What Kind of Deck Lighting Should I Use?

The back of a home showing how the homeowners used deck lighting for safety and ambiance.

What Kind of Deck Lighting Should I Use?

Like all other aspects of life, deck lighting options have changed dramatically over the decades.  It used to be that if you wanted light on your deck at night, you installed old-school flood lights.  While those are still available, there are now many different lighting options that are much more subtle and blend with your decking style.

This article will discuss the range of deck lighting options, including lighting for deck posts, stairs, string lights, and more.

Ways to Light Your Deck at Night

There are numerous ways to light your deck.  When considering which lighting options work best for you, keep in mind that are different ways to create a pleasing ambiance while installing lights for specific uses such as stairs, seating area, grilling area, etc.  You also need to factor in the intensity, color temperature, and placement of the lights, along with the energy source (hard-wired or plug-in) and the daytime appearance of the fixtures.


Most people wish to install deck lighting for safety reasons.  Deck lighting illuminates walking surfaces with lights that are low and angled to direct the light where it is needed.  Installing lights lower than knee height (1 – 3 feet off the deck surface) helps create a relaxing atmosphere and does not light up the area  like a stadium.

The main types of lights used are stair lights, post lights, rail lights, and recessed lighting.

Stair lights can be built into the vertical stair risers, or an LED bar light can be installed under the tread.  For the most reliable illumination, we suggest hard-wired stair lights.

Closed deck stairs that feature an LED strip light on every other step.
Composite deck stairs with Lake Powell step lights installed for safety.

Post lights are installed on top of the railing posts and diffuse the light downwards.   These can add safety along the length of the deck, depending on the number of lights used.  They are hard-wired and can either sit on top of the post or be installed between the post and post cap.

There are also post lights designed to mount to the side of deck railing posts.

Redwood deck with a metal panel railing anchored by wood posts. Each railing post features a lighted post cap.
Deck railing with wood post and a railing light installed for evening lighting.

Rail lights are mounted directly to the underside of the deck railing.  One of the more popular styles is an LED bar light installed under the railing, pointing down.  These provide lighting for the walking area but does not shine up or out into people’s eyes as they walk by.

Railing post light installed under the railing drink cap.

Recessed lighting is a popular option for homeowners who have added deck covers.  A deck cover allows for a few more lighting options, such as ceiling fans, chandeliers, and recessed lighting.  Many of the deck cover we have built over the years feature recessed lighting and ceiling fans.  This style of lighting creates a clean look with plenty of illumination for nighttime gatherings on your deck.

Custom built composite with many extras. Gabled deck cover with vaulted ceiling, custom stucco walls, and a custom designed, stucco, wood-burning fireplace.
Deck cover with a vaulted ceiling in Blue Stain pine. It also includes recessed lights, a ceiling fan, and two overhead heaters.
Deck that features a gabled tongue and groove ceiling and a custom stone, wood-burning fireplace

Ambient Deck Lighting

As noted above, installing lighting for safety reasons already results in partial ambient lighting.  If you are looking to add more ambiance, there are some other options available.

String lights are the most popular way of adding ambiance lighting. They are not hard-wired, which means you can move or change them out as the mood strikes.  People have found different ways to hang string lights, such as from the rafters of a pergola, along the edge of your home’s roof, or underneath a deck when there is another outdoor space for entertaining.

Cedar arbor that was built around a patio.
An outdoor patio with Cedar pergola that has a canvas cover for shade.

Other Ways of Adding Light

Downlighting and uplighting is a technique used to highlight the texture of your home.  Sconces are a great example of this, as they can be installed to shine up or down.

If you have mature trees nearby, you can use moonlighting to create a romantic, dramatic vibe.  By placing a light high in the tree canopy, you can create the illusion of moonlight filtering through the leaves and branches.  It’s a beautiful way to add an ethereal feeling to your outdoor living space.

We have built many decks that are elevated and feature an under-deck drainage system.  This allows the homeowners to create additional outdoor space below the deck.  By mounting lights, or recessed lighting in those with ceilings, you can light the lower area.

Under-deck drainage system with a Beetle Kill Pine tongue and groove ceiling and recessed lights. We also installed a wood swing for the owners to enjoy.
Custom covered deck with a dry space below featuring a tongue and groove ceiling and recessed lighting.

Another light source to consider is fire.  We have designed decks with built-in wood or gas fireplaces, creating a beautiful architectural feature, and providing a light source.  You can also purchase portable firepits that will provide heat and light.

Composite deck with a stone, gas fireplace
Custom redwood deck with multiple seating areas, one of which includes a stone firepit.

Where should you place deck lights, and how far apart?

If your deck lacks a railing, lights must be placed along its perimeter.  Add just enough lights for a deck with a railing to ensure your outdoor living space feels welcoming and cozy.  You can add as many as you want, or just a few in certain areas.

For more information on building your outdoor oasis, contact Decks by Schmillen at 719-440-6966.  We can help you design the deck, lighting, cover, and any other features you would like to add!