When we think of lighting steps, most probably the first thing we think of is a light fitting which can be recessed into a side wall. This can be a good solution but there are often better ways.
This review concentrates on exterior lights because this type of light can also be used indoors. It’s worth remembering that recessed indoor lights also have to be waterproof because most flooring is often washed.
One of the most important considerations in choosing the luminaire is: who will use the steps? In residential applications where people are familiar with the location, the luminaires simply need to highlight the location of the stairs and make the steps visible. Research shows that the illumination on the top and bottom step is the most important.
However, in spaces used by the public or where people may not expect steps, you have to take much more care over the design of the lighting. This is particularly important where there will be older people or those who have difficulty with their vision. You will almost certainly require a higher level of illumination. To some people, a dark shadow can appear to be a step or obstacle. Uniformity of illumination is much more important in these public or sensitive areas.
If you are designing steps for a public space, you should check what guidance is available. Apart from national legislation, there is plenty of help in documents supplied by disability and equalities organisations. One of the best guides is Lighting Guide 16 (better known as LG16, ‘Lighting for Stairs’) from the Society of Light and Lighting, which was published in 2017.
I would avoid using dynamic or kinetic lighting because it can be very unsettling for people with impaired vision and may even cause them to fall.
The luminaires need to be IP67 or IP68. Remember that the cable entry is either under the ground or behind a wall so you need to make sure the gland or cable joint is properly sealed. The fittings can also experience extremes of temperature; receiving direct sunlight during the day and maybe freezing conditions in winter.
Similarly, always think about installation and maintenance. Step lights are often a lot more difficult to remove. For this reason, also make sure that the cabling is in continuous ducts.
This is an ideal way to illuminate small steps. The 40 mm (1.6”) diameter luminaire is recessed into the side wall and projects light in a narrow beam, (12°) across the steps. Beams of 30 and 50 degrees are also available for wider steps and landings.
An advantage of the Eclipse is that it has an ‘eyelid’. This increases the illumination on the steps and prevents any upward light. It means the installation is glare-free and more efficient. The eyelid also protects the luminaire lens from damage.
The Eclipse has a really attractive anodised aluminium finish and would be totally suitable in high-end residential applications.
It only consumes 2.5W and is available in four colour temperatures from 2700K to 6000K.
Lux rating: Good for small steps
This luminaire type is the classic way to illuminate steps. The one we looked at is 190 mm (7.5”) square overall and many other sizes and shapes are available. Typically, this 7W version would be used in a large garden or medium-sized public space.
The LEDs are mounted high up inside behind toughened glass. The light is directed via finely shaped horizontal ridges which give the luminaire an attractive clean-cut appearance. The beam has a wide sideways distribution so you can illuminate several steps from one luminaire. It also has a good forward throw across the steps. No light is emitted upwards.
The data sheet is an example of what all manufacturers should be providing. For example, it gives the lifetime at three different ambient temperatures. If you are connecting several luminaires on one circuit, the data sheet tells you the in-rush current. It also gives the light output with 3000K or 4000K LEDs.
And just one final bonus, Bega guarantees to keep spare parts for 20 years.
We obtained the sample from Bega’s UK distribution partner KB Lighting.
Lux rating: This is what a step light should be
Where you have wide or curved steps, this is the perfect solution. This is a flexible linear strip that could be used on the underside of the stair nosings. You could also use it on the upper surface if you protected it with a strip of polycarbonate or toughened, non-slip glass.
It emits plenty of light and is more suited to a city centre rather than a residential garden. The line of light is totally uniform and you could use the Underscore to produce visually interesting effects where you have runs of several steps.
Unsurprisingly for a product called In/Out, it can equally be used indoors.
- Lux rating: Linear and uniform
Where there are wide steps, mounting lights in the side walls may not be sufficient to illuminate the full width. An attractive and very functional solution is to mount linear luminaires under the nosings. The steps then become an architectural feature of the open space. This method of lighting is also very legible for people with poor vision.
The Adonis Hydra has a narrow cross-section (20 x 25 mm), is fully weatherproof and at IP67, it can fit under the nosing of the steps. Being IK10, it should be strong enough to resist accidental impact from people’s footsteps.
The opal diffuser spreads the light uniformly over 180 degrees so both the treads and risers will be illuminated. An unusual feature of Adonis Hydra is the wide range of colour temperatures from 2400K all the way to 7200K so you could match the light to almost any surface. Plus, LED Linear claim a colour tolerance of one bin, three McAdam ellipse.
Lux rating: Precision appearance
You can’t see a ghost! This light fixture has been designed to be invisible. It does this by being cast into the concrete wall or steps. All you can see by day or night is the illuminated surface of the supporting wall. In fact, you could use The Ghost on any stone cladding. It can also be used in wood panelling.
In practical terms, the luminaire is completely installed from behind. The linear LEDs are in a slim IP65 body which is fixed to a cast-in housing box. There are no visible fixings from the front; simply a slot in the wall.
The Ghost is available in various shapes and sizes with a typical output of between 200 and 300 lm.
Lux rating: A clever idea
WE-EF has a large range of solidly constructed, highly engineered steplights. They can be horizontal or vertical profiles, surface or recessed, and fitted with diffusers or louvres.
The sample we looked at had a prismatic polycarbonate diffuser which was slightly opalised to spread the light. The steplight is IP66 and impact resistant to IK10. Although the visible dimensions are 270 x 65mm high, the recess depth is quite large at 120 mm. However, this depth does contain the driver, adjustable fixing brackets and glanded exit for the flying lead.
The finished appearance is very clean and simple with only two 5 mm, recessed vandal-proof fixing screws being visible. The dark grey polyester paint finish is slightly textured and the overall look is of a very high quality luminaire.
Lux rating: Top marks for build quality and appearance