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How To Select And Look After Outdoor Lights

This article is designed to be a comprehensive guide to selecting and looking after your outdoor lighting. With very little effort and some knowledge we can ensure that you make the correct purchase and that your lights will look good and give excellent service for many years. It should be read in conjunction with the advice at the bottom of our outdoor lighting category page.

Safety & Outdoor Lighting

All outdoor electrical installations in the UK must comply with the latest regulations and must be protected by an RCD. RCD stands for Residual Current Device and will protect you or your pets from an electrical shock should something go wrong. It works by shutting off the electrical supply very quickly should it detect an earth fault such as a person or animal touching a live feed.

These regulations exist for your protection and safety and not just to make your life difficult. We would always recommend that you consult a qualified electrician prior to any outside electrical installation. This will enable you to make a more informed choice about the cost implications of positioning certain types of lights in your garden or outside area.

Generally, there are two methods of routing cables to your outdooor lights, either above or below ground. In each case, the cable must be offered some sort of protection from damage. You can also power and switch your outdoor lighting from an indoor socket under certain circumstances. In this case, it must be protected by a plug in RCD.

Common Materials Used

Every garden light we supply has to meet your specific requirements. It must represent excellent value for money, be of good quality and provide many years of service. Any fitting found not to meet these requirements is withdrawn from sale. Below is a list of the most common materials used in manufacture, together with their advantages and disadvantages.

ABS Plastic

ABS stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene. It is a plastic copolymer that has many advantages over other materials. It is cheap to buy, corrosion, impact and abrasion resistant and suitable for any situation including coastal locations. Coastal locations can be very aggressive due to the high salt levels in the air and the abrasive sand carried in the wind. It has the disadvantage that the colour may fade and it may become brittle after prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Painted Pressed Steel

Painted pressed steel fittings are relatively inexpensive to buy and can last for a considerable time if carefully looked after. They have the advantage that they can be finished in any colour. They are not suitable for coastal locations due to the high salt levels and abrasive sand particles suspended in the air. They will rust very quickly if the paint finish is damaged or uncared for.

Cast Aluminium

Cast aluminium lights are reasonably priced and will last a very long time if properly cared for. They are normally chromate treated before the final finish is applied. The fitting is treated with a layer of chromate gel prior to being finished. This layer offers excellent adhesion to the top layer and offers longer anti-corrosion properties. Although aluminium will not rust, if the protective paint and chromate layer are damaged, it will begin to oxidize almost immediately. This can be avoided and the lifetime of your outdoor light extended with a little preventative maintenance.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a steel alloy that is made by adding chromium and a small amount of nickel, molybdenum or manganese to steel. For it to be classed as stainless it must contain at least 11% chromium. The most common grades of stainless steel will contain between 11% and 16% chromium and are the most likely grades to be used in mainstream stainless steel lights. Marine grade stainless steel is the most corrosion resistant and also one of the most expensive. It is important to remember that although stainless steel is very corrosion resistant, it will in fact stain if subjected to harsh environments. Stainless steel garden lights can vary hugely in price depending on the grade of stainless used in their manufacture. Higher-grade stainless lights are very well suited to coastal locations and will last a lifetime if properly looked after.


Brass lights are either cast brass or sheet brass. Cast brass fittings are considerably heavier than those made from sheet brass. Sheet brass garden lights are often handmade and attract a premium price due to the cost of brass and the labour involved. When used outdoors, we recommend that brass lights are not lacquered. Lacquer does not withstand long periods of sunlight and will eventually degrade and begin to peel. The only option is to remove the fitting and have it re-lacquered or have it removed. Un-lacquered brass outdoor lights will age and weather in time and look fantastic. They can be brought back to as new by using any proprietary fine metal polish. Brass garden lights will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance and are well suited to coastal locations.


Copper garden lights are almost always hand made, with a few exceptions. They are considerably more expensive to buy than most other types of lighting. They are usually made from sheet copper that has been joined together with the use of solder or rivets. Copper will not rust or deteriorate in any way and is perfectly suited to harsh environments. Again, we recommend that when used outdoors, copper should not be lacquered. Un-lacquered copper outdoor lights will age and weather in time and eventually will be covered in Verdi Gris. They can be brought back to as new by using any proprietary fine metal polish. Copper garden lights will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance and are well suited to coastal locations.

Preventative maintenance

It really is a case of a little goes a long way. By spending a few minutes two or three times a year, you can greatly extend the life of your carefully chosen garden lights. Two factors cause the most damage to outdoor lights, condensation and the good old British weather.

Condensation is created within the fitting and is caused by temperature fluctuations within it, caused by the heat of the light bulb and the cold air outside. Over time, this can result in deterioration of the metal contacts within the lamp holder. This can easily be avoided by applying a small amount of Vaseline or petroleum jelly to the light bulb base when it is first installed and at subsequent changes. This will ensure that the contacts are protected against the elements.

Over the years we have tried many ways to protect our outdoor lights from the elements. The winter is the worst time of all, with salt from the roads contaminating the rain and the fluctuations in temperature. We have tried a number of products and found most to be ineffective.

Good old WD40 does very well but has to be applied monthly to be of any benefit. The best by a long way are two products called ACF-50 and ACF corrosion block. ACF stands for Anti Corrosion Formula and the corrosion block speaks for itself. As with all good things, we found it by accident. Jan and I both own motorcycles and have been using this for many years on the bikes to stop winter corrosion and it has done just that.

As a result, we tried it on outdoor light fittings and found that it worked just as well. It should be applied to your outdoor light two or three times a year with a cloth or paintbrush and it will protect the finish. Once applied, do not wipe it off as it will be invisible but creates a barrier to the elements. The corrosion block is best suited to harsh environments such as a coastal or seaside location but is applied in exactly the same way.

It is important for me to stress that no-one at Universal Lighting has any association or financial interest with Adams Aviation Supply Company or any of their products; indeed we do not even sell them. We do have some stock of ACF-50 for our own use, so if you would like a small sample to try when you purchase your outdoor light, please let us know and we will happily supply you with some free of charge.

If you take a little time to make sure that you select the best material for your garden light and follow the preventative guidelines above, you will have an outdoor light that will look good and give you many years of trouble free service.

If you require any further help or advice on outdoor lighting or any other aspect of home lighting, please contact us for friendly, honest and down to earth advice.