Exterior Lighting Tips



It’s the favorable first impression others have of your home as seen from the street. You need it whether you are a builder marketing a home for sale or a homeowner welcoming friends and family. Your exterior light fixtures are one of the first things others notice when forming their first impression. Appropriately sized and styled fixtures add to curb appeal, provide a warm welcome, and safely guide visitors to your door. The most important factors to consider when making your selection are size, color, and style.



The biggest mistake made in selecting outdoor lighting is choosing fixtures that are too small.

If you are replacing existing fixtures don’t assume the original ones were the correct size—many builders use fixtures that are too small in an effort to control costs.

Light fixtures will only look about half as big on your house when viewed from the street as they do in the showroom. When deciding between two sizes the larger one is almost always the right choice.

The front door is the most important door. It should have the fanciest and biggest light fixture on the house. Don’t let garage fixtures and fixtures at secondary entrances upstage the fixtures at the front door.

A good rule of thumb for the front door is for the fixture to be 1/3 the height of the door if there is only one and 1/4 the height of the door if there are two (one on each side of the door).

Cut a piece of cardboard to shape and hold it up to the house to help visualize size.


Choose a color that complements the exterior color scheme.

  • Bronzes are popular with earth tones. We offer several variations of bronze from light to dark including architectural bronze, black coral, black gold, bronze, burled walnut, and marbleized mahogany.
  • Black is appropriate in many situations; however bronze is usually a better choice when using dark brown trim and accents.
  • Stone finish is in the black family but has a hint of grey rubbed on top making it a good choice when pure black is too strong and bronzes are inappropriate.
  • White can be striking on dark bodied houses with white trim.


Many of today’s homes are not one particular style; they incorporate elements of several styles.

When choosing a style for your exterior light fixtures pay attention to the key architectural features of your home and select fixtures that complement those features.

Choose the fixtures for the front door first because it’s your most important door. Then select the rest of the outdoor fixtures from the same family to maintain consistency.


60-75 watts total of incandescent light per fixture or 20 watts of CFL (compact fluorescent) is ideal for most decorative exterior wall fixtures and post lanterns.

Many of our fixtures are rated for more than 60W. The electrical rating is the maximum safe wattage allowed, not the wattage that is the most appropriate.

Using bulbs that are brighter than necessary will increase glare and detract from the fixtures. The glare is even worse if you have fixtures with clear glass.

Concentrate on the style and size of the fixtures when making selections and use only the wattage you need.


Exterior wall-mounted light fixtures should be mounted slightly above eye level on most houses—about 66” above the threshold.

If you have taller than normal doors or a transom you may need to install the fixtures a little higher than 66”.

Fixtures should not be installed so that the top extends above the top of the door. We offer several fixtures where the body of the fixture is low with respect to the junction box to accommodate situations where the junction box is too high.



The most popular way to light the front door is with a pair of fixtures—one on each side of the door.

A fixture on only one side of the front door is also appropriate if space or architecture dictates. When using only one fixture, make sure it is installed on the same side as the doorknob so visitors’ faces are not in shadow when opening the door.

If the front door is under a porch or other cover you may want to consider a hanging lantern instead.

Choose a fixture that is 1/3 the height of the door if using only one fixture and 1/4 the height of the door if using two.


Install a lantern on each side of the garage door or a lantern over the top of each door depending on style and space.

Select fixtures that match the front door but are a little smaller or less important looking. The fixtures at the garage should not upstage the front door fixtures.


Don’t skimp. Choose fixtures that match the rest of the house and are not too small.

A small cheap fixture does not look good anywhere and will detract from your patio furniture and accessories.


Use a post lantern when light from the front door doesn’t reach the parking area.

Choose a post lantern from the same family as the other exterior fixtures and be sure it’s large enough. Post lanterns look even smaller than wall fixtures when viewed from the street.


Post lanterns can be installed around the perimeter of a deck or patio using pier mounts on the railing or wall, or standard posts installed in the ground.

Several fixtures with low-wattage bulbs (25W to 40W) will look better and give more comfortable light than one fixture with a bright bulb. Bright bulbs near eye level are glary and will be offensive to you and your guests around the patio.



Fixtures with seeded or translucent glass will disguise the CFL bulb and look more refined.

Some CFL’s that are shaped similar to a “regular” light bulb may be acceptable behind clear glass.


Most outdoor light fixtures are made of cast aluminum, a very durable option in most parts of the United States. We also offer some fixtures constructed of a resin, Permalite, and an engineered plastic, Durabrite, that are particularly suited for harsher coastal and salt-water areas.


Exposure to the sun’s UV rays will age exterior light fixtures faster than anything else in most parts of the United States. Also high on the list of culprits are bird droppings and airborne pollution that settles as dust and grime. Follow these steps to keep your outdoor light fixtures looking their best:

  • Wipe bird droppings and other spills off of your fixtures immediately using a clean soft cloth wet with plain water only.
  • Wipe your fixtures once or twice a year with a clean soft cloth wet with plain water only.
  • Polish your fixtures after each cleaning with silicone car wax or CRC -56. Do not use CRC Formula 6-56 on plastic fixtures.


Use a bead of caulk around the backplate where the fixture attaches to the wall to keep water out of the junction box. Leave a little break in the caulk at the bottom of the backplate to allow any moisture that gets in a way to escape.


Not all exterior light fixtures are either UL or ETL Listed for damp or wet locations. A fixture with a wet location listing is required if water or other liquids will drip, splash or flow on or against the fixture. Otherwise either a damp or a wet listing is appropriate outside.