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Front Porch Lights: From A to Z

More than just a beacon leading to the front door, exterior lighting helps define the look of a house. With planning and a bit of math, you can put your home's best face forward.

Pendant Front Porch Light Photo by Karyn Millet/Lee Ann Thornton interiors

Drive down any residential street, and we'd bet your eye is instantly drawn to the house with the inviting, well-lit front door. Done right, exterior entry lighting makes the most of what you've got, complementing your home's architecture, increasing security, and helping guests navigate their way to the front landing.

That said, it can be a real challenge to select the perfect fixture. Just stroll down the lighting aisle of any home store, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the countless styles, finishes, bells and whistles—and that's before you look online.

Start by evaluating your space to determine the type of fixture (or fixtures) that best fits it, whether wall-mount, ceiling-mount, or, in very large entries, a combination of the two. In every case, the overall goal is to cast a wide pool of light that illuminates the entry, banishes dark corners, and casts a warm glow that's easy on the eyes, says San Francisco-based lighting designer Jody Pritchard. We'll explain how to determine the correct size, placement, style, and finish of your front-door lighting. Follow these steps to make your house the one that says "welcome home."

Shown: A pendant that casts a wide pool of light provides primary illumination. Side lanterns as secondary light sources need not adhere to design-math rules. Medium Federal sconces, about $460 each; shadesoflight.com

Similar to shown: Livex Lighting Mansfield 2-Light Hanging Lantern, about $260; wayfair.com

Front Porch Light Diagram

Pendant Light Parts Illustration by Arthur Mount

Here are the basics of a pendant; sconce and flush-mount fixtures have similar housing and inner workings, and a mounting plate.

Porch Light Fixtures: Important Considerations

Cost

Electrician Installing Porch Light Fixture Photo by Crystal Craig/Dreamstime.com

What does It cost? There's an option for every budget, but expect to pay $250 and up for a quality fixture made from solid-cast or hand-wrought metals.

DIY or hire a pro? Changing a light fixture is a relatively simple job. Installing a dedicated junction box for a new fixture takes more skill—and tools. For that, you may want to go pro.

Maintenance

Front Porch Light Set Into Brick Wall Photo by khoroshkov/iStock

Maintenance? While unlacquered brass requires polishing to keep it shiny, most fixtures can be cleaned with a damp cloth. Regularly applying a thin coat of wax to exposed metal parts helps protect against oxidation.

How long does it last? Warranties range from 30 days to a lifetime for some lights made from solid copper. One to two years is the industry average.

Deciphering UL Ratings

Front Porch Light Centered In Front Of Door Photo by David Papazian/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images

Light fixtures sold in the U.S. should carry an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) rating on the label that indicates what kind of location they can be used in. Dry-rated lights cannot be subjected to excessive moisture and should not be hung outdoors. But tolerances vary for those that are damp- and wet-rated.

The difference between the two is in the construction. UL-rated fixtures for damp and wet locations use different combinations of drain holes, seals, and protective gaskets to prevent water from accumulating on live wires and other electrical parts. Select the right fixture rating based on your entry's level of exposure.

Damp-rated: Suitable for sheltered porch areas that are protected from water—even during storms—and from excessive moisture, such as salt air.

Wet-rated: Necessary around doors fully open to the elements, where rain, snow, and heavy fog or salt air can come into direct contact with the fixture.

How to Install: Do the Math

Front Door Framed By Double Sconces Photo by Courtesy of Thistlewood Farms/Lamps Plus; Illustration: Arthur Mount

Not sure how a fixture will look once you take it out of the showroom and install it at home? Before pulling the trigger on your purchase, double-check that it follows the guidelines for scale on the opposite page. Then make a mock-up of your selection: Cut cardboard to the size and shape of the light and affix it to the house near the door. Back off and take a look from the bottom of the driveway or the middle of the street to be certain it looks right.

Double Sconces

Door-framing lights, placed 6 to 12 inches from the door casing, are a natural choice for symmetrical entries. A 13- to 15-watt LED bulb (labeled 60- to 70-watt equivalent) per fixture is usually enough.

Single Sconce

Single Sconce Adjacent to Front Door Photo by Courtesy of Landscapes by Dallas Foster Inc.; Illustration: Arthur Mount

When space is limited and there's no surface overhead, one fixture—with a single 13- to 15-watt LED bulb (60- to 70-watt equivalent)—can suffice. Hang it on the doorknob side for a well-lit view when greeting guests.

Flush-Mount

Flush Mount Light Hangs Above Open Porch Photo by David Papazian/Getty Images; Illustration: Arthur Mount

This is an ideal solution for entries with low ceilings, screen or storm doors, and porches open to wet weather. Use a 23- to 40-watt LED bulb (100- to 125-watt equivalent) or multiple bulbs with the same total wattage.

Pendant

Pendant Light Hangs Above High-Ceilinged Entry Photo by Aimee Herring; Illustration: Arthur Mount

A hanging fixture lights a high-ceilinged entry, but not where it's windy. With opaque glass, use a single 23- to 40-watt LED bulb (100- to 125-watt equivalent); for clear glass, use several smaller bulbs with the same combined wattage.

Front Entry Light

Good Choice

Portfolio Brayden Outdoor 2-Light Wall Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Price Range: $50-$150

Base metal: These basic fixtures are usually made of inexpensive steel sheet metal, which can be easily bent around a form and welded.

Finish: May be sprayed on or applied with more expensive and more weather-resistant powder coating. As the finish wears, exposed steel surfaces will oxidize and eventually rust.

Glass: This is usually clear, with no faceting.

Shown: Portfolio Brayden Outdoor 2-Light Wall Lantern, about $60; lowes.com

Better Choice

Quoizel Newbury 2-Light Outdoor Wall Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Price Range: $150-$250

Base metal: Typically made of more rust-resistant aluminum, which is difficult to weld. Fixtures are assembled from multiple (and potentially more detailed) stamped, spun, and die-cast pieces.

Finish: May involve several layers of sprayed or hand-applied color. While aluminum can oxidize, it does so at a slower rate than steel. Powder-coated fixtures resist oxidation longer.

Glass: Options include decorative beveled or seeded glass.

Shown: Quoizel Newbury 2-Light Outdoor Wall Lantern, about $200; lightingdirect.com

Best Choice

Lancaster 2-Light Wall Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Price Range: $250 and up

Base metal: Generally made of brass—or, less often, of copper—cast from an intricate mold or constructed by hand. Details will be sharper.

Finish: Expect long-lasting electroplated and hand-applied, multilayer finishes. Lacquered brass resists oxidation for years. Polished or left to patinate, uncoated brass and copper last for decades.

Glass: Decorative options may include double-beveled or intricate art glass.

Shown: Lancaster 2-Light Wall Lantern, about $270; seagulllighting.com

Get The Right Style

Cottage

Cottage Style Outdoor Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

For simple exteriors, opt for quaint details, such as lantern arms that curlicue or panes of vintage-look opaque glass that emit a soft glow.

Shown: Sea Gull Lighting Ardsley Court 1-Light Outdoor Lantern, about $132; homedepot.com

Tudor Revival

Tudor Revival Outdoor Lamp Photo by Wendell T. Webber

A house with arched windows, stonework, or a steeply pitched roof calls for medieval-inspired lighting, often featuring hammered metals and seeded glass.

Shown: Mill Creek Hanging Outdoor Lamp, about $123; homedepot.com

Arts and Crafts

Arts And Crafts Style Outdoor Pendant Photo by Wendell T. Webber/Michael Chini/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Fixtures with angular profiles and ogee edges are a good fit for a bungalow and other clean-lined early-20th-century styles.

Shown: Quoizel Hillcrest 1913 Outdoor Pendant, about $310; lumens.com

Colonial

Colonial Copper Onion Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Unadorned houses of the era, such as saltboxes and Cape Cods, were often lit by copper onion lanterns, durable enough for seaside living. Today, reproductions lend the same rustic charm.

Shown: Onion Wall Lantern, about $300; hammerworks.com

Ranch

Ranch Outdoor Bullet Lighting Photo by Wendell T. Webber

While traditional-style lights are often used on mid-century homes, linear, almost aerodynamic silhouettes and burnished or powder-coated metals are also true to the period.

Shown: Sea Gull Lighting Outdoor Bullets, about $103; lightingnewyork.com

Colonial Revival

Colonial Revival Style Torch Wall Bracket Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Detailed fixtures clad in gilded metal or glossy black stand up to the formal entrances of homes with symmetrical facades and columned porticoes.

Shown: Silverton Classic Torch Wall Bracket, about $260; rejuvenation.com

Victorian-Era

Victorian Era Wall Lantern Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Lights with enthusiastic embellishment match the romantic hallmarks—gingerbread trim, fancy shingling—typical of Queen Annes.

Shown: Devon Large Wall Lantern, about $350; houseofantiquehardware.com

Classical

Classical Revival Wall Sconce Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Sculptural and statement-making, these globes work well on the commanding facade of an urban rowhouse or a double-height porch.

Shown: Medford Classical Revival Wall Sconce, about $375; rejuvenation.com

Federal

Federal Style Outdoor Sconce Photo by Wendell T. Webber

An elaborate, elegant entrance will benefit from lantern-style sconces. Hinged glass doors and candle-covered sockets lend an air of authenticity.

Shown: Bolton Indoor/Outdoor Sconce, about $300; potterybarn.com

Gaslights

Gaslight Lantern Photo by Courtesy of Carolina Lanterns

Before electric lights became widespread in the 1890s, gas lighting was the norm. Today, whether for historical accuracy or for the atmospheric glow they impart, these fixtures are popular once again. They come configured two ways: as "gas mantle," where the gas terminates in a wire- or ceramic-fiber cloth for a steady white light (equivalent to a 50- or 60-watt bulb), or as "open flame," a softer candlelight flicker similar to a 25-watt bulb. Keep in mind, fixtures are pricey, starting at $600, and need a gas hookup; check local codes for requirements.

Shown: The Atlas lantern, about $700; carolinalanterns.com

Pick Your Finish

Oil-Rubbed Bronze

Oil-Rubbed Bronze Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Can be sprayed or plated over another base metal, but top-quality lights use a chemical process on solid brass that alters the metal's surface.

Works with: most any style of home

Aged Brass

Aged Brass Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Often sprayed or plated over another base metal, then polished to add highlights. For durability, look for solid brass that's aged chemically and tooled for smooth edges.

Works with: any traditional style

Polished Brass

Polished Brass Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Usually electroplated, it's sold lacquered to prevent tarnish or unlacquered to patinate. Lacquer must be reapplied every few years. Unlacquered brass will darken to brown.

Works with: formal traditional styles

Polished Nickel

Polished Nickel Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Generally a layer of nickel electroplated over another base metal. May have a clear coat for added protection. Quality lights are plated over rustproof brass.

Works with: coastal and contemporary homes

Matte Black

Matte Black Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Like all colored finishes, matte or glossy, this can be sprayed on, but for durability, look for longer-lasting powder coating, in which the base metal is covered with a dry powder that is cured with heat.

Works for: providing contrast and color

Copper

Copper Finish For Exterior Light Fixture Photo by Courtesy of Rejuvenation

Can be sprayed or plated over another base metal, but the best lights are made from solid copper. A clear coat can be added to retard oxidation, but copper is usually left to patinate naturally.

Works for: adding a time-honored look