Why Up Lighting Is a Better Alternative to Recessed Soffit Lighting

by Pelham McMurry / February 12, 2018

Despite being the industry standard, soffit lighting is almost never the best way to light the facade of a home. 

It's very common practice to use soffit lights to light the exterior facade of a home. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the best way to do it. It's impossible to light every aspect of your facade using soffit mounted lighting. Read more on why we almost always recommend ground mounted up lighting versus soffit mounted down lighting. 

Get Noticed - The Psychology of Up Lighting

Natural light comes from above, from the sun. When lighting from the ground up, the effect is unnatural and thus more noticeable to the human eye. Ground mounted fixtures that up light the the exterior of the home are more eye catching and more noticeable than soffit mounted down lights. As a result, the eye is drawn up, which emphasizes the scale of the home. Soffit lights are recessed and do the opposite; they pool light on the ground and draw the eye down. Soffit down lights leave the soffit and fascia of the home dark except for the bright, intrusive light of the soffit light itself. 

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Ground mounted up lights "grazing" the stone facade of a client's Nashville home

Lighting Effect and Fixture Placement Are Paramount

The lighting effect we want is known as "grazing"Grazing is a technique used to emphasize a textured surface or architectural element (a stone or brick wall, for example). It's achieved by placing a light source close to the surface, usually 12”-24” out, with the fixture parallel to that surface. The effect this has is to softly illuminate the surface in a visually pleasing way.

Soffit lights are stuck in the soffit; you couldn’t move them if you wanted to. The distance between the light source and the home’s facade are extremely close, 2"-3" out, and results in harsh, bright spots that fail to properly display your home. Ground mounted lights are not fixed; they can be adjusted as necessary for the best effect. 

Bad soffit lightingUFO looking bad soffit lighting

The above examples show less than ideal soffit downlighting. In each example the source of light is visible, causes hot spots on the surface, and doesn't accentuate the architecture of the home.

Up Light Your Gables! Soffit Lights Can't Do That

up lighting a white brick home

Lighting the gables on the home is crucial for any well balanced architectural lighting design. Gables are the triangular peaks between the edges of intersecting roof pitches. Most homes have gables, but because soffit lights are affixed to the the underside of the eaves, they fail to light them by design. When a home doesn't have gable lighting, the scale of the home is lost, you can't view the most interesting architectural elements of the home, and the house can look unnatural and cut off after the first story.  

up lighting architecture on large white home in nashville

How to up light around a garage?

Up lighting is by far the best way to light a garage. This produces a consistent up lighting effect on the home and a gentle wash on the soffit and fascia.  When we up light a garage we're able to place the fixture in the correct location (the correct distance off the home) which produces a more attractive lighting effect. 

recessed in concrete well up lights lighting exterior of garage

recessed up lights lighting brick garage facade on residential home

But we don't want to place a directional fixture here, it's unsightly and potentially a trip hazard. We want to recess the fixture into the driveway for a clean and finished look. We core drill into the drive and recess in a brass well light. We then grind out a wire path, ideally through an existing concrete expansion joint, and run our low voltage wire through this path to a point where we can exit into turf. We then concrete over the area where we grinded our wire path, leaving virtually no evidence once the installation is finished. We're experts at running low voltage wire for lighting.

Recessed in-ground well lights are best solution to up lighting a garage.

Soffit downlights over garageRecessed soffit downlights installed above the garage on Brentwood client's home

Soffit lights have their place, but more often than not, ground mounted up lights are the best way to light the exterior of a home or building. If you're interested in learning more about the differences in soffit and ground mounted lights, get in contact with us! 


If you have any questions or would like to discuss your lighting needs, please feel free to request a free consultation online.

We’re a local business and we've been lighting up Nashville since 2012. Our team has years of experience creating and installing unique and elegant outdoor lighting designs, and providing maintenance and repair services to homes and businesses across Middle Tennessee. Our award-winning company has been voted 1st in Nashville House & Home for landscape lighting for four consecutive years and Best of Houzz for the last three years. 

Located in Goodlettsville, Light Up Nashville services Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin, Hendersonville, Gallatin, the surrounding areas and beyond.

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Tags: Outdoor Lighting, Architectural Lighting

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