A Guide For Yardlights.
If you have a yard light and you want some info for selecting one and maintaining them, it depends on which one you have. Let's take a look at some various kinds:

Bucket Lights

Bucket lights are (or used to be) a staple for residential yard lighting and rural street lighting. Here's an example of a bucket light.
They are fairly easy to maintain, due to their open design. One of the most common troubles with bucket lights (due to a lack of maintenance) is a large amount of bugs in the bucket assembly. This can be easily solved by wiping the refractor (the patterned clear part) down or by spraying it. Don't forget to turn off the power! Another common problem is a bad photocell (light control), and this can cause problems such as dayburning,
which is when the light stays on during the day. A new photocell will fix this issue. Another potential problem (this one could be applied to other types of yardlights) is a noisy fixture. In order to fix this, a new ballast is needed. Sometimes, a new application of varnish will fix the problem, but it's tricky to do. For other problems, I recommend going to a lighting forum and stating your problem there. I like lighting-gallery.net. When selecting a bucket light, look for ones that use a 12-inch bucket and use latches to hold the bucket assembly, those are the high quality kind. The others use 9 inch lenses and screws to hold it on, you generally don't want them unless it uses a mercury vapor lamp and mogul socket.


Cobraheads are commonly used for lighting roadways and sometimes large areas. Here's an example of a cobrahead.
Usually, the most you will need to do with them is change a lamp or sometimes clean a refractor. Regarding optics,
cobraheads come in many options. The first step in deciding what optics you want is to figure out where you want it. For yards or
large areas, type 3 and 4 are ideal. But for roadways, type 1, 2 and 3 are recommended.
Then you want to figure out if you want drop-lens or FCO. Here is a comparison between them:

Drop-lens: Provides the best light control, but with increased skyglow compared to FCO.
FCO (flat glass): Crummier light distribution, but with almost no skyglow.
What is skyglow? It's when light shines into the sky, creating a glow. Astronomers don't like it, as it's harder to see stars when skyglow is present.

Another consideration for a cobrahead is what size to get. There are 3 sizes, small, medium and large. Small ones can use up to a 250 watt lamp.
Medium-sized ones can take a 400 watt one. Large cobraheads can use a 1000 watt bulb. Small cobraheads are the most common size for small to medium size roadways.
Medium-sized ones are most commonly used for big roads, highways, and parking lots. Large size versions are often found in big parking lots and sometimes large roadways, but they are getting rarer. How do I know if a cobrahead is small, medium, or lage? It's easy! The easiest way to find it out is to measure the length of the fixture. Small ones are around 27 inches in length, medium 32-36, and large is anything bigger.


These are a kind of fixture that mounts on the wall, and provide light distribution similar to that of a bucket light. Today, they come in either HID, LED, or fluorescent. If you've visited other parts of this website, then you know how I feel out LED when it's outside. So, in that case, HID or fluorescent could be used instead. Wallpacks are often recognizable by their signature block shape. Some models take on other forms, such as a semi-circle.

RLM (barn) Fixtures

RLM lights used to be common a long time ago, and I'm talking about the early 1900s. They were originally available in incandescent, but today they are also found in LED configurations too. Unexpectedly, the LED versions are somewhat suitable for use, as RLM fixtures are mostly used for situations where are different lighting type might not be as suitable. Where are they used? I've seen that nowdays, people install them for a rustic barn look. You might want to use them for that too, but other potential uses could be for sign lighting, or as a garage light.

Post Tops

Post top lighting is commonly used in residential yards and streets. As far as streetlighting being used as yardlighting, post tops are popular for it. Residential versions most commonly use incandescent sockets, though exceptions exist. When post top fixtures are used to light streets, however, they can use a multitude of options. Some use fluorescent, others MH and HPS, some LED, and sometimes even gas! And, like many other streetlights, they come in non-cutoff or FCO options.


Floodlights have been a mildly popular option for yardlighting for a long time. In the early days, they used incandescent lamps. Today, many different varieties of floodlights can be obtained, in MH, fluorescent, incandescent, HPS, and of course LED. Here's a fun fact: I apporve of the LED versions of floodlights as long as they are of the PAR38 style (just the bulb). Otherwise, two distinct fixture types are available. They are the bulb-holder type and the self-contained unit type. Many houses today have the first kind, which consists of a simple assembly with outdoor-rated lamp sockets on them. Some versions have shrouds for the bulbs, which is handy. For the self-contained type, they're commonly used with a "knuckle" type mount that connects to the junction box. These ones generally use HID lamps, though a couple models use fluorescent. How do I know which one to use? To answer this question, it depends on what your needs are. If your yard is a small area and you don't want something complicated, use the kind with the simple assembly of bulb holders. If your yard is bigger, or if you know the light will be on for more than 15 minutes at a time, use the second type, the self-contained one. There's a third case I haven't talked about yet, and this is if you have a big yard but you can't be sure the light won't be on for a while at a time. For this case, you can use a LED floodlight. Another thing to note: Some of the bulb-holder-type fixtures use a motion sensor. Many people know about these, and there's not much else to be said about them.


"Shoebox" lights have always been popular for parking lot lighting, and sometimes for large roads. However, commercial users don't have to be the only ones to use them. Shoeboxes are easily available, and can be used to light your yard too. Why are they called "shoeboxes?" That's because they look square and blocky, like a shoebox. To use these fixtures and many others, you'll need a pole to mount them on.

Landscape Lighting

Low-voltage landscape lighting could be an option for you. In contrast to the other fixtures on this page, landscape lighting utilizes miniature versions of things like streetlights and floodlights to light up your yard while looking nice. A potential comparison could be that landscape is for precision lighting, and other fixtures are for bulk lighting. What kinds of landscape luminaires are available? You can get spotlights for aiming at trees or walls or signs, pathlights that light up paths and walkways like a streetlight, or even well lights for wall-washing. How are they powered? Most landscape lighting are powered by 12 volts AC, so a transformer is needed. These transformers can have a timer built in, or in some models a photocell. To send power to the fixtures, you'll need to bury some special low-voltage power cable. It is safer than line voltage, but has the disadvantage of needing to be large size to compensate for voltage drop. It's for this reason that this kind of lighting generally isn't used for long distances, and for long distances regular lighting is used instead. What kinds of bulbs are used? Today, landscape fixtures come in either halogen or LED. Some of the LED models are integrated, and if you've been to other pages on this site you know what to do with those. That leaves halogen, which has the advantage of having the bulbs replaceable. If you want to, you can swap out the halogens for LEDs, and this is actually a good thing because it means a lower voltage drop. Why isn't low-voltage landscape lighting used more? There are two answers to this, and it's the voltage drop (like I said before) but also that these fixtures don't make much light. I found a model of pathlight and spotlight and the pathlight made slightly less than 40 lumens, and just under 200 for the spotlight. Because of this, it's impractical to use them to light large areas.

Lamp Types

What kind of lamp (and ballast) will your yardlight use? Some common options include HPS, MH/PSMH, and MV.

HPS (High Pressure Sodium)

High pressure sodium lamps are probably the most common bulb type used in streetlighting, as they provide high efficiency light while being relatively inexpensive. HPS bulbs require a ballast and ignitor/starter. They have a distinct yellow-orange color, although some are more yellow than others.

MH (Metal Halide)

MH bulbs are popular for indoor areas and for outdoor floodlights. It makes a white light that's sometimes better than LED.
Metal halide comes in two varieties, probe-start and pulse-start. Probe-start is probably the most common kind of MH lamp in the higher wattages, but anything below 150w is pulse-start.
Probe-start works by having a starting probe in the arc tube. However, this often causes color shifting. Due to this, pulse-start lamps are getting more popular.
It doesn't have a starting probe, so it has to use a high voltage to strike an arc. For streetlights, pulse-start is used unless it was made before 2008.

MV (Mercury Vapor)

Mercury vapor was once extremely common for outdoor lighting, as it is more efficient than incandescent and was relatively inexpensive.
Before 2008, you could get MV fixtures. Today, if you want a MV fixture, you can use a MH ballast without ignitor, but this trick only works for wattages 175 watts and up.
If you're unsure what to do, send me an email. You can also use a HPS ballast without ignitor, but only if the ballast and lamp are at least 250 watts. You also have to match the wattages.
Clear MV bulbs create a white light with a hint of blue and green.
Phosphor-coated ones usually make a warmer light, with higher color rendering capabilities.
Mercury vapor is sometimes seen as inefficient, but it's worth it if you desire the unique light that it makes.

Ceramic Metal Halide

Ceramic metal halide (CMH) is a relatively new lamp option that provides high efficiency and awesome-quality light. In fact, it's common to realize a CRI rating of the high 80s to the 90s. However, they can be tricky to find. Many lighting makers offer it in a few special fixtures, but it's also possible to retrofit current HID fixtures to use CMH. How do I retrofit? It depends on what kind of fixture you're using. If your metal halide fixtures uses a 70, 100, or 150 watt lamp, then a CMH bulb will fit right in. If it's 250, 400, or 1000, then it gets trickier. Some retrofit lamps are available, but they are rare.


Compact fluorescent bulbs used to be and are still common in outdoor lighting. They're often found in wallpacks and other small fixtures, but sometimes CFls are used for larger-scale installations. You might know them as the "curly-cue" bulbs, but it's more than just that. Many people I know didn't like them, and for household purposes they're mainly been replaced by LED. However, in commercial situations, they remain a popular choice as they are low-cost, last a while, and give off OK light. Before we continue, let's talk about the two types of CFL. The first type is the kind with an integrated ballast. These ones are used in homes and are noted by their large bases, as this is where the ballast is. Also, this kind of sometimes called CFLi. The second type is the kind without an integrated ballast. This type is usually used in commercial fixtures, but is sometimes used in residential desk lamps. These types of CFL can't be interchanged! Because of this, pay extra attention to what kind of CFL the luminaire uses.


The classic incandescent bulb has been around since the beginning. While not as efficient as other lighing types, they're sometimes used as heat lamps or when a decorative bulb is needed. A handy property of them is that the filament provides a spot source of light. Some fixtures require this in order to take full advantage of their optical properties.

How to Get Them

Finding the yardlights described on this page can be tricky. Many big-box retail stores only have a few types, and today they're commonly LED. However, fear not, as they can still be obtained. The first step is to figure out what specific model of fixture you're planning to buy. From there, it depends on what ways the manufacturer provides in order to obtaining one. For cobraheads, bucket lights, and post tops, it's actually pretty simple. The trick to getting them is to find a commercial electric supply store, then asking for a quote for the fixture of choice. The most common way to do this is to find that fixture's spec sheet and assemble an ordering code, then ask that electric supply to get a quote for that code. Not all supply stores are able to get things from the manufacturer you want. so call around.

For other fixtures like wallpacks, they can be ordered online.

There's always more info to come, so stay tuned.

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