Outdoor lighting
Photo by bobvila

Exterior lighting tips for your cottage

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When it comes to exterior lighting, the cottage is not the city. Most cottagers choose to adopt a less-is-more approach when it comes to illuminating their great outdoors: enough light to be safe, but not so much that the stars get lost in the floodlights. In fact, many cottage locations are in designated “dark sky” areas, meaning cottagers have to be extra-careful about the type of lighting they choose.

When deciding on exterior lights for your cottage, keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Try to ensure that your lights are shielded from shining up into the sky. Upward-shining light contributes to light pollution, disrupting the natural habits and cycles of wildlife. Shielding fixtures is considered “dark-sky friendly.”
  • Downlighting can also help prevent “light trespass”—that is, illuminating your neighbour’s property as you light up your own. Don’t over-light (you’re not reading War and Peace outside, after all) and choose the lowest effective wattage you can.
  • If you’re using lighting simply to accent an attractive landscape feature, turn it off by 11 p.m.
  • Cast aluminum is durable if it’s cleaned as part of your regular cottage maintenance. Because of corrosion, though, cottages in coastal or salt-water areas should consider fixtures that are plastic or resin.

And while you may be tempted to take a minimalist approach when it comes to lighting, there are three areas you should absolutely illuminate.

Your address sign
Whether it’s a rustic sign attached to a tree or a numbered post in the ground, whatever indicates your location must be well-lit. Aside from helping your cottage guests find you easily if they arrive after nightfall, an illuminated address sign can make a crucial difference in case of an emergency.

Paths and steps
It’s part of the fun of being at the cottage to pick your way over rocky paths by flashlight—but if you want to avoid the risk of twisted ankles or an unexpected dunk in the lake, consider installing shielded, low-watt lamps along pathways and step lights on your deck. Stagger lights on either side of a path—especially a straight one—to avoid a runway effect. For a decorative touch, think about using inexpensive rope lighting to outline benches and railings.

Task areas
Do you barbecue after dark? Bring in the boat after a nighttime fishing trip? Take out the garbage in the twilight? Anywhere you’ll be working after dark needs light. Consider motion-sensitive lights to avoid over-illumination—ones with pulse-scan technology aren’t as easily tripped by wildlife as conventional models.

When you’re choosing fixtures, keep the overall style of your cottage in mind. Rustic? Ornate fixtures will look out of place—keep your choices traditional and simple. Modern? An antiqued finish won’t match, so consider black or pewter with clean, modern lines. On a budget? Sconces are less expensive and easier to install than hanging fixtures.  

And finally, if you choose not to go the electricity route at all—and, for some, that’s half the charm of cottage living—make sure candles and kerosene or oil lamps are cleaned and trimmed regularly, aren’t likely to get knocked over by wind or an errant elbow, and are kept out of reach of children.