Outdoor Landscape Lighting Color, Kelvins & Lumens

At Custom Lighting of America we understand landscape lighting is a mixture of psychology, science and art as well as personal taste.  When developing a project dozens of factors come into play, including the number of fixtures, color temperature, technique and placement.  All of these variables come together to create an overall impression that can make your landscape lighting project a huge success or a dismal disappointment.  According to Harold Salkin, president of Custom Lighting of America, located in South Florida, the most often overlooked aspect of landscape lighting for non-professionals is often color temperature.  CLA has taken over projects initiated by individuals, home and condo associations that looked mediocre and disappointing  and completely changed the outcome  upping the wow factor with a creative change in fixture color output.  It’s amazing the difference a professional eye can make.
Color temperature has a powerful psychological effect.  It has the ability to subtly change the mood of an individual.  Although subjective, scientists have found that each color wave can have different ways in which they impact mood and behavior.  While perceptions of color can be different for each person, there are some color effects that can create a universal feeling and perception when it comes to low voltage outdoor landscape lighting.


Shortly after  the invention of the first modern, electric light bulb in the late 1800’s, we have seen landscapes illuminated by incandescent bulbs in yellow color, measured at 2700K (Degrees Kelvin). The light created by these bulbs have given off an orange-yellowish glow for over 130 years, making the colors in our homes warmer which made them feel comfortable and cozy.  However, this isn’t always the best spectrum for landscape lighting. 


Warm colors have always made people feel welcome and relaxed. In recent times, newer lighting color temperatures have been developed and each color have provided the ability to alter the overall mood and perception of an installation. Depending on the color of objects and foliage being featured, color temperature can subtly and sometimes dramatically alter the overall feeling of the installation.

What is The Best Color Temperature For Your Outdoor Lighting
There are three primary types of color temperature for light bulbs which are: Soft White (2000K – 3000K), Cool White (3000K – 4000K), and Daylight (5000K – 6000K). Although the whiter lights will appear brighter than those of a lower Kelvin reading, the brightness does not change at all between Kelvins as seen through the amount of Lumens.


Understanding Kelvin temperature (K) makes it easier to choose lighting that gives you the look and feel you want. From brisk and refreshing to warm and inviting, finding the correct color temperature no for your installation will greatly influence the look and feel of any outdoor lighting project.There are three necessary components required to see or measure color: a light source, an object and a receiver. Removing or altering any of these three items will significantly impact how our brains perceive color.The impact that light will have on the perception of color is both significant and commonly overlooked in landscape and architectural lighting. A light source works by emitting (or outputting) various visible wavelengths of light that are then absorbed or reflected by an object. The reflected wavelengths result in the perception of color. However, not all light sources are the same. The wavelengths emitted from the light source can vary significantly, thus changing how the color is perceived.  The image below illustrates how the Kelvin scale can dramatically change perception of an outdoor landscape lighting installation.

Some areas are more suited to cool white, for example a commercial pathway where accident liability is an issue, 3000K – 4000K may be more suitable, and if your goal is a warm and contemplative outdoor seating area in a backyard, 2200K – 2700K will properly set the mood.  While this is a fairly basic example, there are a myriad of nuanced differences that a professional lighting installation company will take into account to achieve an overall ideal lighting installation.

  1. Very Warm White (2200K). This is the lowest possible color temperature for white light (any lower is yellow light!) Also referred to as candlelight, this is used for very romantic, low key settings such as around outdoor fireplaces and hot tubs. It is also similar to High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) commonly used for street lights, and less commonly for 120v moonlighting.
  2. Warm White (2700K). Similar to halogen-type landscape lighting, it is the most preferred color temperature for landscape lighting. Psychologically, it is thought to be more welcoming and soothing compared to higher color temperatures.
  3. Warm or Natural White (3000K). Noticeably cooler than 2700K, some landscape lighting pros prefer this temperature. It tends to accentuate greens and blues in vegetation.
  4. Cool White (4000K). Quite bluish compared to 2700K, this is sometimes used to illuminate blue vegetation (such as blue spruce). It is also used to simulate moonlight (4200K).

Using a mixture of  LED bulbs depending on Kelvin output in our fixtures achieves an ideal effect depending your  overall project objectives.

So, How do you decide upon the best color temperature for your outdoor lighting projects? 

Now that we’ve covered the basics of color temperature, Kelvins and the spectrum of options, we can begin to explore choosing the best color temperature for outdoor lighting. Your choice really depends on your personal goals for your unique space. This is something that should be discussed with your landscape lighting professional. When you have an understanding of how  color temperatures can be married to your goals, you’ll be better equipped to make the best color temperature choices for your outdoor lighting needs.

Color Temperature Tips For Landscape Lighting 

Your home or commercial property’s landscape looks fantastic during the day, and you don’t have to lose that beauty after the sun goes down – when you choose the right exterior lighting color temperature. Slightly cooler color temperatures are used to accent plants in the landscape (generally 3000k-4000k). For the popular moonlighting effect, use downlighting where the light shines down from a higher point into trees. The best color temperature for moonlighting is 4000k which most closely mimics the color of natural moonlight.

Best Choices For Lighting Your Home’s Facade

Lighting up the exterior of your home after dark adds both ambiance and a layer of security. Exterior lighting can be one of the simplest ways to deter potential thieves from approaching your home or business. Of course there is a balance where lighting that is too bright draws more attention to your home and its valuable contents. As a rule of thumb, warmer color temperatures are used to highlight architectural elements (between 2500k-2700k), however cool white color temperatures between 5500k-6000k may be chosen for a higher level of security.

Pointers For Lighting Outdoor Entertainment Areas Lighting your outdoor entertainment sets the mood for al fresco dining, pool time shenanigans and game time get-togethers. Warm white lighting choices are popular as they create an inviting, intimate atmosphere for spending time outdoors with friends and family
It helps to have a strong working knowledge of color temperatures and even be able to decipher the Kelvin numbers and purposes of using lighting temperature colors like warm white and cool white. Your next step is to define your goals for your exterior lighting and choose the best color temperature for your outdoor lighting projects accordingly. Better yet, if you want to avoid the lighting learning curve and avoid the numerous pitfalls of D-I-Y landscape lighting contact a lighting professional like Custom Lighting of America in South Florida whose motto is, “Light up your life”.

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