Hardscape and deck fixtures are generally spaced about five to seven feet apart, but there are numerous circumstances that force changes to that rule of thumb. Another rule of thumb is to layout fixtures in odd numbers (3, 5, 7, etc.); the human eye tends to see odd numbers in a more cohesive way than even numbers of fixtures (when visible). 

If there is any question or concern about how something will look, the contractor can mock up a small section and allow the homeowner to see it.  Sometimes just putting a piece of colored tape where each fixture goes is sufficient to determine ideal spacing.  The contractor is much more familiar with the fixtures and their light output, and s/he needs to educate and guide the homeowner in their selection and placement.


Decks – usually a surface-mounted deck light is installed on every other support post (not baluster), or mounted on a hardscape surface or railing in the middle in every other section.  A little bit of light goes a long way so you don’t want to overdo it.  Make sure that areas near steps, gates, etc. are illuminated and then look at the overall layout of the deck and railing and mark out approximate locations and see if they fall within a reasonable spacing pattern.  You may have to adjust the spacing slightly to make it pleasing to view at night.  If you have an outdoor staircase or an elevated deck, pay close attention that you don’t accidentally place a fixture in a bad spot that creates glare as you’re walking up steps or glare that you see from below.

Hardscape and Columns

Hardscape / Columns – Illuminating stone/brick/wood columns is an excellent way to highlight beautiful hardscape elements, but it also allows you to guide people safely through the space.  In addition to hardscape and deck fixtures, you can also illuminate columns with down lights and up/down lights.  Fixture selection depends on what parts of the hardscape you want to illuminate, how a column is constructed, how tall the column is, and what look you’re trying to achieve.

Hardscape and Seat Walls

Hardscape / Seat Walls – Hardscape fixtures affixed under the capstone are the best and most effective way to illuminate short seat walls.  In addition to illuminating the wall, they also spill light on to walking areas giving safe passage.  You can also install small core-drilled fixtures just in front of the seat wall and position the fixtures so they up light the wall. It’s important to specify fixtures with low or adjustable lumen output so they don’t create an uncomfortable glare as an up light.

Hardscape and Outdoor Bars

Hardscape / Outdoor Bars – There are several ways to illuminate a bar.  One of the most popular is to install hardscape fixtures under the bar and illuminate the ground/stool area.  Another way to illuminate under the bar is to install up/down lights mid-way up the wall to introduce more of a pattern on the bar wall.  These methods don’t illuminate the top of the bar at all.  To illuminate the bar top, you can down light it from above (from the house/pergola/etc.), use hardscape fixtures under a lip (if there is one), install fiber optic, install an arm-mounted fixture off a column, etc.  If you have a shiny granite surface you may need to use a frosted lens to limit the amount of glare that might reflect off the granite surface.

Note:  The older a person is, the more light they need in order to see so keep that in mind as you determine light levels for older clients.  It takes the human eye about 15-20 minutes to fully adjust to low levels of light, so make sure to have clients sit in low light before having them come outside and judge what’s appropriate for a given level of light.  This adjustment period is why movie theaters gradually dim the lighting over a 15-20 minute period of time (while the movie trailers play) prior to a feature film playing. 


  1. I like that you touched on how a little bit of light will be very beneficial to a deck. It makes sense that a properly lit deck is very helpful for evening activities but can feel industrial if there are too many lights. This could be helpful for when I update my backyard because I want to change everything from the deck to shrubs. Thanks for the post!

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