PORCH LIGHTS Create a mood, not a nuisance

Each and every color and type of glass can make a difference in atmosphere.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A porch light should attract more than moths.
The right light can add dignity to a house, creating a warm glow to greet guests. But a light too big or small -- or just the wrong style -- detracts from a home's character.
"Porch lights should feel like they belong without drawing too much attention to themselves," says Bo Sullivan, an architectural historian and senior designer for Rejuvenation, a Portland company specializing in period lighting.
Even the color of the glass makes a difference, says Shirley Allen, owner of the Light Shop in Kansas City, Mo. For example, white glass adds the proper degree of crispness to houses painted white or gray. Ivory, amber or stone-colored glass creates a softer look for cream, taupe or beige homes. Art glass creates interest for dark residences.
Allen recently installed a white-glass light on the front of a gray Prairie Village, Kan., house. The black frame of the fixture plays off the black doors and window frames. The wall-mounted light is bold and modern in keeping with the lines of the ranch-style home.
"It's the finishing touch the exterior needed," says Cindy Kelly, who owns the home with her husband, Craig. Before, there were only downlights in the soffit. No porch light marked the stairs and entrance. "Now people will use the front door instead of the one in the breezeway."
Before you buy
Here's what to consider if you're searching for a porch light:
URatings. Underwriters Laboratories define what's safe to use outdoors. UL Damp is for an outdoor fixture that needs protection from rain. UL Wet can be exposed to direct rainfall and doesn't require protection.
UStyle. If you're not familiar with your home's architectural style, the best way to choose a light is by adjectives you would use to describe your house. For example, Sullivan says, the straightforward lines of Craftsman light fixtures would go well with a "simple, boxy" house. An English Tudor one with its curves and details would look best with a house described as "charming, romantic."
UPlacement. Wall-mounted fixtures have a downside if they're hung next to your front door. "The spider webs and dead moths will be right at eye level," Sullivan says.
UScale. A larger fixture works well with a two-story house, Allen says. A smaller one typically looks better on a one-story home.
UMaterial. Shiny, polished fixtures show spots quickly. Iron and steel eventually will rust in the air and moisture. So, your best bets for finishes are oil-rubbed bronzes and dark antique brasses. "Outside, metal wants to return where it came from -- the dirt," Sullivan says.
USafety. Make sure your address number is clearly illuminated, making it easy for emergency services to find your house. The light should be positioned so it shines on stairs to prevent falls. You want to be able to see your keys when you get home. "It's important to replace burned-out fixtures as soon as possible," says Angela Mickalide, deputy director of education and outreach for the Home Safety Council in Washington, D.C.
ULight bulbs. The maximum brightness your porch light should be is 60 watts, out of respect for neighbors, say Allen and Sullivan. Compact fluorescent bulbs are more energy-efficient so you won't have to change them as often as incandescent ones. But fluorescents don't produce the warm, soft light incandescents can.
Allen keeps his porch light on constantly.
Using a dimmer switch, he cranks up the light when he's entertaining guests.
But most of the time, the light is low so neighborhood moths don't party on the porch.

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