LED lighting is all the rage these days; to me, at least, it seems like it’s everywhere. But lighting for ambiance is more than just pretty–it’s there for safety. A poorly lit stairway at night could turn into a serious injury for you or one of your guests. Adding LED lighting to your stairs can prevent that and improve the overall look of the stairwell.
A lot of people start and stop their lighting efforts for their stairs and railings with post cap lighting. That’s a good step, but it’s just not enough to fully light your stairs. The light from the post won’t illuminate deep stair treads or the rails themselves. Fortunately, there are many LED lighting options out there to help brighten your path.
LED Options for Lighting Stairs and Rails
There are a lot of different energy efficient lighting options for stairs, rails, and post caps which can be used to add ambiance and safety. I find that using a combination of the various types of lights available gives the best overall result, especially when your staircase is long or very dark. You’ll want to use high-quality, long-lasting LED railing post lights, rail lights, and stair tread or riser lights that are designed for outdoor use. Here are a few of the types of options available.
- Post Cap Lights: Post cap lights are lights which are tucked under the rim of the railing post cap or wrap around it. These give a nice ambiance and can help mark off the boundaries of a deck or set of stairs, but don’t always do enough to illuminate stair treads, which is why some choose to pair them with other types of lights
- Vertical Post Lights: Vertical railing post lights are a good option when you don’t have a post cap to work with or when you want the light source to be closer to the ground. These are installed vertically on the railing post itself (as high or as low as you want), making them a good way to mark the beginning of a path. They’ve got a small, unobtrusive light casing, while the bulb itself is pointed at the ground, directing illumination downwards.
- Surface Mount Lights: These types of lights are great for lighting stair risers or treads as they are installed directly into the surface of the structure. It’s super easy to install these simply by using a Forstner bit, which can bore holes in wood or the ground while providing a ground mount for the light. This type of light sits with its casing below the surface so that the light is flush with the ground. The light points upward, directing the illumination up and along the path.
- Universal Lights: Universal-type lighting works just about anywhere. It works particularly well on the top rails of railings, as these can be placed underneath the rail to hide the device itself while still lighting the railing and ground, and acting as baluster light fixture accents. They can also be used on stair treads or risers because they can be mounted in different ways and on different surfaces. These sometimes come in a small, square strip light with the bulb in the surface. The light can be pointed downwards, to the side, or upwards, which is why they’re considered ‘universal’ lights.
These lights are all controlled via a transponder with connecting wires which are threaded in behind them, and under the light. Often, LED systems come with timer control options which will turn on the lights automatically. This makes for a pretty maintenance free option for making your stairs safer. However, you are working with electricity, so there are a few safety concerns you’ll need to keep in mind.
Choosing LED Lights for Safety and Code Compliance
Not all LED lighting systems are approved for outdoor use. Some may say they’re designed for outdoor use, but then not meet the long-term use safety standards. Code officers will know what to look for in your stair lighting to make sure it meets safety standards, and you should too. Some of the things they look for include:
- ETL Listed Components: Electrical Testing Labs was established in 1896 and would set the standards for today’s consumer safety protocols in electrical products. The ETL Listed mark is a commonly accepted certification that those in code enforcement look for to ensure that the lighting meets safety requirements. It shows the product has been tested and was found to be within acceptable national compliance standards.
- Light distance from water sources: Lights and power sources should be at least ten feet away from any pools, hot tubs, spas, or fountains. While high-quality outdoor lighting components can be used consistently outside, even in damp climates, exposure to pool water and pool chemicals will likely damage the lighting system.
- GFCI use with outdoor outlets: If you’re putting the power source outside, you’re going to need to connect it to an outlet with a Ground Fault Interrupter, also known as the GFCI. This turns off power to the outlet if it becomes wet or if it’s overloaded.
- Appropriate wire placement: What you do with your wires is an important part of LED safety and maintenance. First, don’t bury wires in the ground to hide them. There are very strict code requirements for burying electrical wires. Also, most outdoor wires you’re going to use aren’t going to be approved for burying. Wires should be threaded through the posts or tied back under the structure to hide them, not buried in the ground.
- Safe dimmer use: Dimmers adjust the brightness of the light, which can be convenient. However, using a dimmer with a transformer that’s not compatible with it is a serious fire hazard. If you want to use a dimmer, it’s best to use a transformer with one included.
There are lots of LED stair railing lighting options out there, but they aren’t all made the same by any means. Fortress Railing’s products have worked well for me in the past because they’re carefully designed for durability and ease of installation. They sell a wide range of LED options for lighting stairs that are ETL listed and include detailed instructions so you can stay within code. These are designed to work with a wide variety of materials and in different situations, so you can adapt them as needed. In addition, Fortress offers transformers that support the lighting system and are dimmer compatible. Fortress is more than just railings and railing lights, though. Fortress Building Products spends time developing and perfecting unique and good-looking products like decking, fencing, and ornamental hardware. So once you’ve lit your deck stairs beautifully, you can add a pergola at the bottom and elegant fencing around the yard.