Choosing Exterior Fixtures
By Sanford Fogg
Photo Courtesy of Hubbardton Forge
Q: What should I consider when selecting fixtures for the exterior of my house?
A: The first step is determining the type of fixture, or fixtures, that best suit your house. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste. A flush-mount fixture works well on porches with low ceilings, while a pendant can be a good match for higher ceilings, depending on wind. Sconces on one or both sides of the door are a classic choice and can be combined with a ceiling fixture if you have a portico. If you have a tight space with no covering overhead, mount a single sconce near the door on the handle side. Whatever style you choose, invest in a quality material, such as copper, brass, or powder-coated forged steel. These metals come in multiple finishes and hold up well in Maine weather.
Choosing exterior fixtures that are too small is a common mistake people make. Lanterns that look large in a crowded showroom often get lost on the broad façade of a house. And when you stand back 50 feet, they appear about half their size. As a general rule, select models that are roughly ¼ to ⅓ the overall height of the door. Before making a purchase, cut cardboard to the size and shape of the light and affix it to your house, then stand on the street and see how it looks. Lamppost fixtures should match those in the entry and be approximately the same size. Garage fixtures are usually a little smaller and can be a different style if they are not visible from the front of the house.
Glare is another issue with a lot of exterior lights. A prime example is the motion-sensor flood lighting many people have on their garages. Instead of helping you see, these fixtures actually blind you! When it’s dark out, a little light goes a long way. One frosted, 40-watt-equivalent LED bulb per fixture is usually just right. To truly minimize glare, and light pollution in your community, opt for a “dark sky” fixture, which has a shade that shields the bulb and directs the beam downward — your neighbors will thank you!
I’m Not Building a Big House, Why Do I Need a Lighting Plan?
A “Not Very Big House” today costs $300,000, $400,000 or more to build. A simple lighting plan costs a couple hundred dollars, an infinitesimally small percentage of the cost of a house. Yet a lighting plan can help you avoid making mistakes that are very expensive, if not impossible, to correct. A good lighting plan will add many times more value to your home than you could imagine by placing the proper fixture in the proper place, by high-lighting features that should be high-lighted and by using layers of light to add interest and depth.
|Simple Lighting Plan|
As I have said in a previous posting, the house you are building or remodeling is going to be your home. You will be living there. You will be entertaining there and you will be cooking, reading, sewing, sleeping and grooming there. Not your contractor nor your electrician nor your architect (or draftsman). They all know what they usually do for lighting, but what they usually do might not be correct, even your architect might not get it right. If you can not afford a lighting designer read as much as you can about proper lighting design (this blog for example) and do your own lighting plan. Hand draw it on a copy of your blueprint.
Be sure to include a schedule of symbols so that everybody understands what the symbols on the plan refer to. It does not need to be formal but it needs to be specific. The symbols on the schedule to the right are commonly used on plans so most electricians are familiar with them.
How the fixtures are switched is also an important consideration. Think about where you will enter and exit a room and what you do while you are in the room. For example, you probably want a switch by the door when you enter your bedroom, but you might also want a switch by the bed so you do not have to get out of bed to turn the light off. I strongly recommend dimmers for every light in the house. They cost a little more than switches, but they add so much versatility that they are really worth the extra.
Most of all — BE AWARE THAT THE BUDGET YOUR CONTRACTOR GIVES YOU FOR LIGHTING IS NEVER ADEQUATE — NEVER. They are trying to quote you the lowest possible price for your project to get the job, and they always scrimp on the lighting budget, as well as tile, plumbing fixtures, etc.
Please visit us at www.fogglighting.com, read my blog posts to educate yourself about lighting, like us on Face Book and tell your friends about us. More to come in following days.