Once upon a time, an old friend of mine caught the home improvement bug in a big way and proceeded to build a new backyard deck with stairs, railings, a place for the barbecue, and an outdoor dining area. The only problem was that his lighting solution was to use floodlights coming off the back of the house. The glare was so bad that nobody was particularly keen to be out there when the sun went down. He knew he needed to find a different lighting solution, so he and I sat down and looked at the lighting options available and settled on one of the best out there–giving a deck gentle but practical lighting by installing LED railing post lights in the post caps.
A railing’s posts are one of the most natural and attractive places for deck lighting, whether it’s there as soft accent lighting or to provide brighter, more functional light. Lights on the railing post caps also mark the boundaries of the deck, and help illuminate stairs. One of the great benefits of LED lights as opposed to traditional bulbs is that energy costs and environmental impact are both cut dramatically, giving peace of mind (and bragging rights about how green you are!). And, with the right hardware, installing these types of lights can be an effortless process.
I’ve already covered the energy and environmental benefits of LED lighting in another post, but let’s just say there’s a reason LED lighting is catching on. LED bulbs use about 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs use to produce the same amount of light. The yearly energy costs of an LED fixture are also about 20% of an incandescent bulb. Suffice it to say, choosing LEDs over other types of lighting saves you a great deal of money and is easier on the environment because they require so much less electricity.
In my work as a builder I often see decking lights that aren’t working or have been knocked askew because at some point their hardware suffered some serious damage. A lot of the post cap lighting sold out there is made from types of plastic and metal that aren’t that durable. If you are like me and prefer to install longer lasting fixtures that aren’t a maintenance headache, then it pays to choose a post cap and post cap lighting system that are carefully designed and use the most durable material you can afford. This is especially important because post caps are often in high traffic areas, and are handled frequently and often carelessly. These are the parts of the railing you’re likely to bump into while carrying something heavy. That makes high-quality lighting and post caps a wonderful choice. I tell clients to look for a post cap with a high-quality coating system that makes the metal both moisture and UV resistant.
Ease of Installation
One of the easiest places to install lighting on a deck is in the post caps of the railing–something that certainly informed my friend’s decision to go with this type of lighting system. Like most things, there are different ways of going about it. One option is to mount solar powered caps, but I usually tell clients to avoid these for two reasons–first, you have to ensure that your post caps are in places where they’ll get enough sunlight to power the light, and second, the batteries these use wear out after a while and have to be replaced.
Of course, if you want to put something in that is hardwired and the post is a regular old 4-by-4, it may be necessary to hide the wire. One clever and creative way of doing this is to install a post sleeve that covers the post and comes with easy spaces to run wires. The long and short of installation, though, is that if you want a lighting system that’s easy to install, you can’t go with the cheapest option. These aren’t generally well designed, and they’ll leave you with one barely understandable sheet of instructions and no way to ask the manufacturer questions. The easiest lighting systems to install are thoughtfully designed and tested with the installer and end user in mind, but that also means they won’t be on the bottom rung of the price tier.
Types of LED Railing Post Lights
There’s more than one way to light up a railing post. Below are some of the types of post lighting systems I’ve seen out there.
- Undercap lighting: This is perhaps the most common post cap fixture. Sliding on top of the post, and shining out from underneath the post cap, the lights light up the deck below. This type acts as a functional light and at the same time gives a deck a nice ambience. And as with all of the lighting options that follow, it’s important to choose a model that is durable and waterproof!
- Glow ring lighting: The glow ring is a flat light panel that is installed in between two parts of a pyramidal post cap. It produces a moody and subtle ambiance. This type of lighting is lovely, but may not be the best choice if you want brighter, more practical lighting. This is a relatively new option on the lighting scene, made possible by the fact that LED lighting produces very little heat.
- Side of the post: These are small, versatile light fixtures that screw into the sides of any post that is at least 2” wide–they can be placed as high or as low on the post as you want. Like the undercap lighting, the light shines down toward the deck. These are especially useful along stairs or any other place where extra visibility on the surface of the deck is needed.
Whatever system you choose, one final tip I’ll add is that installation will be much easier if you choose the same company for both your lighting fixtures and your railings, as they should be compatible. This can really make the installation process a whole lot smoother!
If you are attracted by the savings that come with LED lighting, then some kind of post lighting may be the perfect solution for lighting your deck. One company that does manufacture both high quality and beautiful railings and various types of post lighting is Fortress Railing. Their line of lighting products, Fortress Accents, are highly durable die-cast aluminum LED fixtures, are protected from the elements by a premium powder coat. If you are interested in other innovative building materials, take a look at Fortress’ other products. They’ve got unique decking materials, fencing, and decorative hardware that’ll match your beautiful new deck lighting.