9 Outdoor Security Lighting Techniques To Deter Crime

June 27, 2022

Security lighting is an integral component of a crime deterrence strategy that experts call Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). The idea behind this strategy isn’t hard to understand. Committing a crime in a well-lit area is a good way to be seen, if not by authorities, then by people who can call authorities.

How effective lights deter crime is still a subject of debate, but there are cases where that was the case. One example dates back to 1986, when a mall in New York State saw a significant decrease in vehicular break-ins and other criminal activities after installing security lighting. Some studies seem to vouch for its benefits, reporting a reduction in nighttime crime incidents by over 30%.

Perfecting security lighting techniques will be in property owners’ interest, whether residential or commercial. This article will discuss a few practical examples.

1. Allow Overlaps In Continuous Lighting

The first technique is also the most common: continuous lighting. It involves placing fixed light emplacements in specific areas to provide constant illumination during the night, only switching them off at the break of dawn. This technique is so prevalent that websites of lighting services, like https://washingtonoutdoorlighting.com/, show such projects in their portfolios.

One advantage of continuous lighting is that the lamps can create overlapping illumination, given proper positioning. If one light starts failing or refuses to switch on, the other nearby lights can cover for it, although with reduced brightness. Experts recommend positioning the light sources to provide an overlap of 50% or more.

2. Deny Criminals A Look-See With The Glare Method

Most break-ins start with the trespasser passively gathering info about a property’s interior. They may blend in with other passersby, lingering in the area for a little longer to get a glimpse of the people inside and their possessions worth stealing. Break-ins also happen quickly, between 1.5 minutes and 12 minutes, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Security experts say property owners can prevent criminals from doing this with a continuous lighting technique known as the ‘glare method.’ Primarily used in prisons, this technique entails arranging lights to form a barrier so bright that people viewing a property from the outside can’t tell what’s inside. The orientation also prevents disturbing adjacent properties.

Floodlights are the most commonly used lighting for this purpose because of their intense glare. However, their installation has to adhere to guidelines to mitigate light pollution. For instance, floodlights in a property with low ambient brightness can only emit up to 20 kilocandela in pre-curfew hours (dusk to 11:00 p.m.) and 0.5 kilocandela post-curfew (11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.).

3. Perform Controlled Lighting When Near Highways

Limiting the light cone to a specific portion is necessary for properties close to busy roads and other places that restrict area-wide lighting. Experts call this controlled lighting, mainly used in commercial properties (although some residential areas also employ it). Light sources tailored to this technique are typical in walls, fences, and roofs.

The ‘surface method’ comes to mind frequently regarding controlled lighting. Placing enough light sources in a specific area can also light up adjacent areas requiring high security, mainly storehouses, fleet garages, and parking lots. They can also direct illumination towards the main structure instead of away from it.

4. Put Some Continuous Lighting On Reserve

Despite the deterrence that continuous lighting provides, it might not prevent every instance of crime. Criminals may attempt a break-in if they learn, one way or another, that there’s little to no activity inside at night. Relying on one lighting technique won’t be enough in most situations; property owners must employ as many as possible.

In this case, it pays to configure some continuous lighting systems to automatically or manually activate in case of a potential intrusion. This technique, known as standby or crash lighting, can induce a massive psychological toll on the intruder, making them realize that the property isn’t devoid of people as initially thought, and that their cover is blown.

5. Supplement Fixed Lights With Mobile Ones

Continuous and standby lighting may work wonders for fully-built properties, but what about those still being built? While construction sites and similar properties have fixed lights, they’re usually limited to certain areas. It’s especially the case when the electrical wiring has yet to be permanently set.

Mobile lighting systems shine in these situations (no pun intended). Unlike fixed light sources, these lights come with their own generator, allowing them to provide adequate light in sections without an outlet. Deploying enough to cover the entire perimeter is desirable, but experts say the priority should be on the site entrance, and near equipment and supply stockpiles.

One downside of mobile lighting is the noise the generator produces when active. Many mobile lighting systems in the market include generators that make noise between 70 and 90 decibels. This fact might make them ill-suited for use in residential areas, where anything louder than a vacuum cleaner (70 decibels) can be disruptive to neighbors, especially in the late hours.

6. Stay Up To Code With Emergency Lighting

While precisely predicting the next power interruption or blackout is near impossible, adequate lighting remains critical under such conditions, if not more. Unless a property comes with solar panels or other backup power sources, a blackout will always be an opportune time for crime to thrive. Look up ‘night of terror 1977’ on Google, and you’ll have a clear idea.

The safety risks of lack of lighting during such emergencies have prompted authorities to require commercial and industrial properties to install emergency lighting. These battery-powered lights activate as soon as power from the main line is cut. As soon as power’s fully restored, the system goes into charging mode, topping up its batteries for use in the next interruption.

Current safety guidelines warrant two kinds of emergency lights. The first is the sustained type that, as explained just now, activates when the power goes out. The other is the maintained type, which remains lit even during a blackout. Examples of the latter include emergency exit signs in theaters, hospitals, and other facilities.

7. Determine CCTV Lighting Via The Inverse Square Law

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for closed-circuit television (CCTV) security systems has been increasing for seven years. From 47 million CCTV cameras installed in 2015, the figure nearly doubled to 85 million in 2021. Between 2015 and 2018 alone, the rate of increase was 50%.

However, as far as CCTV effectiveness goes, lighting is just as essential as camera performance. Experts say that the amount of illumination necessary to generate clear surveillance footage can be determined using the inverse square law. To put it simply, doubling the distance between the camera and the subject will entail having four times as much illumination.

Optimal positioning is also vital to help the cameras identify subjects of interest more clearly. Most CCTV systems operate with horizontal lighting, which tends to obscure faces in shadows, especially those wearing headcovers. Security analysts say vertical lighting is the best approach for facial recognition.

8. Mount Lights At Least Eight Feet Above Ground

A well-lit property can discourage most criminals from trespassing, but not everyone will stop trying. They can attempt to create a safe zone for infiltration by knocking out lights or control systems within the area. Without anyone monitoring the premises, properties can have a potential blind spot from which criminals can move freely.

Experts advise that light sources should be mounted at least eight feet above the ground to keep them out of reach of tampering. The greater the height, the greater the light spread on the ground. However, for motion-sensing lighting, it pays to know the system’s maximum vertical clearance. Most units in the market can provide adequate illumination up to 25 feet.

9. Commit To Proper Maintenance

A flickering lamp or one that fails to turn on can say a lot about how a property owner takes their security. Criminals can take advantage of these lapses in security lighting, resulting in losses that outweigh the cost of replacing a failing light bulb. Keeping security lighting systems in working condition is a technique in itself.

Sometimes, a light source doesn’t even need to be mechanically broken to affect its capabilities. Outdoor lighting is prone to the elements, meaning dirt and dust can build up on the surface of the lamps, reducing their output. Solving this is a matter of getting a clean cloth and wiping the buildup off the light, which costs considerably less than losing possessions to theft.


Outdoor security lighting contributes significantly to CPTED, whether for a house or brick-and-mortar store. It deters crime by bringing would-be perpetrators into the light for the community to raise the alarm. With proper positioning and orientation, these lights can discourage anyone from pulling off a heist of any magnitude.

These techniques will help residential and commercial property owners, even in a scheduled or impromptu power interruption. The investment necessary may be substantial, but it’s a small price to pay compared to the losses properties may suffer at the hands of thieves and criminals.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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