An illustration of a deck with a helicopter hovering above it shining a light down, labelled "PHE (Police Helicopter Effect)"

1THING: Plug In Decks

Today is a notable day in my own fictitious universe, for I am awarding myself the fake Nobel Prize for Illumination Yakking. I toot my own proverbial horn because of my “discovery” of another “disease” rampant in residential lighting and – quite by accident – the theorizing of an ancillary condition. Yes, once again I am over-simplifying the science and art of illumination into click-bait catchphrases. Hey, this is my blog, so I get to write whatever I want, right? That doesn’t mean it has to be good.

Somewhere back in the 1960’s or 1970’s an enterprising lighting manufacturer came up with sleek contemporary spotlights for outdoor lighting. These two-headed monsters became ubiquitous in outdoor lighting, so much so that they grace garages, decks, back yards, as much today as ever before. My parents added on to the family farmhouse in 1973 (to make room for my ego, I think) and the dual spotlights they installed are still at work today, nearly 50 years later. There has to be something better, right?

So this morning I sat down to write a 1THING: Plug In post focused on decks and patios. I tackled the same area with new-build (pre-wired) solutions a few weeks ago, but today I wanted to extoll the virtues of string lights. Yes, I’m recommending the same cafe lights, patio lights, string lights that seem to be everywhere. Yes, there are more modern solutions. But, frankly, stringing up some of these lights is relatively easy and affordable…and the light can be wonderful.

An illustration of a deck with a light attached to the side of the house next to it shining down on the deck, labelled "PHE (Police Helicopter Effect)"

Why am I recommending string lights? Because string lights are the antidote to PHE. This is my discovery today: those antiquated patio spotlights are causing the Police Helicopter Effect, a rather disturbing condition that leads to a state of extreme discomfort from glare, panic, or both. PHE points bright spotlights into your eyes, causing your irises to close down in discomfort. This makes the outside even harder to see, except in the center of the spotlight. The effect is something like tunnel vision. The atmosphere is something like awful.

An illustration of a deck at night labelled "(SNT: Starry Night Treatment"

Okay, let’s set the Police Helicopter Effect aside and look for an antidote. Let’s call it SNT, or the Starry Night Treatment. Imagine a million tiny stars sparkling in the night sky over your deck. They are up there, even if light pollution is keeping you from seeing them. What if you could see them? What if they were bright enough to softly illuminate your deck? What if you could turn them up and down so that you always had just the right amount of Starry Night Treatment?

An illustration of a deck at night with a string of fairy lights hanging above it, labelled "SNT: Starry Night Treatment"

That’s where string lights come in. A few dozen low-output bulbs hanging above your patio can be amazingly comfortable (so long as they are not too bright – dimmers are handy). They can put light everywhere, minimizing shadows, but the spread out nature of the sources (lots of bulbs instead of a two of them in spotlights) means that glare is minimized, like 1,000 lights on a Christmas tree. We have these over our deck now and they are awesome. We had these over our patio at our previous home and they were awesome. If you spend time outdoors in the evening relaxing, eating, or entertaining, there are few options so comfortable and so easy to install.

A pair of posts at the corners of the deck make excellent anchor points, but so do eaves of a home or nearby trees. Creative X patterns or simple swags work equally well; the key is to leave as much of the sky view open as possible while evenly distributing light where needed.

Do you suffer from PHE? Try SNT.

Okay, I really need to cut out the acronyms. We have enough of them in lighting already.

Author’s note: The discovery of PHE led directly to the discovery of a parallel malady that exists indoors: CTS. CTS, or Closing Time Syndrome, is the existence of bright glare bombs that have the effect of inviting your guests to leave and signaling the start of the onerous task of cleanup. Avoid it when you can.

And one more thing: for an even better outdoor experience, combine SNT string lights with CFG (campfire glow) step lights as mentioned in THIS earlier post. Now that’s relaxing….

An illustration of a deck at night with a string of fairy lights hanging above it and low lights lighting up the floor of the deck, labelled "SNT + CFG (Camp Fire Glow)"

Check out my Houzz article on patio lighting.

Light Can Help You