Functional or Decorative For Landscape Lighting?

September 08, 2018

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Outdoor spaces are slowly becoming part of our living spaces with most homeowners preferring to entertain guests in the outdoors rather than indoors. Long gone are the days when people could only stay outside during the day and retire inside the house after sunset. Nowadays people are looking to spend more time in their outdoors, making landscape lighting an essential part of every homeowner’s lighting budget.

Traditionally, landscape illumination involved installing a few security lights, but with time, homeowners have started experimenting with other types of outdoor lighting styles to create different moods. Let us look at the key differences between decorative and functional landscape lighting.


Also known as accent lights, decorative landscape lights can be seen as accent pieces or some form of artwork. The primary function of a decorative light is not to provide light but to decorate a space and bring out its beauty. Light provision comes second on a decorative light’s list of objectives, and the light tweaked to accentuate the fixture’s beauty. Most homeowners use decorative landscape lighting to inject some personality and drama into their outdoor spaces. It also comes in handy when highlighting an already existing decorative piece such as a fountain, a sculpture, or a pool.

Functional lighting, on the other hand, serves the sole purpose of providing direct light. Some places like staircases and doorways require direct light for increased visibility and to prevent accidents. We need a light source to illuminate the door so that we can find the keyhole. We also need lights to light the gate and pavements to make movement outside easier at night. Functional lights are not to be confused with ambient lighting which provides general lighting.  Unlike ambient lights which are mostly overhead, functional lights work best in areas that require lots of light for maximum visibility. It is not uncommon to find functional lights installed on walls above doorways and close to the ground on walkways. Others like the RAB Flood Lamp are more flexible and can be placed anywhere from the ground to high up on the wall.

Light output

Most decorative landscape lights do not produce too much light. Low light production is part of the aesthetic appeal that decorative lights seek to achieve. A typical decorative landscape light uses illusions for aesthetic purposes. It is not surprising to find a decorative light pointed at a flower pot or a well to play around with the shadows. Other decorative lights have decorated shades which utilize light to accentuate their beauty. Most decorative outdoor lighting is dim, and the bright ones are mostly pointed at walls or other beautiful pieces around the garden to highlight their aesthetic appeal.

One of the main characteristics of functional lights is a high light output. Functional outdoor lights’ primary purpose is light provision so they would have to be bright to fulfil that purpose. In most cases, functional lights sacrifice aesthetics for functionality which makes sense since homeowners mostly install them in the darkest corners of the garden. They are also commonly used along pathways and doorways.

Power consumption

Decorative lighting consumes little power. The primary intention of installing decorative lighting is to enhance the aesthetics of a space. Light production is second on a decorative light’s list of priorities. For this reason, most decorative lights are not powerful since they do not need to produce too much light. This translates to low power consumption by decorative lighting. Some outdoor decorative lights like Doingart Lily Flower Lights even use solar power translating to zero electric power consumption.

Functional lights, on the other hand, are designed to be powerful enough to light up a large area. Power consumption in functional lights is mostly high since their primary function is light provision. You only need to buy a small number of strategically placed functional lights to light up your entire garden, but they will need a lot of power to do that. You can, however, rest easy since most functional outdoor lights use LED bulbs. One of the advantages of using LED bulbs is that they consume very little power. They also last longer than most types of bulbs ensuring that your functional lighting lasts longer reducing the need to keep on replacing them.


The name alone is a dead giveaway that decorative landscape lighting focuses more on aesthetics. Decorative lights are generally appealing to look at since they emit warm light and have great designs. Most decorative lights are hung across the trees or on the patio. Others are pointed towards beautiful pieces around the garden and use shadows to create beautiful illusions. Wherever you may choose to install them, keep in mind that their primary purpose is aesthetics.

Landscape functional lighting does not focus on aesthetics. Most functional lights do not look too appealing to the eye either because they trade aesthetics for functionality. They are quite bright so it beats logic to make them too aesthetic when you cannot even look at them directly because of the bright light they emit. Their area of installation is another reason why most of them are not aesthetic. Landscape lights find their use in dark areas of the garden, pathways, staircases, and doorways, which are all areas where most, if not all homeowners do not spend much time.


A common concern among homeowners is how to light up the outdoors. Both functional and decorative lighting have different functions on the landscape and are equally important. You cannot survive on a single type of landscape lighting unless you either want a brightly lit boring garden or a very dimly lit beautiful garden. You have to strike a balance between decoration and function to get a beautiful and sufficiently illuminated garden. Every homeowner deserves a lively and optimally lit garden.

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