The right outdoor lighting can redefine a property, adding not only safety and security but expanding the use of the yard and beautifying the space. Whether starting from scratch or retrofitting an existing yard, the most important trend today is LED lights.

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are energy-efficient, versatile and reduce maintenance. Although installing LEDs is a bigger investment upfront, the savings will come with a reduced electrical bill and longer-lasting bulbs. LED lights will last 50,000 hours compared with 2,000 to 4,000 hours for halogen lights, said Mike Geier, owner of Lightscape Designs, San Diego. Replacing traditional outdoor lights with LEDs can net up to 85 percent in energy savings.

Technology also is transforming the way outdoor lights function. Settings can be changed from a smartphone or computer. Most lighting turns on and off in zones, but new technology is adding even more control. The FX Luminaire Luxor ZDC Outdoor Lighting System allows for zoned lighting, as well as dimming and a multitude of colors.

Outdoor lighting has three basic tasks: safety, security and enhancing the outdoor space. Lighting is essential in areas where people could trip, such as stairs. For beautification, Geier said, people want a "resort-like property."

To get that effect, Geier looks at all the focal points, such as trees, fountains, paths and architectural features. The results should be dramatic, but the lights themselves should be discreet. That is one reason why hardwired lights are still the preferred choice. Solar, he said, does not have the same reliability, output or look.

LED strips are becoming increasingly popular. They can illuminate stair risers for safety or wrap around the bottom of cabinets in an outdoor kitchen for ambience.

Market or string lights have become very popular. "It's a huge trend," Geier said. These lights are great for small patios and pool decks.