Planning Outdoor Garden Lighting Needs

Summary: When outdoor lighting is correctly installed in the garden, both the entertaining and home living space “grows”, allowing for comfort and convenience both outdoors and indoors.


Question: We are looking at rehabing our outdoor patio/terrace and wanted make plans our garden lighting. We enjoy entertaining outside and wondered how much light do we need for our “active living” lifestyle. Jessica, Shelbyville, TN

Answer: Jessica, when properly lit, your open porch, terrace, or patio will expand the living and entertaining area of your home, allowing you to enjoy the same comfort and convenience outdoors as you enjoy indoors.

Plan your outdoor lighting installation to meet the specific tastes, type and range of evening activities of your lifestyle.

Generally speaking, light the entire patio/terrace first with a soft over-all glow not unlike that of a full moon.

Afterward you can round it out by installing lighting where needed for reading, eating, or playing games.

When lighting a garden, plan your lighting to be as inconspicuous as practical, and avoid the glaring “gas station” type of lighting.

Convenience Outlets on Your Terrace Porch or Patio

If your lighting plan needs additional electrical wiring, have an electrician install a number of convenience outlets or plug-in electrical receptacles around the outdoor living area.

These are necessary not only for your radio (yes I know about outdoor wireless speakers), and other electrical needs, but to plug in a number of portable flood lights to have light at the required level of brightness near tables and chairs.

How many outlets you need depends on family activities and on the size of your patio-terrace.

As a minimum, you need at least one duplex weatherproof receptacle for each 15 feet of house wall adjoining your terrace. More would be better as you cannot have too many.

Amount of Light Needed

Useful light delivered to any given area or surface usually is measured in terms of foot-candles of illumination. One foot-candle is equivalent to the light given off by one candle at a distance of one foot.

To determine this accurately, use a light meter, such as ones used by a photographer.

If you do not own one, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend who enjoys photography as a hobby. Assuming you can get one, here are the foot-candles of illumination recommended for various outdoor living activities.

Foot Candles
On tables for eating  
On tables for playing games (cards, scrabble, etc)  
On chairs for reading, etc  
20 to 30
Fill light for surrounding areas used only for conversation, dancing etc.  
1 to 4

This lighting will vary with the brightness of the nearest adjoining lighted area.

For example, next to a brightly lighted reading chair that may have as many as 30 foot-candles, you would want at least 3 or 4 foot-candles so as not to provide too much contrast.

Next to a table for eating (5 foot-candles), you need only about 3/4 foot-candle. As a general rule, have fill-in light with a minimum of one-tenth the value of the brightly lighted area.

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