There are many design considerations when choosing a step light for your project. To help navigate through the many choices available, we turned to a professional landscape lighting designer.
Flush Mount vs. Surface Mounted Step Lights
According to David Bilik, owner of Twilight Designs in Las Vegas, flush mount (recessed) step lights are often the fixture of choice when used indoors. He credits this to how easy it is to cut into and run wiring through drywall, especially when installing step lights after construction is completed. “While planning ahead is helpful,” says Bilik, “there are many products available for running wires post-construction.” He recommends 110v wiring to fish through walls and attics or low voltage wiring when 110v is not an option.
For less penetrable surfaces like concrete and stone, surface mounted fixtures are ideal because they mount directly to a wall or flat surface. These step lights commonly have a profile of as little as 3/4-inch up to 3-inches and a trajectory that directs light at the wall or at the surface below.
Open-Faced, Louvered, Shrouded Step Lights
Regardless of whether you are using a flush or surface mounted step light, you must consider the type of cover (or faceplate) the fixture has. Bilik says that in his experience, most covers will fall in one of three categories, each with its own series of benefits:
- An open-faced step light will offer the most amount of light with only a frosted glass lens to soften glare from the bulb. There is nothing to deflect or redirect the light with an open-faced step light, so proper placement is crucial as to whether or not the fixture will complement the design elements of the area, or overwhelm the space. Avoid this by mounting the fixture to the left or right of a staircase instead of on the face of a step.
- Louvered fixtures have a cover that functions much the same way as an air vent in your home or car would. They have a grated cover that directs the light down. Although a louvered faceplate blocks the most amount of light, it is ideal for mounting on the front of a step as they mount flush with the surface and block all glare.
- Shrouded fixtures capture the light coming out of the front of a fixture and redirect it down, focusing the light on the ground where you need it most. However, even with flush mounted fixtures, the shroud itself still sticks out making this fixture unsuitable for mounting on the front of a step.
Retrofitting Step Lights
Although LED fixtures are becoming more popular, a lot of step light fixtures are still outfitted for conventional light bulbs, but this does not mean that you are saddled with inefficient lighting. Retrofitting a conventional fixture with LEDs is sometimes as easy as changing a light bulb. “Look for LED bulbs that are direct replacements for their conventional counterparts, and use socket adapters when necessary,” says Bilik.
Many step lights are universal in size, meaning they are designed to fit within a single gang electrical box. For landscape lighting designers like Bilik, this makes the process of upgrading to LED step lights simpler and more cost-effective for the client.