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Five Creative Ways to Use an Exterior Wall Sconce

Five Creative Ways to Use an Exterior Wall Sconce

Unlike CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and incandescent bulbs, LED lightbulbs have an estimated life expectancy of 25,000 hours. That's a lot of illumination for your backyard!

With all those hours, it's important to choose the right outdoor fixtures to accent your home and create the ambience you're looking for. There's a variety of options, including string lights, flood lights, and wall lights. And, while placement for many fixtures can be simple, sometimes finding the best placement for an exterior wall sconce can be challenging. 

To make it a little easier for you, we've put together a guide that will help you choose the right sconce for your exterior design plan. Keep reading to learn more about LED recessed lighting, outdoor lighting tips, and 5 creative ways to use an exterior wall sconce. 

What Is an Exterior Wall Sconce?

A sconce is a light fixture mounted to a wall. In most cases, the light shines upwards or outwards instead of down. Unlike an interior wall light, an exterior wall sconce is a light fixture used on the outside of the home to provide lighting to dark areas. 

It's one of the oldest fixtures styles, originally used to host candles and oil lamps. In this day and age, wall lights like these use LED or CFL lightbulbs to light up pathways, doorways, and to provide accent lighting around specific objects. 

Sconces have two primary components, the fixture and lightbulb. The fixtures are made from a variety of materials and typically include at least three of the following elements: a back plate, arm, shade, power switch, and dimmer. 

The back plate is the part of the fixture that mounts to the wall. They range from very simple to very intricate in design. The purpose of the back plate is to cover the wiring, connect the light to the wall, and support the rest of the lamp. 

The arm on an exterior wall sconce connects the light to the back plate. Not all sconces have arms to hold the lightbulbs. Some used recessed LED lighting to make the space less bulky. 

Most exterior sconces use a shade to block the beaming light from entering your eyes. A lot of times, sconces sit at eye level, so having a shade is quite important to prevent injury. 

The power switch turns the light on and off. It's important to mount it somewhere safe from the elements to increase lifespan. 

The least common element to the fixture is the dimmer. Dimmers moderate the amount of electricity used and help to create the ambiance of the space.   

In order to function, sconces need a solid, vertical support beam, wall, or post. While evaluating the areas around your home's exterior, take into consideration the level of support the mounting area will provide. If it looks like the sconce would be too large or heavy, it's best to find a better location or a smaller fixture. 

Requirements for Outdoor Lighting

Before buying and installing any outdoor light fixtures, it's important to consider a few things. 

Some locations have specific regulations for outdoor lighting. For example, some California residents now have to ensure their lighting is Dark Sky compliant. So, it is important to read up on your state and county regulations about efficiency, light pollution...etc.

It is also important to consider the materials you want to use and that are available. When deciding the materials that accent your home, be sure to do some research into the maintenance required to encourage a longer life.

Think about the climate in your area. If you experience heavy wind, rain, snow, or even intense sunshine, it's ideal to use heavy-duty or damage-resistant materials. 

Additionally, you'll want to consider the bulbs you'll use. LED lights are the most efficient as they convert about 90% of electricity used to light, as opposed to fluorescent (80%) or incandescent (10%) bulbs. 

LED lightbulbs also have wet or damp ratings. These ratings provide insights that allow you to predict the durability of the lighting around your home. 

Wet rated bulbs can handle direct exposure to water. While damp rated bulbs are only able to tolerate indirect exposure. Because water is a conductor for electricity, differentiating between the two is essential to prevent fires and accidental electrocution.

Unleash Your Inner Designer

While going through the process of researching and purchasing exterior lights, ask yourself questions about locations, sizes, and styles. 

Ask yourself where your yard naturally needs lighting. Note the number of entrances, windows, gates, pathways, or seating areas you'd like illuminated. Also, search the internet for exterior lighting ideas that you feel inspired to use in your yard. 

After you've considered the number of fixtures you'll need, think about how the light will flow through your yard to create the desired ambiance. Do you want something relaxed, vibrant, or sultry? Regardless of the answer, you'll want to experiment with different light shapes, brightness levels, and colors to produce your desired effect. 

Also, consider the style you want. Are you looking for something modern, rustic, or industrial?

There are a variety of sconce designs, styles, shapes, and sizes. By clearly defining your vision, it will make the process of placing the fixtures that much easier. 

Speaking of size, it's important to determine how big or small your lights should be. After all, you wouldn't want to hang a light that's overwhelmed by wall space or other lights in the area. You'll want to find sconces that suit the exterior of your home. 

In general, you'll want your sconce to be about 1/5 of the height and width of the doorway. Since most sconces sit at eye level (66-72 in. above the ground), you'll want to make sure that it's big enough to provide ample light. 

Additionally, you'll want to ensure the sconce is big enough to be seen from the street. While up close the fixture might seem huge, from a perspective on the street, it might be very small. Before installing, it is wise to have someone hold it in the desired location while you take a look from the street to make sure you've got the right size. 

For more information about sizing, check out this guide from Brick and Batten. 

5 Creative Ideas for an Exterior Wall Sconce

Now that you've got most of the hard research done, you're ready to place your fixtures. Below are 5 creative ways to use sconces. 

1. Create Symmetrical Entry Lighting

One of the best uses for a wall sconce is to illuminate doors and other entry points. By placing a fixture here, you'll not only be able to better see your door lock, but also create an aesthetic sense of symmetry around the frame. 

If you're not particularly focused on having things symmetrical, one sconce positioned on the doorknob side will provide ample lighting for opening and unlocking the door. 

Another benefit to this positioning is the decorative element created. Wall lanterns or semi-flush mount lights are the most used style among homeowners. If your door looks a little lonely, adding an exterior wall sconce will help dress it up. 

They also add curb appeal around gates and driveways. If you have a walled driveway, adding a line of sconces can improve visibility, and add an extra level of elegance to your property. 

2. Accentuate Your Fire or BBQ Pit

If you've built, or have plans to build, an outdoor fire or barbecue pit, using recessed LED lighting will greatly improve the appeal of the walling. Incorporating sconces here can also help soothe the atmosphere and create a calm, more relaxed environment.

For these spaces, using a flush mount or bulkhead light will work best. When choosing the design of your lights, you'll want to consider the design of your home. Is it contemporary, rustic, coastal, mid-century modern...etc. 

If your home is mid-century modern, adding a geometric wall sconce will add to the overall minimalist aesthetic. On the other hand, if your house takes a more rustic approach, incorporating a sconce with leaf etchings can help unify the space. 

3. Enhance Your Garden 

Another creative way to use a wall sconce is to place them around your garden or greenhouse. 

A lot of people place decorative plants around their homes. Using a wall sconce can be a great way to make them visible when night comes. Additionally, placing controlled lighting around plants is a great way to enhance the evening atmosphere. 

You can use them to outline the silhouettes of your succulents, ferns, pots, and even bird baths. Or you can use the lights to make your garden the main focus. 

Inside of a greenhouse, adding wall sconces can greatly increase the elegance of your layout. Positioning the lights to accent the plants with a nice warm glow can make your time spent gardening even more relaxing.

4. Illuminate Pathways

Using sconces to light up dark walkways and pathways is also a great idea. Lighting up dark walkways will help prevent accidents and injuries. Using an exterior wall sconce to do so can add a touch of elegance to several different home designs. 

By strategically placing them along a path, you can create a flow that gently guides you and your visitors to their destination. If you vouch for dimmer lights, it can also add to the ambiance of your yard. 

If your pathway follows directly on the side of the house, using a few lanterns or flush mount sconces will work. If you have a short brick or stone wall that flows alongside your pathway, using a few bulkhead lights can easily light the path without drawing too much attention away from the rest of your yard. 

5. Increase Security

Many homeowners will use wall sconces to light up the exterior of their homes to deter thieves. In this case, it's recommended to use motion censored flood light sconces that will only turn on when someone steps within a certain radius.

The reason for this is continuous lighting can give robbers the idea that no one is home. By using motion censored lights, non-suspecting robbers can be startled by the light and divert their course. 

A few floodlights by the door, or around the side of the house, can be an excellent way to scare off thieves and alert your neighbors that something is off. Incorporating a few of these by your gate and back door can also bring peace of mind. 

Outdoor Lighting Ideas to Keep in Mind

When it comes to setting up outdoor lighting it's important to consider a few key points. 

First off, outdoor light fixtures can only provide light to a specific area. If you're looking to illuminate a large portion of your yard, you will have to employ a handful of sconces to get the job done. Additionally, sconces can light up multiple areas at once, so strategic placement of your lights can be a great way to save a couple of bucks for other things. 

Unlike plug-in interior wall sconces that are relatively easy to install and uninstall, exterior wall sconces are often installed during backyard construction. They will also often times require the installation of an outdoor energy grid. 

Using solar-powered, dusk-to-dawn, or motion censored lighting are great options if it's too late to install electric wiring, or if you want to regularly update your yard with new light fixtures. 

Something else to consider is the degree of brightness and how you want the light angled.

The wattage and number of lightbulbs will often be the deciding factor in how bright the light will be. The wattage on a lightbulb determines the amount of energy it uses to produce light. The higher the wattage, the more power used, and the brighter the light will be. 

If you want dimmer lights, use a lower wattage. If you are looking for bright white lights, find LEDs with a higher wattage. 

After determining the brightness of the lights, you'll want to consider the direction the light will shine. When hanging a sconce by your front door, you'll want a light that shines down and illuminates the lock. But for a sconce that accents a decoration, unique architectural design, or plant, you may want a light that shines upwards. 

For communal areas, it's best to remember that lights that shine down are easier for the eye to digest than the eerie glow shining from the ground up. 

How to Install

Being a professional electrician isn't always necessary for installing your own exterior wall lights. Before installing your lights, be sure to take safety precautions and ask for help if needed. 

Before Installing

Before installing, be sure to evaluate the structure of the location you will be hanging the fixture. Exterior wall sconces need a firm support beam, wall, or post in order to work well. 

Wall sconces can be placed on fences, posts, and other objects. However, it is important to make sure the sconce won't be too heavy or large for the beam to support.

Check out wood posts for termites, dry rot, and other weaknesses before installation. For metallic materials, be sure to investigate the posts for rust, breakages, or dents that might compromise the structure. 

When working with electricity, especially as a novice, it is wise to have someone around to help in case of an emergency. If you are home alone, letting a neighbor know that you're doing some electrical work around the yard can be an excellent way to prevent tragedy in the event of an emergency. 

Installing Your New Exterior Wall Sconce

The first thing you'll do before installing is turn off the power grid. Find the main circuit breaker and put the lever in the off position. You don't want a single watt flowing through the powerlines, in order to prevent electrocution and other electricity-based accidents.

After that, you'll want to carefully remove the casing around the old fixture, remove it from the wall, and expose the wires beneath. Once you have the wires exposed, untwist them from the junction box. The junction box is the housing for the wires that connect your light to the power. 

Remove the wires from the old sconce, and you'll be ready to install the new one. The junction box will have 3 wires. A red or black coated hot wire, a green or copper ground wire, and a grey or white neutral wire. 

Attach the wires from the new sconce to the junction box by matching the wire colors together and twisting them around the screws. After everything is connected, go ahead and place the junction box back into the wall. Make sure the wires are secure inside the box, and the screws are tight. 

After repositioning the junction box, it's time to place the sconce in the wall. When installing the new fixture be sure to completely cover the junction box to prevent damage. Follow the manufacturer's instructions that came with you fixture in order to properly secure it. 

After it's installed, look for any gaps or weak points where water, rodents, or insects can enter. If you find any, be sure to use silicone caulk to seal them. 

Once you've examined the space and have made sure there are no gaps, it's time to turn on the power. Put the lever on your circuit breaker back to the on position and test out your new light!

Living with Your New Lights

After installation, it is important to complete maintenance on your lights. Completing a monthly maintenance checklist will help maintain curb appeal, and improve the life of your fixtures.

Depending on the materials you used (brass, copper, steel...etc.), your regular maintenance plan will vary. 

For materials like copper and brass, it is unwise to use detergents as these can cause discoloration. For these materials, it is best to use lemon and salt, baking soda, or a damp cloth to gently wipe and remove impurities. 

For other materials, cleaning your fixtures is pretty straight forward. 

The first thing you'll want to do is grab all the materials you will need. Some objects include a step ladder, an old paint or toothbrush to remove debris, some buckets, a screwdriver to remove the fixtures, and protective gloves. 

Next, turn off your power grid. Water is a conductor of electricity, so to prevent injury, be sure to turn this off. You'll also want to turn all light switches to the off position. 

Remove Additional Parts

You'll then want to remove the fixture and any additional parts like globes, arms...etc. Place these on something soft to prevent damage.

After the fixture is removed, grab 2 buckets of hot water and add cleaning detergent to one. Before using the detergent, test it on a specific spot to make sure the fixtures won't endure any damage or spotting. In the bucket, gently place the globe, arm...etc. and let them soak.

Next, take a damp cloth and wipe down the pieces that cannot be submerged in water. Be certain to keep water away from any outlets or circuits. If you want, you can cover them with masking tape before proceeding. 

After the parts in the bucket have had ample time to soak, remove the globe and other pieces and place them in the bucket full of plain hot water. Once they've been rinsed, dry them with a towel. To really make the metal shine, add a layer of polish or car wax. 

If your fixture has any glass components, be sure to go over them with a glass cleaner. This will help increase brightness and add to the curb appeal. 

After everything is dry and cleaned up, run a dry cloth over the lightbulb to remove dust and debris. Then reinstall your fixture and screw in the lightbulb. Once everything is back in place, it's safe to turn the power back on. 

Enhance Your Home With Exterior Wall Sconces

Your home is your place to relax and unwind. Creatively placing exterior wall lights around your backyard is a great way to add to the ambiance for an even more blissful experience. 

When choosing an exterior wall sconce, be sure to match it to the style of your home and your overall vibe. 

For more design tips, check out our other blogs that include helpful tips and tricks to creating the house of your dreams. 

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