Lighting outdoor spaces - Carolina Country

Lighting outdoor spaces

Keep energy costs in focus when selecting lighting for entertaining and security

By James Dulley

Lighting outdoor spaces
View of an efficient and well-lighted house for security and entertaining.

Outdoor lighting for security can be effective, but it drives up electric bills if done improperly. And if you want to create a party mood, know that security lights are not always the best choice for entertaining and vice versa.

Make your security and entertaining lighting plans independently, then check to see where they overlap. Security lighting is usually on all night; entertainment lighting is not. Choosing the proper security lighting has a greater impact on your utility bills.


A motion-sensing two-bulb floodlight mounted over a garage door. It stays on for only 60 seconds after no motion is detected. (photo: James Dulley)


The incandescent bulb in this existing outdoor light fixture has been replaced with an efficient compact fluorescent bulb.(photo: James Dulley)

First, make other low-cost security improvements. Make sure your window latches lock securely, install bump-resistant door deadbolts, and consider an alarm system.

Once you feel the perimeter of your home is relatively secure, plan your lighting. Do an outdoor walk-around inspection of your house at night to see where additional lighting might help. Sometimes there is enough brightness from a neighbor’s home to illuminate otherwise dark, suspect areas.

Prioritize your lighting need areas. Installing just two 150-watt security lights and keeping them on all night can increase your electric bill by more than $100 per year.

Make an effort to minimize nighttime light pollution. Bright lights create a problem for wildlife and can be annoying to neighbors. If you install floodlighting, mount a directional light shield over it.

Motion-sensor lights

Motion-sensor lights are some of the most efficient and effective for security. When the light comes on, a would-be thief assumes he has been seen. They also catch neighbors’ attention. Select one with two-level lighting. You can switch it on for low-level background lighting; it only switches to full brightness when motion is detected. Fixtures cost $35–$50.

Where there is access to full sun, consider solar-powered motion-sensing floodlights. If you choose this option, spend extra for an ample battery pack (measured in watt-hours). These lights continue to operate even after a few consecutive cloudy days with little recharging sunlight. Fixtures cost about $50.


If you plan to install low-cost standard 120-volt outdoor lighting fixtures, try using CFLs. These only use one-quarter as much electricity as standard incandescent bulbs and last at least 10 times longer. The overall savings will pay back their higher cost many times over. CFLs do not always work well in cold outdoor temperatures, and take a little while to reach full brightness. Try one or two first, and make sure the bulb is intended for outdoor use. Fixtures cost $185–$300.


LEDs, another super-efficient lighting option, are not affected by the cold. With a bright white light output, LEDs last up to 50,000 hours. Their light output is directional, so they are best for lighting specific targeted areas. Fixtures cost $90–$130.

About the Author

James Dulley is an engineer and syndicated columnist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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