The 5 Rules of Outdoor Universal Lighting Design
Every space you inhabit should be safe and welcoming.
If you are a designer, or if you live with a person who has special needs due to age, you are probably familiar with universal design. It's all about making a living space accessible to everyone. Universal lighting design specifically uses light to make these improvements and accommodations possible.
Most often, you hear about universal lighting design for task areas in kitchens and bathrooms, but it's also a very important concept for the exteriors of homes and buildings.
When night falls, universally designed exterior lighting ensures a smooth transition between inside and out. It keeps porches, patios, steps, and walkways always inviting.
Use these rules to create an outdoor environment that is safer for everyone.
1. Create a visual destination.
Aging eyes need more light to distinguish detail. So, when an elderly person navigates in the dark, he needs the light to clearly indicate where he should go. All the lights should converge on, or point to a single destination, usually the front door or entrance. This spot is the brightest spot on the property.
2. Clearly define outdoor "zones."
Odds are, you have more than one outdoor spot that you use at night. So, you can't just light one place on your home or building and call it quits. While you may have lanterns and path lights leading up to the front door, you can light the garage door with something different like recessed downlights. The key is to create distinction. Use lights of different colors or brightness levels, or lights that project their beams in different directions to distinguish your "zones" from one another.
3. Enhance perspective.
Another excellent way to help those with special needs navigate your property is to create perspective with light. Since aging eyes have trouble seeing contrasts, especially at night, your lighting needs to make them obvious. Illuminate distinguishing features on your land like trees or structures with uplights, so individuals can easily place themselves. Also, always always always install step lights on any outdoor stairways, because these are some of the hardest areas to navigate in the dark.
4. Highlight resting places.
On decks and patios, and along pathways, elderly visitors or residents need to easily locate handrails and places to sit. Consider highlighting safety railings with tape lights or rope lights, so those who need them can always keep them close at hand. If you have benches built into your outdoor areas, or have structural features that can double as seating, use uplights or downlights to indicate they are places for someone to rest.
5. Use dimmable lights.
Aging eyes are much more sensitive, and sometimes they just can't handle the glare of extremely bright lights. So, it's nice to have the option to dim the lights when you need to. You can turn the light level down in resting areas, but keep it bright for navigation. More and more outdoor lights like LEDs are becoming dimmable, so the right fixtures will be easy to find.