Post, Pipe Lighting vs. Cap Lighting for Steps and Decks

Lighting your outdoor living space is an important element to consider if you plan on getting the most of it when the sun goes down. While they might be great for the occasional BBQ or luau, tiki torches just aren’t a practical solution to lighting your patio or deck! Instead, you need lighting solutions that set the tone and act as a functional part of your outdoor living space. In these situations, the decision comes down to post and pipe lighting vs. cap lighting.

These different styles of lighting serve specific purposes when lighting outdoor living spaces—especially steps and decks. It’s worth understanding how they work, what they’re for and how to best-use them on your property before committing to one option vs. the other. Often, homeowners will find that a combination of both is the best approach.

Here’s a look at the differences between post and pipe lighting, and cap lighting, and how to best-apply them to liven up your outdoor living space after the sun goes down.

Post, Pipe Lighting

Sometimes also called indirect lighting, post and pipe lighting feature an open-faced base. Their purpose is in lighting walkways—not only to add ambiance and style, but in a practical sense, to ensure people can see where they’re stepping. This style of lighting is also common for security lighting, since it illuminates pathways around the house.

Post and pipe lighting casts light 4-8ft, depending on your setup. This means you don’t need to cluster them. Instead, you can use them to create a perimeter around your deck or put them at the base of steps to properly illuminate these areas. They’re a great perimeter feature anywhere there’s a post (or where there could be one)—hence the name.

Not only do post and pipe lights create ambiance in their lighting style, they’re also accent pieces themselves. Choose from different finishes and ornamental designs to create an aesthetic that fits with your deck and the exterior of your home. For example, you might choose a brushed nickel finish to fit with your white vinyl decking and brushed deck furniture.

Ultimately, post and pipe lighting offers a functional light source for your steps and decks. This is the lighting you’ll rely on to cast enough illumination for you to see what you’re doing—or to give you peace of mind in securing the perimeter of your home and any nearby entryways. 

Cap Lighting

As the name implies, cap lighting “caps off” posts around your decking. While it might look similar to post and pipe lighting, cap lighting plays a functionally different role in lighting your outdoor living spaces.

Cap lights create more of a glow around your perimeter, rather than casting downlight for safety and security. This light is more for visual esthetics, as opposed to functionality. If you’re looking to light your deck for after-dark festivities or practical use, it’s best to forgo cap lighting for post lighting, which offers much more reliable illumination for activities.

So, what’s the point of cap lighting, if it’s not practical for security or activity lighting? The real answer is ambiance. Some people prefer the soft glow of cap lighting to set the mood outdoors. Even then, it’s recommended to have post lighting to ensure your safety outdoors after dark. The last thing you want is to take a tumble down your deck stairs because the cap lighting didn’t cast enough light on the first step!

There’s just no matching the practicality of post and pipe lighting. Cap lighting is merely a supplement. While it looks nice, it needs a functional complement to make it worth the investment. This is often when people choose to install a post and pipe system first, with cap lighting as an afterthought.

Combine the Two Styles

It’s not uncommon to see post, pipe lighting and cap lighting combined to create an encompassing environment on decks. Many homeowners even choose to have these lights on different switches, to alternate between practical lighting and mood-setting space.

If you’re lighting your deck, stairs and pathways, be sure to use the correct lighting to ensure these trafficked areas are both safe and serene. Use post, pipe lighting in areas where visibility is key and use cap lighting to define perimeters and set the mood. Used together, it creates a comprehensive opportunity to enjoy your outdoor space after the sun goes down.

Lighting for Practicality and Aesthetics

While post, pipe and cap lighting serve different purposes, they can come together in beautiful, practical ways to illuminate an outdoor living space. Post, pipe lighting offers great practicality, while cap lighting sets the mood and creates ambiance. Together, they make a deck comfortable, safe, welcoming and versatile.

Whether your intention is to keep the party going after the sun goes down or to create a secluded space that’s dreamy and urbane, the right lighting will make it a reality. Start with post, pipe and cap lighting for your steps and decks, to get the core lighting elements right.