A Leading Light: Installing outside lighting for security and landscape illumination

Published On
Feb 15, 2021

New and existing residences can benefit from the proper installation of outside lighting for security and adequate illumination. Although security is the primary requirement, the lighting must also be fashionable and highlight the home and yard. While a landscape architect and an electrical engineer could lay out bushes, trees, planters, pathways, lighting and more, an inventive owner can work with an electrical contractor to design attractive and functional yard and security lighting.

Make a plan

For a cost-effective project, develop a sketch or plan with the general layout of the desired landscaping aspects, where possible, so the lighting can be properly designed before the landscaping is installed. It is a little more difficult and may be more costly to work around existing landscaping. With some ingenuity, however, the lighting can still highlight the landscape features. For new and existing homes, take into consideration the future growth of trees and bushes so shadows and blind spots can be eliminated as much as possible for security purposes.

Prior to a lighting project, decide on normal 120V lighting, above- and below-ground lighting that is power-limited low-voltage at 12V or 24V based on the power supplies that are available, or a combination of the two. In addition, decide what type of lamps— incandescent, fluorescent or LED—will provide the appropriate illumination. If there are existing incandescent lamps, then determine the amount of illumination required based on new LED lamps for replacement. LED lamps require much less power for much higher illumination levels without overloading the existing lighting branch circuits.

For example, I just replaced two 75W outside incandescent flood lamps with one wall-mounted (350W equivalent) 5,500-lumen 120V LED flood, which is designed to have a power consumption of 50W, use 85% less energy than the existing lamps and last for 50,000 hours (23-plus years). I installed three of these LED floods evenly spaced along the back patio wall overlooking my backyard, and it looks like daylight at night when I turn them on. My neighbor said the lights are bright enough to divert air traffic from Phoenix International Airport, and yet the statistics show the cost in power is extremely low.


From a home security point of view, outside lighting should ensure there aren’t any dark spots where someone can hide or attempt to break in. These lights can be dusk-to-dawn, but more realistically for economical purposes and to minimize disturbance to nocturnal wildlife, they should be motion detector-type luminaires.

Trees and bushes should be trimmed to maintain the illumination and resultant security in key areas of the home, such as garages and other outbuildings. Proper maintenance of the yard and lighting will help ensure security for the overall application.


From the decorative lighting aspect, special lighting fixtures may be required for the various types of bushes, trees, walkways, water features and more at the home to ensure proper highlighting. Spots, floods, buried up-lighting and even lighting installed in trees will provide proper, decorative illumination for the yard. If the yard is existing, survey it at dusk or night with existing lights turned off and on will often help provide a better understanding of the lighting system’s layout.

Close collaboration with the owner or landscape architect is also necessary to ensure they are happy with the resulting design. If water features are involved, such as waterfalls, fountains and splash pads, it may require compliance with Article 680 covering swimming pools, fountains and similar water features. Part V of Article 680 covers permanently installed fountains. Section 680.22(B)(7) covers low—voltage gas fire luminaires, decorative fireplaces, fire pits and similar equipment. Electrical equipment that requires immersion for cooling requires a low-water cutoff.

Proper listing of this special type of lighting, as well as all lighting for all of these projects, requires proper permitting through the authority having jurisdiction, and it is a necessity from a licensing point of view and an assurance that the overall project will be covered by the owner’s insurance.

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and Mark.C.Ode@ul.com.

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