I just so happen to be in need of plug-in solutions for my front porch, so I’m going to read this blog post when I am done writing it and then go out and buy a few things.
My 1THING: Plug In series is an exercise in doing more with less, or delivering better lighting with minimal cost. The problems I explore – and solutions generated as a result – plague me and my neighbors, my family, friends, and most of my clients. And in a time of rising inflation and economic worry, inexpensive strategies to make our homes more welcoming, comfortable, and relaxing may be even more important. And our first impression of home often comes from the front porch as we arrive home.
Sadly, as detailed in my previous post on porch lanterns, our front porches often have pretty awful lighting. Changing the lantern/light fixture is a great step, but there are ways you can improve lighting without climbing a ladder or hiring an electrician. Let’s start by asking the same question we should always ask – where do we need light, and what do we want it to do?
It should go without saying that we need light on the steps and porch floor more than anywhere else on a porch, but for some reason it really, really, needs saying. Most light fixtures do a dismal job of placing light where we need it most (the places that might trip us up and cause real physical damage) and are even worse at keeping light out of where it shouldn’t be, like our eyes and the skies. Our typical fixtures are designed as fashion accessories with almost no thought to the kind of light they deliver. Note that the lovely little yellow arrows in the sketch above are pointing at the floor, not at your eyes. And note how the lantern above puts more light everywhere but the floor.
I’m going to reach into a different bag of tricks to solve the front porch plug-in question: landscape lighting kits. Landscape lighting is available at just about any big box home improvement store like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Menards and also available online and at lighting retailers. When I wander the aisles of my nearby big box stores I find single fixtures, transformers, wires, and complete kits with everything included.
Kits can be a great way to get started, but in this case I really only need two or three fixtures. First, I recommend placing a path light (or a pair if the steps are wider than 4′) next to the first step. Choose a light with a decently tall stem, at least 12″ and preferably 14-18″ tall, so that the light source is above at least the first step. I also lean towards fixtures that have a glare shield that looks like a hat – this keeps light out of your eyes and the skies while softly diffusing light over the path. This should take care of the first step or two.
My porch has two steps and a third riser to the porch level itself. There are convenient posts next to the steps that hold up the porch roof, and they happen to be in the perfect place to illuminate the last steps of my approach to the home. A deck light mounted 12-18″ above the porch floor will softly illuminate enough of the steps and porch that I will feel comfortable and safe as I come home in the dark – and will help any guests and visitors feel safer, too. Deck lights are usually surface-mounted fixtures, just 3-4 inches in diameter, and can be mounted to a post with wire fed through from behind (a drill will be required to hide the wires if desired).
All of this can be a plug-in solution, as most transformers (that take the 120 volt power typical in our homes and step down to 12 or 24 volts) come equipped with a cord and a plug. Simple wiring from the transformer to the fixtures can be done safely without an electrician, in most cases, as the voltage is very low with minimal risk.
Hmm…do we even need wires at all? What about solar lanterns?
If you look at Pinterest boards of front porches you are bound to come across lovely images showing cascades of candles and lanterns on the front steps. For those of you with oodles of free time and a charge account at your local home decor store, and for those willing to go light the candles every night, that can be a great solution.
For the rest of us, something that happens automatically can make our homes more welcoming instead of more work. Solar lanterns have come a long way in the past few years and there are plenty that have light in the top that will cast light onto porch steps or floors. Be careful, though, as there are plenty more solar lanterns that do little more than provide a nice glow. They can look great but do nothing to illuminate your path.
There are a few drawbacks to a host of solar lanterns on your front porch. First of all, at least at our house, anything not bolted to the floor has a habit of being kicked as we trudge past with bikes, wood for our next project, groceries, and countless Amazon deliveries. Those lanterns are in just the right place to be literally booted across the yard.
Solar lanterns also need the sun to charge, and our porch is covered by a roof with trees nearby. Solar lanterns work great in spring when the sun is up longer and trees are still bare, but midwinter and midsummer can be tough. If you want reliable light for safety and comfort, it should probably plug in.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to run out to my home improvement warehouse and pick up a deck light and a path light. I read somewhere that it would make my porch more comfortable and safe.
And one more thing…
Want to take it to the next level? Add a few decorative lanterns (preferably plug-in if your porch is shaded) to add a welcoming touch. The path and deck lights will take care of the safety lighting while the lantern will spark comforting associations with candles and campfires.