Lighting Your Deck

 The Right Lights For Your Deck

The right lighting not only makes your deck safer to navigate after dark, but it can also make it feel warmer too. And, access lighting is required by code, so you have to have it.  Once you’ve installed the lights building codes require, think about adding more lights to create a welcoming, warm, ambient mood.


Choose warm “colored” lights over cooler lights if you want a warmer feel. We don’t mean colored as in red, blue, green etc., although that’s an option. “Warmth” in terms of “color” is measured using the Kelvin scale represented by numbers followed by a “K”. Manufacturers and retailers can differ in their definition of the light range titles, but typically: A “Warm White” is around 2700K to 3500K, Natural White is around 4000K to 4500K, Cool White is around 5000K to 6500K. Warm whites help us relax, cool whites boost our alertness and productivity and keep us awake. If you want to feel relaxed, look for lights in 2700 to 3500K range. Use cooler lights (5000K to 6500K) on pathways and in work areas (around a grill or outdoor kitchen) as they illuminate better.

modern minimalism style stairs with night lighting
Access lighting is required by code, but you do get to pick the style of lights you use on your stairs and pathways.

Have a Lighting Plan

Many of us just begin adding lights where we need them immediately, without thinking about the overall deck lighting. But take time to think about your overall deck and create a lighting plan.

Every deck and every deck lifestyle varies, so should your lights. Do you entertain a lot? Do you just want to be able to navigate your deck without tripping at night? Do you enjoy star-gazing and want to eliminate “light pollution” on your deck? How you use your deck is your first consideration in planning and choosing your lighting. The two kinds of lighting you should have, no matter your lifestyle, are lights on your stairs and pathways (access lights), and around any feature (like a swimming pool or pond, deck edge without a railing) that guests might not be aware of and fall into if not well lit. Start your plan with those since you know you have to have them.

Zoning, neighborhood lighting restrictions, and other considerations must be taken into account as well. The size and type of light, and where they will be placed matters too. Standard placement of deck lighting includes the deck’s post caps, rails, steps, and risers, but you may want to do something different.

Whatever you choose, take careful measurements and keep them with you when shopping for lights. Photos, a sketch, and the location of your electrical outlet are details you’ll want to have when drawing up your lighting plan. Draw a “to-scale” sketch of your deck complete with steps, rails, and posts. You can do this with graph paper to make it easier. Mark the location of the electrical outlets you will use, or where you plan to have them installed (an outlet on the outside of the deck is also a code requirement), and make a note about where you want to place your lights.

If you’re going to be using electric heaters or need outlets for other devices, like fans, or appliances (outdoor kitchen), now is the time to have them installed.

You can draw a line between the lights to determine how the wires will run, or wait and ask your electrician to do so as they’ll know the best way to link the lighting. If you’re using a 12-volt system with a transformer, or solar, you’ll also need to add up the wattage of your lights to make sure you have enough power to operate the lighting system you want. 

How to Power Your Lights

There are generally three ways to power your lights – solar, 12-volt with a transformer, or standard 110-electric. You can use just one way, but most people mix-and-match, using solar for some features, and standard 110-electric for others.

Solar: Solar lights are equipped with batteries and cells powered by the sun. They don’t need electricity or wiring. Most can be installed with heavy-duty adhesive or screws. They don’t really shine, and while they make good accent lights for stairs, post caps, and rail fixtures. They don’t provide the strength or length of time for lights many deck owners want. They do make wonderful accent lights for yards, under bushes, and anywhere you want a glow or light. You don’t have to worry about wires, but you do need to keep the small solar panels clean – especially after rain or snow when they may be covered with dirt, snow, or ice.

110-Volt with Transformer: Low-voltage (12-v) lights equipped with LED or incandescent bulbs are powered by a transformer plugged into a standard 110 electric outlet. When installing these lights you or your contractor will typical rout or cut out a channel in your stair posts and underneath your deck rails to accommodate the connecting wires of LED deck lighting. The channel won’t be visible and will hide the wiring. These lights may be 12-volt, like strictly solar lights, but they are much brighter and stronger and don’t fade over time because they’re connected to an electrical source.

110-electric Hard Wired. Unless you’re a licensed electrician, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to wire in 110-electric for your deck. These lights will run the same way your house lights do, only they’ll be weather protected and wired into your home’s fuse box. Many insurance plans won’t cover electrical, plumbing, or gas lines that are self-installed. Most require a certified and licensed professional to install these services.

What Kind of Lights Should I Use?

From “fairy lights” to standard white lights strung in trees or overhead on your deck, the possibilities for creating your own unique lighting are endless. Take time to visit a lighting store, or look online for what other deck owners have done or download our free ebook on Heating & Lighting Your Deck.