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Wooden canopy to be built (if I'm lucky)

I've checked out several web sites with designs for wooden enclosures & 
canopies, and have a vague idea what I'm going to be doing. Let me mention: 
this is my first attempt at such a project. The elecrical wiring and mounting 
of the lighting is not nearly as daunting as handling the carpentry part of 
the project. This will not be a box mounted over a glass canopy, but rather 
an all-in-one type piece.

Do any of you use acrylic or plexiglass as opposed to glass (or nothing at 
all) to shield the fixtures from the water?

Are there any hard and fast rules on what wood to use or not use? A local 
lumberyard suggested I use basswood, as they claim it's lighter even than 
pine. I've never even heard of it. 

Also, are there any taboos on finishing type products (shellac, 
polyurethanes, stains, etc.) that should not be used?

Any general tips, shortcuts, errors to be avoided, etc. would be appreciated 
as well.  

Thanks in advance,