Article | How to Select Path and Area Lights for your Landscape Lighting Project

Landscape lighting path lights

What are Path and Area Lights?

Just as their name suggests, these lights are intended to illuminate pathways and landscape areas.

Since paths and areas are on the ground, it makes sense that all path and area lights project downward. And, most of them have some kind of shade or glare guard to prevent the light from shining into people’s eyes.

VOLT Lighting has a wide variety of these lights that vary by style, metal type, and finish. Selecting the ideal path and area light for your home is largely based on your preference for how they look and how they illuminate the landscape.

Why Use Path and Area Lighting?

There are three main reasons to light your paths:

  • Safety. To provide enough light for your family and friends to safely navigate your property at night – without tripping or falling.
  • Security. To provide enough light on these paths and areas so you can see and identify people who approach your house.
  • Beauty. A well-lit landscape evokes a sense of beauty, tranquility, and awe.
Landscape lighting path lights

What about Size?

VOLT® has an extensive selection of Path Lights of all sizes and shapes. Some have larger or smaller hats, others are shorter or taller. These size and shape differences affect performance and suitability of various applications.

A Few Simple Guidelines

  • Larger hats and taller fixtures tend to have wider beam spreads.
  • Smaller hats look best along narrow paths.
  • Shorter fixtures can be used for any sized path or garden bed. Just be careful along walkways since they can be tripping hazards.
  • Taller fixtures are good in garden beds and short bushes. Consider adding the optional fixed or telescopic extensions if the fixture might need to go higher as vegetation grows.

How Many Path and Area Lights are Needed?

Two approaches - continuous illumination and pools of light.

  • Continuous illumination
    This describes a pattern where the light from one fixture overlaps the light from another fixture. This is the best approach when your path is uneven, or there is no ambient light present, or if elderly people will be using the path.
  • Pools of light
    These are achieved when you space the fixtures farther apart. This allows you to use fewer fixtures and can result in very beautiful illumination. But you should only use this approach if there is some ambient light present, and if the path has a fairly even surface, and use by the elderly is not a concern.

Since the diameter of the beam (beam spread) differs for each fixture, you will need to refer to spacing suggestions on the fixture’s web page (under the details tab).

Now that you know the spacing between each fixture and the length of your path, you can calculate the number of fixtures needed. But there’s one more consideration.

The first and last path lights should be positioned very near the beginning and end of the path. That means half of each fixture’s light will extend past the path itself for a distance of one-half the beam spread – or a total of one extra beam spread length.

Example: Your path is 50 ft. long, and you’ve selected the Max Spread Path Light (beam spread of 16 ft.). Before you calculate, add 16 ft. since the first and last fixtures will sit at the beginning and end of the path. Divide the 66 ft. path length by the 16 ft. beam spread to equal 4.125 fixtures – round up to 5 fixtures. That’s how many lights are needed.

All on One Side or Staggered?

It almost always looks better to light a path from both sides with the fixtures set in a staggered or zig-zag fashion.

When the fixtures are staggered in this way, be sure to adjust your calculations of how many fixtures you need. If the path is very wide, then, instead of using the path length to determine the number, use the length of the zig-zag line from fixture to fixture.

Know the Language - Useful Lighting Terms

While lighting design is largely intuitive, there are a few useful terms to describe what you see.

  • Ambient Light
    This refers to light already present in the nighttime landscape. Sources include street lights, lights from the interior of the house, sky glow (from artificial lights reflecting from clouds and mist), moonlight, and starlight. If you have ambient light that is always present (such as from streetlights), then you may be able to use fewer path lights - spaced farther apart.
  • Beam Spread
    This describes the diameter of the useful illuminated area (in feet) beneath a path light. Since the light may have soft or hard edges (depending on the fixture type), the dimensions are approximations. Beam spreads are found on product web pages under the details tab. Keep in mind that beam spread increases when stem extensions are used. Also, note that for some specialty fixtures, beam spreads are not published since their light distribution may be too complex for that measurement.
  • Direct Glare
    This describes light from a bulb, lamp, or LED array that projects directly into the eye. Such light detracts from the lighting design and can cause visual discomfort and may partial obscure vision. VOLT® Path and Area lights all use shades or shields to protect visitors and occupants from direct glare.

How do I Select Among Metal Types & Finishes?

VOLT® Path and Area Lights are offered in a variety of metals and finishes.

  • Brass (Antique Bronze Finish). This is the most durable and long-lasting metal. This is a polish – not a coating. It will never flake or peel. It continues to slightly darken and patina as it ages. All of our brass fixtures carry a lifetime warranty.
    View Brass Lights with Antique Bronze Finish.
  • Brass (Black Finish). This has the same durability and longevity as the brass with Antique Bronze Finish. The black comes from a super-durable powder coat finish. These also carry a lifetime warranty.
    View Brass Lights with Black Finish.
  • Copper (Raw). All of the copper path lights are raw copper with no coating or finish. They start out with a coppery metallic sheen then develop a beautiful patina as they age. All our copper path lights carry a lifetime warranty.
    View Copper Lights.
  • Aluminum (Black Finish). Aluminum fixtures are available at a lower cost than brass or copper – but the quality is still excellent. They have a super-durable powder coat finish, and feature a 5-year warranty.
    View Aluminum Lights with Black Finish.
  • Aluminum (Bronze Finish). This is the same lower cost metal (with similar characteristics) as the Aluminum (with Black finish). It also features a 5-year warranty.
    View Aluminum Lights with Bronze Finish.

Select the Path & Area Style

Path and Area Lights become part of your landscape. It is important that they complement or enhance the look and feel of nearby landscape and architectural features. Select among the following four style categories.

Classic Path and Area Lights

These include fixtures with simple designs that have been popular for years. Any of these classic styles can be used in any landscape because they don’t distract from the natural beauty of the surroundings, nor do they clash with any architectural styles. Classic Path & Area Lights are our most popular style.
Shop for Classic Path & Area Lights.

Decorative Path and Area Lights

Unlike classic styles that tend to blend into the landscape, decorative styles make a statement. Some are contemporary; others are quite ornate. For this reason, you should select the fixtures based on how they complement or enhance the architecture and landscape. They can add elegance and flourish to an otherwise uninteresting path or garden. Our Estate Series of path lights stand out due to their larger sizes and more ornate designs - they are bold and beautiful.  
Shop for Decorative Path & Area Lights.

Bollards

These illuminated towers are quite different from other path light styles. They feature intricate scrollwork - producing beautiful patterns of light that project onto surrounding surfaces. With two integrated LED light sources (projecting both up and down) they are eye-catching additions to gardens, patios and decks.
Shop for Bollards.

Specialty Path & Area Lights

This includes lights that don’t neatly fit into other categories – such as the 2-in-1 Tiki-Brass Torch light for a Polynesian flair; the Twinnovator, an elevated directional light that sends light in two directions; and our Guardsman Post-Top Light.
Shop for Specialty Path & Area Lights.