It’s a great question: can I use any lights for outdoor fixtures?
Common sense might tell you that outdoor lights need to be a little tougher and more resilient than indoor light bulbs. And you’d be right.
You should be worried about using indoor light bulbs for outdoor use.
Indoor light bulbs are more vulnerable to rain, snow, moisture, and high/low temperatures. They can easily break, short circuit, and even damage your light fixture.
How to Determine If You Can Use the Bulb Outdoors
The first thing you should want to check is if the outdoor fixture and extension cord (if you are using one) is rated for outdoor use. Learn more about extension cord safety.
Look for the original packing or the label on the fixture itself. Make sure that all of your electrical devices are tested by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
You may also find an IP (Ingress Protection) rating that will tell you how waterproof and weather resistant your fixture is.
- An IP-65 or higher means the fixture is basically waterproof.
- An IP-64 and lower means the fixture is somewhat weather resistant, but may not be fully waterproof.
Some outdoor fixtures may not need to be completely waterproof, such as sconces under a covered porch. But, if you have a light post at the end of your driveway for instance, make sure it can withstand lots of moisture.
When purchasing outdoor Christmas and string lights, make sure you look for the “outdoor” and UL rating. In addition to making sure all of your fixtures are rated for outdoor use, double-check your lighting accessories as well.
Be sure to use outdoor-rated extension cords, and non-metal, non-binding attachments (never use a staple gun!). Consider installing weatherproof outlet covers for all outdoor receptacles.
While incandescent bulbs can be used for outside, remember that they are far less efficient and resilient to moisture and weather than LEDs. Read more on the incandescent versus LED debate.
If using incandescent bulbs in outdoor fixtures, look for the “outdoor rating.” Additionally, if using any outdoor Christmas lights, look for the “outdoor use” label. Many string lights are only meant for the indoors.
While more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, halogen lights are just as susceptible to water and moisture. When purchasing halogens for your outdoor light fixtures, make sure that they are rated for “outdoor use.”
Unless your light bulb is completely enclosed in weatherproof fixtures, it’s necessary to purchase outdoor-rated bulbs.
CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights)
Stray away from CFLs entirely when replacing your outdoor light fixtures. While they won’t cause a problem during the spring and summer, when the weather is warmer, they will become nearly inoperable in the winter, when temperatures drop.
Some exceptions may be certain CFL bug lights and Cold Cathode types. Again, check the packaging before use. Most CFLs are UL-rated for indoor locations only.
Like CFLs, fluorescent lights don’t work well in the cold. Even in unheated garages, they can cause a problem. When shopping for incandescent, look for the listed ambient or operating temperature range. Still, the temperatures would have to be pretty cold to turn the lights out, usually around 0-10 degrees Fahrenheit.
We don’t recommend using fluorescent lights outdoors, but if you do, use a vapor tight fixture.
Most LED light bulbs should be able to withstand the outdoor environment. But, check for the “outdoor rating” just in case.
Any outdoor lights that are directly exposed to the outdoors should be UL-listed for wet locations.
Rope light is generally always water and weatherproof, but not when they it is cut. If you cut the rope light, it isn’t weatherproof anymore. Keep in mind that most LED strip lighting is not weatherproof. You will need to check for the “waterproof” liable.
Outdoor lighting to keep the bugs at bay
If you are enjoying a fresh breath of air, the last thing you want is a bug in your breathing passages. Research has shown that incandescent bulbs attract the most insects while warm-colored LEDs (yellow/orange as opposed to white/blue) attract the least. LEDs also have longer lifespans, are more durable, and use a lot less energy.
Additional Outdoor Lighting Resources:
- Outdoor Electrical Safety
- How to Protect Outdoor Outlets and Plugs from Rain
- Landscape Lighting Glossary | Lighting Terms and Definitions
- The National Electrical Code (NEC) and Outdoor Wiring Safety
- Downlighting vs. Uplighting | Landscape and Event Lighting Strategy
For safe and beautiful outdoor and event lighting, contact The Perfect Light.