How Many Lumens Do I Need For Outdoor Lighting? (Really?)

Outdoor lighting is surprisingly complicated. Too bright and it’s intrusive, too weak and you might as well BBQ by the light of the stars (which would actually be great!). So how bright do lights need to be for different outdoor spaces?

Lumens are a unit of light measurement that can help you judge how powerful your lighting needs to be. For outdoor lighting, you’ll need at least 50 lumens for low background lighting, all the way up to 2400 lumens for driveway and security lights – plus many options in-between.

Let’s have a look at the amount of lumens you’ll need for all the outside spaces you can think of in your yard…

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How Many Lumens Do I Need For Outdoor Lighting?

What Are Lumens?

Lumens are a unit of light measurement. The measure includes the amount of visible light, brightness, and intensity. We are all accustomed to thinking in watts. We know that the more the watts, the brighter the bulb. 

But actually, wattage is a measure of how much energy a light bulb uses, not necessarily how bright it is.

Lumens are now used to measure bulb brightness for LED, halogen and CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. Lumens are a measure of brightness, regardless of the energy consumption.

For lumens, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. Lumens = brightness. The more the lumens, the brighter the bulb. Practically, though, the big difference between lumens and watts is the scale of values. 

Here’s an article with a chart for watts vs lumens and discusses LED, halogen and compact fluorescent (CFL).

We all need to get used to lumens and not watts. It’s hard to find an incandescent “old school” bulb anymore. As they should be – LED lights are more than 85% more efficient that old school light bulbs. LED bulbs and are better for the planet and for all our budgets.

You may know from years of experience how many watts you need where. Since we’re in the lumen world now, let’s see what experts recommend for outdoor spaces.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Workshop?

Workshops and workbenches need to be lit up. You need a task light. You really don’t need to be straining to find that nail or tool. Or see where that saw blade is going. So, light it up with 300 lumens per square foot.

How much is 300 lumens per square foot? For example, if your workbench is 3 feet deep and 6 feet long, that means it has 18 square feet. If you multiply that square footage by 300 lumens, you get 5,400 lumens to light up that workbench really well.

Don’t skimp on workshop or workbench lighting. It’s important to be as safe as possible when handling power tools. Consider installing a work light directly above where you’ll be working. 

Or adding a clamp on light that you can move to really illuminate your work. Many clamp on lights can handle LED or CFL bulbs. Some fixtures can support up to 1500 lumens. That should help!

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Garage?

Experts recommend that, first, you measure your garage. The rule of thumb is, 50 lumens per square foot, at a minimum

For garages, like workbenches, you need task lighting.

For a one car garage, that’s about 13,200 lumens. For a two-car garage, that’s about 20,000 lumens. Minimum. Garages are one of the most used spaces in a home. We store a lot of stuff out there, and we need to find it with good lighting.

Who wants an intimate, cozy garage? No ambiance there, thanks. Here’s an article on 10 ways to improve your garage lighting.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Patio?

Patio lights can be bright or cozy, depending on your uses. Patio lighting is usually ambient. How many lumens do you need? The best answer is dependent on how big your patio is. 

Generally, for a small patio, 600 to 700 lumens should be good. For a larger patio, try starting at 1200 and going up to 1600.

Of course, we often add other lights to the patio, like string lights or solar lights. With several lighting options, you can change the mood. String lights should be around 40 lumens. Hanging overhead lights will range from 80 to 120 lumens.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Deck?

Decks are like the patio, they can be cozy or bright. The lighting is mostly ambient. If there are steps that can create a hazard, then consider more lumens, or light up steps individually. 

Generally, the cozy and intimate range of lighting starts at 80 lumens. If you want your deck to be brighter, go up to 120 lumens. If you still don’t have the lighting you need, consider adding different lights that can be turned off or on to give you some options. 

String lights can create a fun ambiance and they add around 40 lumens. Solar lights are also a good idea to surround the perimeter of a deck or on top of the posts.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Lawn or Landscape?

To light up a lawn, first start with 50 lumen bulbs. You many need up to 300 lumens to do the job

Lighting up a landscape is somewhat artistic. Landscape lighting is usually about accents. Generally, you don’t need to worry about tripping hazards or security. You are going for a “look”. If this describes your yard, use small 50 lumen lights in several places. 

Start with 50 lumen bulbs for a cozy, muted look. If you do have security issues, like a bush in front of a front door, go for more lumens – up to 300 or more. A security light can be up to 700, for example.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Driveway?

A driveway can take from 1600 lumens for a small driveway up to 2400 lumens for a large one. Driveways need to be secure, so make sure it’s well lit.

A motion sensor light that lights up when you walk to your car or drive up is a great security choice. With a motion sensor light in addition to a driveway light, you can use the lower range for the driveway light, like 1600 lumens. 

Motion sensored lights should be bright – try 300 lumens up to 700 lumens.

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How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Pool?

To light up a pool, you’ll need 200 to 400 lumens. Pool lighting should be on the cozy, magical side. Install several lights with 200 to 400 lumens around the pool.

At night, pools need to be more intimate. But, in the event of an emergency, you need to see. Start out at the low end – 200 lumens – then make sure you can see if that emergency occurs.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Path?

Experts recommend using 100 to 200 lumens, at intervals along the path. If your paths have tripping hazards, like uneven pavers, use the higher lumen range for safety. 

If you like muted lighting and your path is even, several lights, placed strategically, that use 100 lumens each should be good.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For Steps?

Step lights can have between 12 to 100 lumens. Make sure steps are well lit. Often, stairs will be in shadow – these are real tripping hazards. Make sure you direct the lights where your feet need to go.

Stair lights are often small and designed to be mounted onto only one stair. In this case, use a small light for each stair, like 30 to 50 lumens each.

Sometimes a good solution to stairs is to install a motion-sensor light. When a person needs to use the stairs, there’s plenty of light. Otherwise, the stairs are only discretely lit.

illuminated stairs

How Many Lumens Do You Need For Walls?

To light up a wall, first try 50 lumens, then increase up to 185 lumens.

Walls are landscape elements that don’t need a lot of lighting. An accent amount of lighting should be fine – like 50 lumens per light.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For a Trees?

Tree lights need between 50 and 300 lumens. Trees can also benefit from atmospheric lighting – not security lighting. You are only trying to accent the beauty of your trees.

Try to illuminate the tree softly, to create an interesting and mystical outdoor look. Avoid creepiness with too few lumens.

How Many Lumens Do You Need For Floodlights or Security Lights?

For floodlights and security lights, start with 700 lumens. You may need up to 1300 lumens. Let’s face it, security lights are one place you don’t want to scrimp. 

Make sure your security light is directed down towards your property and not into the neighbor’s bedroom (haha).

How Many Lumens Do You Need For Lamp Posts?

Lamp posts need between 120 and 400 lumens. Often, lamp posts are installed at the beginning of a path to the door or at the front door. Lamp posts are important for guests to find you.

If you need a lamp post to illuminate a path to the front door, or for security, go with the higher range. If your lamp post is mostly decorative, then 120 lumens will do.

Final Thoughts

We’ve been pretty detailed in this comprehensive article about lumens – so I hope this has helped you work out how many you need for different aspects of your outdoor space and yard.

I personally always think that apart from security lights, lighting should be understated and subtle – something that adds to a background ambience and doesn’t dazzle you while you’re eating your dinner.

Our neighbors up the road have got their patio lighting way wrong – it looks like a Boeing 747 coming into land. Thank goodness their lights point away from our house or it would be horrible at night!

Click here to get options and prices on outdoor lighting at Amazon.com