If you have steps in your garden that are unlit at night, you probably already know theyre an accident just waiting to happen. Even if youre adamant that no-one ever goes out into the garden after dark, all it takes is a rogue relative at Christmas sneaking out for a breath of air, a courting couple seeking seclusion during an evening social engagement, even a bewildered elderly relation wandering off when your attention is elsewhere, and youll be left picking up the pieces.
Yet lighting garden steps can be so much more than a safety feature. With their strong geometry of vertical and horizontal lines, and their physical height, garden steps and staircases are natural candidates for dramatic lighting.
There are two main ways to light garden steps. One is to install a post-mounted light somewhere in the vicinity to provide general illumination. The advantage of this solution is simplicity, but it has the disadvantage of creating a lighting effect that is rather flat. If you aspire to something more dramatic and with a richer texture of light and shade, the second alternative is to use directional lighting. This projects focused beams of light onto the places where you want the light, while leaving other areas in darkness. What this means in the case of step lighting is shining the light either down onto the step treads, or shining light horizontally across them.
The main challenge when incorporating lighting into your steps is to avoid glare. If you have ever looked directly into the light of a dichroic halogen lamp, you already know how dazzling and uncomfortable it can feel. Replicating the experience on a staircase could be positively hazardous. So the first thing to bear in mind is to choose light fittings that minimise or eliminate glare from the lamp.
If you wish to shine light down onto your steps, you need a wall adjacent to the steps on which to mount the light fittings. This will be a light for creating general illumination, rather than a spotlight, and will be designed to project most of its light output downwards. A handsome example is the Mouse Light made by the New Zealand manufacturer Hunza. Depending on the design of the fitting, you probably will not need one light per step a light for every two or three steps will probably be sufficient.
This type of light fitting will, of necessity, stand proud of the wall surface on which it is mounted. If you want your fittings to be installed into your wall so they are flush with its surface, you will be choosing recessed spotlights that project their beam of light horizontally across the tread of a step. Many of these are now available with an eyelid over part of the lamps surface to dramatically reduce upward glare. Again, you may not need one light per tread because reflected light will spill over onto adjacent steps, although it must be said that using one light per tread does look particularly attractive.
But how do you light your garden steps if there is no wall beside it for installing light fittings into? The answer is to install your spotlights into the face of the steps to project the light across their width rather than their length. The challenge with this kind of arrangement is to eliminate glare because the lights are effectively shining directly at you when you are ascending the steps. The answer is to choose a fitting with a louvred lens cap. This shields the eye from the surface of the lamp and angles the light down onto the tread.
Once you have decided on the design of your step lights, next step is to choose the finish. Stainless steel naturally complements contemporary step designs and also blends well with many types of stone and paving slab. Copper has a more traditional feel and mellows down well to a look that is a natural companion for brick or timber. Alternatively, Hunza offers a choice of step lights in ten powder coated colours, giving you the option to use colour to complement or contrast with the natural materials in your hardscaping.