Colonial Revival
Detailed fixtures clad in gilded metal or glossy black stand up to the formal entrances of homes with symmetrical facades and columned porticoes.
Get The Right Look: Victorian-Era
Lights with enthusiastic embellishment match the romantic hallmarks—gingerbread trim, fancy shingling—typical of Queen Annes.
Get The Right Look: Classical
Sculptural and statement-making, these globes work well on the commanding facade of an urban row house or a double-height porch.
Get The Right Look: Federal
An elaborate, elegant entrance will benefit from lantern-style sconces. Hinged glass doors and candle-covered sockets lend an air of authenticity.
Before electric lights became widespread in the 1890s, gas lighting was the norm. Today, whether for historical accuracy or for the atmospheric glow they impart, these fixtures are popular once again. They come configured two ways: as “gas mantle,” where the gas terminates in a wire- or ceramic-fiber cloth for a steady white light (equivalent to a 50- or 60-watt bulb), or as “open flame,” a softer candlelight flicker similar to a 25-watt bulb. Keep in mind, fixtures are pricey, starting at $600, and need a gas hookup; check local codes for requirements.
Pick Your Finish: Oil-Rubbed Bronze
Can be sprayed or plated over another base metal, but top-quality lights use a chemical process on solid brass that alters the metal’s surface.
Works with: most any style of home
Pick Your Finish: Aged Brass
Often sprayed or plated over another base metal, then polished to add highlights. For durability, look for solid brass that’s aged chemically and tooled for smooth edges.
Works with: any traditional style
Pick Your Finish: Polished Brass
Usually electroplated, it’s sold lacquered to prevent tarnish or unlacquered to patinate. Lacquer must be reapplied every few years. Unlacquered brass will darken to brown.
Works with: formal traditional styles
Pick Your Finish: Polished Nickel
Generally a layer of nickel electroplated over another base metal. May have a clear coat for added protection. Quality lights are plated over rust proof brass.
Works with: coastal and contemporary homes
Pick Your Finish: Matte Black
Like all colored finishes, matte or glossy, this can be sprayed on, but for durability, look for longer-lasting powder coating, in which the base metal is covered with a dry powder that is cured with heat.
Works for: providing contrast and color
Pick Your Finish: Copper
Can be sprayed or plated over another base metal, but the best lights are made from solid copper. A clear coat can be added to retard oxidation, but copper is usually left to patinate naturally.
Works for: adding a time-honored look
If you need assistance replacing your old fixtures, or any other electrical projects, Berkeys Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electrical is happy to help you.
When you need a dependable, knowledgeable plumber, electrician or HVAC technician in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, call a name you trust. Berkeys Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Electrical 24/7, Call us 972-439-1581 or visit berkeys.com for questions and scheduling information or on Facebook at Facebook.com/Berkeys.
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