Here in the winter California rains and winds, it's a challenge to walk safely across the patio at night at my friend's house. There's a series of overhead floods that splash light across the patio, and if you turn on the pool lights, chances are good you won't take a tumble into the depths. But I know my pals can do better, protect their investment, and get some decent, attractive lighting out here without breaking the budget.
There are so many options, and many lighting fixtures and sets come in low-wattage models that won't dramatically affect the power bill. Plus, some come with dimmers and timers, so you can shut them down or lower the lighting when the yard is not in use. It seems silly and dangerous to do without it.
Choosing Among the Lighting Types
If you don't have general floodlights, at least start there. Then choose from path lights, lanterns, light strings, deck lanterns and lights, and rope lights. Each has its own unique aesthetic quality and function. Path lights cast downward illumination, letting you see where you're going and if there are obstructions.
Lanterns do the same, but also allow for wider illumination of decking and potential hazards. Deck lighting can be attached to posts or trellises to cast the right slant on things. I really like so-called "brick lights" that fit into your hardscape or wall work and look just like pavers, shooting soft light upwards from the ground.
My Home Ideas has an article on choosing a ten-light set string of patio lights with a programmable transformer. I also like the distinctions of outdoor lights featured by Landscape Lighting to accent a wooden deck or patio, extend from the lawn, or spotlight your garden features.
Hadco also has a wide variety of examples for low-voltage path lighting that runs from simple to wildly decorative. I laughed aloud at the copper mushroom path light with convincing green stem (pictured above). And I know full well that there's no way on heaven and earth that it will turn up in my friend's backyard.
While we're on the subject, don't forget buying and installing pathway lights to lead to a patio enclosure or hot tub platform. And if you end up creating a space that attracts your friends even in the winter months, consider buying some outdoor patio heaters for an overall toasty experience.