It goes without saying that we all want to make the entrance to our home a welcoming and safe place, but when it comes to style and function what are the rules to lighting your front door?
Images via: Southern Living | HGTV Rate My Space| Real Simple (Photography: Aimee Herring)
Size Matters: Objects appear to be about half their size from a distance of 50′ away. So avoid the most common mistake when selecting fixtures for your entry and go big! As a rule of thumb, the height of an outdoor lantern should be based on the height of your door, including molding.
Seeing Double: The most popular front door option is to place a lantern on each side of the door. When two lanterns are used, they should each measure approximately one-fourth the height of the door, including molding. For example, if you have a standard door (80-inches high) plus architectural molding of 20″ above the door, look for a fixture that is 25-inches ((80+20)/4) high. If you can’t find something with these exact measurements, err on the side of larger rather than smaller.
Taking Sides: Where space is limited using one lantern may be your only option. In this instance, it should measure approx.one-third the height of the door. In the example above this would be approx. 33-inches (100/3) high. Note: if only using one fixture ,and your door opens outward, make sure it is installed on the same side as the doorknob so visitors’ faces are not in shadow when the door is opened.
Planning Tip: If you are having trouble imagining how these seemingly huge fixtures will work on your home, cut out a piece of cardboard to shape and stick it up on the house to help visualize the size. Then look at it from the bottom of your driveway or at your entry gate, which is where your home’s curb appeal is determined. Looks good right?
Height: Fixtures should be mounted so that they are slightly above eye-level. On a typical door, the center of the bulb should rest 66″ above the threshold of the door to provide appropriate light levels. Fixtures should be installed so that the top of the fixture does not extend above the top of the door molding. If you have a current outlet box location that is too high or too low, rather than moving the box, look for a different arm style that will position the center of the fixture at the correct height.
Far Out: There is quite a bit of flexibility here and will depend on your fixture, but remember the idea is to light the entryway not the flowerbeds. To keep the light focused on the area, I like to see a gap of only 6 – 12″ between the side of the door molding and the side of the mounted fixture. Again, using your cardboard cutout will help you get the spacing right for your specific space.
Hang On: Under a protected porch or other overhang you can feature chain-hung lanterns or flush mounts. A hanging fixture should be approx. one-fifth the height of the door. To make sure the bottom of the fixture clears both tall guest’s heads, and the top of an outward swinging front door , a general rule of thumb is to hang the base of the fixture at 84-inches above the threshold.
Style Tip: Lot’s of people struggle with this issue. The answer is to keep it simple and always coordinate the style of your outdoor lighting with the style of your home’s exterior. One way to do this is to “define” your house style by considering the key architectural features – is it Mid-Century Modern, Arts and Crafts or Victorian? Once you have established your home’s style, look for architecturally appropriate lighting. Many lighting companies create collections based on architectural styles, so this should help limit your choices and provide coordinating fixtures for other elements of your outdoor lighting plan.
When selecting styles, consider the following – open bottom fixtures are the better choice when your goal is to down light an area for functional reasons, and glass-topped lanterns work well for accenting architectural elements above and around the door.
Note: don’t worry if this is not the style you have incorporated in your home – the outside does not need to match the inside, but should make sense from the street (for all those people that will never get to see the inside of your home)
Garage and Back Door: The fixtures at the garage should not upstage the front door fixtures. Select fixtures that match the front door but are a little smaller or less important looking. Install a lantern on each side of the garage door or a lantern over the top of each door depending on style and space. The back door usually requires a single lantern.
Planet Perfect: There are many new ways to take care of the environment whilst making a style statement. I always fit my front door light fixtures with dimmer controls so I have the flexibility to adjust the lighting for mood and function. I have also successfully used photocell fixtures, with this technology a light sensor turns the fixture on when it gets dark and off during daylight hours. To achieve the same effect (without limiting your fixture options) you could just place the light on a timer. Did you know, you can also select energy star fixtures (yes, they exist beyond the kitchen) and in most cases you can replace the standard light bulb with an energy-saving compact fluorescent bulb.
Also check whether your neighborhood has “dark light” ordinances. Dark light fixtures come equipped with a captive reflector or other design feature that minimizes or eliminates light pollution up into the night sky by concentrating the light downward.
And, don’t forget all exterior light fixtures should be either UL or ETL Listed for damp or wet locations.
Watt’s the Number? 60-75 watts total of incandescent light per fixture or 20 watts of CFL (compact fluorescent) is ideal for most decorative exterior wall fixtures. Note: If using clear glass fixtures, options with several low wattage candle bulbs will provide more light with less glare than those with a single bulb.