How to Select Spotlights for a Landscape Lighting Project

Landscape lighting transforms a house and property.

What are Spotlights?

Spotlights originated in the theater world. They were lights used to showcase the main actors. To be put in the spotlight is to highlight someone so the world can see.

In a similar way, landscape lighting spotlights are used for emphasis – to call attention to specific architectural or landscape features. Unlike floodlights that shed light across a wide area, spotlights have narrower beams so they can focus on one thing at a time.

Spotlighting your House

The intention of lighting your house is not to flood it with light – then it would look over-lit – just like daytime. Instead, you want to selectively apply spotlights to create visual accents on the sidings.

  • Spacing & Positioning
    If the siding is plain (no windows) position spotlights so their beams overlap about halfway up the house. For a 60º beam, that would be a spacing of about 15 ft. apart on a 2-story house. If the house has windows along a side, position fixtures halfway between each window, and one fixture to the right and left of the outermost windows. Position each fixture about 1 ft, from the wall - farther if bushes are in the way. Angle the fixture upward until the hotspot in the center of the beam is spread out towards the top of the siding. Recommended product.
  • Columns
    If columns are present, light them. One fixture 6” from the base of each column is ideal. If necessary, use a surface mount to mount the fixture nearer to the column. Use a very narrow beam (12º) for very tall columns. Use a 24º or 36º beam if the column is shorter or fatter. If there’s a nice white section under the eaves between columns, aim to have the beam from each column meet the next beam halfway under the eaves. Columns look best when the illumination starts at the bottom of the column. For this reason, some designers prefer a well-type flush-set fixtures (such as the Articulator Well Light or Brass Bully Well Light). Recommended product.
  • Second Stories
    One of the aims of lighting architecture is to reveal the shape of the structure even under an extremely dark sky. This is only accomplished when upper parts of the building are illuminated along with lower parts. This can be challenging since lights are best mounted in gutters or under upper-most eaves. An alternative method is to position narrow-beam spotlights from the ground aimed at the underside of these upper eaves. Care should be taken not to shine these lights into second story windows. Recommended product.

Spotlighting your Trees

There are several reasons to light trees on your property. They are impressive features of your landscape and often serve to define the extent of your property - both horizontally and vertically. Tree canopies (often unnoticed during the day) when illuminated can be reminiscent of the glorious ceilings of cathedrals.

  • Small & Medium Sized Trees
    Trees that are young or ornamental usually only require one spotlight. If the tree is short and narrow, then a 24º spotlight is appropriate. If the tree is short and wide (such as a Japanese Maple), then two 60º spotlights may be required. These can be positioned under the canopy a few feet from the trunk. Or, one can be positioned near the trunk with the other located outside the tree with a wide enough beam to illuminate the entire width of the canopy. Recommended product.
  • Large Narrow Trees
    Tall trees such as Coconut Palms may only require one spotlight positioned near the base with a beam wide enough to encompass the entire canopy. Two spotlights will give better coverage. Recommended product.
  • Large Wide Trees
    Tall expansive trees such as Live Oaks always require more than one spotlight. Use 60º beams and position one light about 1 ft. from the base to illuminate the trunk. Position other lights out towards the outer edge of the canopy (drip line). If the canopy is very dense (such as with Blue Spruce), you should position fixtures far enough outside the drip line so you can illuminate out to the upper canopy edges. The number of fixtures you use for such trees depends on your budget and whether or not you want the tree to be a focal point of your design. Just as with architecture, you want your lighting to reveal the entire shape of the tree – not always an easy task, but the impact can be tremendous. Recommended product.

Know the Language - Useful Lighting Terms

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

  • Beam Angle
    This describes the beam’s width. If you think of slices in a pie, each slice is a portion that can be measured in degrees. The whole pie is 360º. Divide that pie into 6 pieces and you get 60º pieces. Each 60º slice is similar in shape to a 60º beam of light. Spotlights (or their bulbs) are available in beam angles of 60º and less. Anything greater than 60º is considered a floodlight.
  • Glare
    While we almost always love lights, we hate them when they shine directly in our eyes – that’s called direct glare. You would never keep your high beams on when driving past an oncoming car. In the same way, you position lights in the landscape so they don’t shine in the eyes of residents or guests. VOLT spotlights help you do this by using glare guards.
  • Integrated LED vs. Lamp-Ready
    When selecting a spotlight with an LED source, you can choose “Integrated” - with LED’s already built into the light. Or, “Lamp-Ready” – a fixture with a socket ready to receive an LED bulb. Both are lifetime solutions, but with integrated, you don’t need to install the lamp, and the fixture tends to be more compact. With Lamp-Ready, you may have a wider option of wattage and beam angles.

Spotlighting other Landscape Features

  • Gazebos
    These quaint hexagonal structures are usually lit in two ways – from within and/or from outside. The lighting inside can consist of a very small spotlight (with 60º beam) affixed from the center of the roof pointing straight down. From outside, spotlights can be positioned about 1 ft. from outside columns – aimed up at the eaves to bounce light into the structure. Recommended product.
  • Patios and Decks
    Aside from deck and patio lights, these surfaces can also be very beautifully lit from the limbs of trees. Downlights are positioned to project through leaves and limbs to create a moonlit dappled light affect on deck an patio surfaces. Recommended product.
  • Statuary
    Ideally lit from a 45º angle above, statuary can come alive at night. The reason downlight is preferred is because lights from underneath a statue can create a “monster” effect. Still, if you must light from below, experiment with different positions to produce the most flattering shadows on the statue. Recommended product.
  • Pools, Ponds, & Waterfalls
    Again, light from above is most natural, but if that’s not possible, then position spotlights from angles that highlight the feature without shining light in the eyes of viewers. Using underwater lights in ponds and waterfalls are also an option. Recommended product.

VOLT® Spotlights: Models for Every Job

Infiniti™ G4 LED Spotlight Series

Top-of the-line integrated LED Spotlights featuring interchangeable optics for changing beam angles in the field, adjustable glare guard, and more. Available in varying light outputs, materials and finishes.

All-Star Spotlight Series

Engineered for replaceable LED lamps these Spotlights feature adjustable glare guard, advanced heat management, superior adjustability, and more. Available in various materials and finishes. Accepts all VOLT® MR16 LED lamps.

Top Dog Mini™ Spotlight Series

Compact & reliable spotlight with adjustable glare guard. Available in brass and copper. Accepts all VOLT® MR11 LED lamps.

Woodsman Downlight Series

Durable, easy-to-install, downlights - various models available in brass. Also, choose either LEDs integrated into the fixture or use replaceable MR-16 lamps.

Underwater Light

Heavy-duty, impervious to water intrusion, this solid forged brass fixture accepts VOLT® MR16 LED lamps.

That's all for now. Feel free to contact our lighting specialists with any questions – 813-978-3700 or email.