Take a walk through New Orleans’ French Quarter after dark and you’ll quickly notice what sets the area apart from the rest of the city: gas lighting. Whether you’re trying to get a historical project just right or add flair to new construction, exterior gas lanterns can help. And because those lanterns typically work with propane as well as natural gas, you can take that warm glow anywhere.
Here are four tips for working with propane gas lighting.
Know your fuel options
Gas lighting also has deep roots in Jan Clouse’s Charleston, South Carolina, market. Clouse is the president and founder of Carolina Lanterns, which makes high-end brass and copper lanterns. The city’s infrastructure dates to the early 18th century and access to natural gas can be inconsistent, especially in older neighborhoods and the surrounding barrier islands. That surprises many newcomers to the area. “They’ll say they don’t have natural gas on the house and they don’t realize they can have propane,” she says.
Find the right spot
Gas lanterns are often wall-mounted by doors to highlightentryways. But that’s not the only place they can be used. “Post lighting is an excellent option when used to light streets, driveways, walkways, or garden areas away from the home,” says Drew Bevolo, owner of Bevolo Gas & Electric Lights, whose copper lanterns can be found throughout its hometown of New Orleans. In those applications, the low glare created by the gas flame is an advantage.
The lanterns can also be suspended, using a yoke to keep the gas line stable.
Propane outdoor lighting is popular in builder Richard Laughlin’s rustic Texas Hill Country market as well. The gas flame in exterior wall sconces and post-mounted luminaires “gives a really nice ambient light and goes with the glow of the town,” he told Build With Propanein 2014.
Understand design and scale
Gas lanterns’ long history means there are plenty of styles to choose from. Some of Clouse’s projects built today in historical areas in Charleston use patterns popular in the 19th century. “You have to make sure the proportion is right and that it’s the right period,” she says. “You want it to look like [the project] was put back in the 1800s.”
Lantern makers such as Carolina and Bevolo also offer modern and transitional styles for projects that don’t have the need or desire to tailor their design to a particular era. Clouse and Bevolo say style and size are two of the biggest factors to consider when specifying gas lanterns.
The height at which the lantern is placed can also impact the design and ensures the project is illuminated as intended. Lantern makers can help find the best product for the project by studying application photos, architectural drawings, and measurements supplied by the design and construction team. Additionally, natural metals such as copper patina over time, requiring minimal maintenance.
Pay attention to detail
Clouse hires certified gas installers to put in her gas lanterns, and she often accompanies them to the job. “A lot of [builders] use a plumber instead,” she says, noting that gas installers are more attuned to the needs of gas systems, such as avoiding crimps in the line.
“Talk to an expert, be educated on propane, and know where your gas line needs to come out of the house” in order for the lantern to be placed where the design calls for it to be, Clouse says. “And cheaper isn’t always better.”
Lower-cost luminaire options may require more fuel to operate for the desired duration. “Some people may think they’re saving money buying a cheaper lantern,” she says. “But they’re burning [that savings] up in gas.”
Additionally, she points designers working with propane to lantern models with solid metal top panels, rather than glass. This avoids reducing the quality of light over time with soot buildup on glass-topped lanterns.
Both Clouse and Bevolo sell electric versions that look similar to gas lanterns but feature a lamp instead of a flame. Clouse has a single question for customers weighing the two options: “Do you want reading [light] or romance? That answers it right there.”