Beauty, usefulness, safety, and security are some of the positive attributes of a proper lighting design, allowing you to highlight focal points and hide eyesores. The first thing to consider is how you want to use the various areas of your outdoor space. Do you entertain a lot? Do you need pathways, decks, and patios lit? The second thing would be to ask yourself what you would like to see at night. Start with the house and then the landscape, highlighting focal trees and shrubs throughout the garden. Think about how you want to view your outdoor areas from within your home at night. It’s nice to be able to see lit up areas through every window. Keep in mind the shadows that outdoor lights create, especially when lighting a focal point. Is there a dark area on your grounds or where you park your car? Lighting adds an element of security as well.
It’s not easy for most people during the day to envision a scene as it might appear lit at night. That’s where a professional lighting designer or landscape designer with lighting experience comes in. They understand strategic placement of the right fixtures and their effectiveness. For instance, you might just go for the commonly used low voltage fixtures along a path or driveway, but a designer may suggest casting a more organically dramatic light across the driveway, from a fixture mounted high up on a tree, through its branches.
Three of the most important ways to approach outdoor lighting: 1) Down lighting, usually from a tree, 2) Up lighting, usually aimed at an architectural feature or beautiful plant to create dramatic shadows, and 3) Cross lighting, to dramatically illuminate a focal point from two directions, eliminating shadows. Light intensity and “beam spray” are also important. Equal brightness and balance are pertinent in a good design. Homeowners tend to load up these fixtures with the brightest bulbs possible, and the result is a glaring landscape.
All decisions on architectural features such as stone, brick, stucco, and roof lines deserve attention. Winding walkways, circular driveways, and plants all anchor the landscape and need illumination. That’s what landscape lighting is all about. You must also decide if you want the lights to function automatically. Automation ranges from a simple set clock, smart timer or scene, to phasing changes and security settings like “gone to bed”, “away on vacation”, or “be back shortly” scene variables.
There’s a lot of discussion these days regarding using LED outdoor lighting to retrofit bulbs, with many energy saving benefits. The majority of recent outdoor lighting installations are now LED. What if you have an older existing landscape lighting system? Can you convert to LEDs? The answer is yes, under most circumstances. Most fixtures can now accept both LED and Halogen bulbs. Converting an old fixture to LED costs only 20% less than buying a brand new fixture, so it’s often best just to use new fixtures. Do not to touch Halogen bulbs with your fingers which could shorten their life span.
There is a lot to know about all the lighting options open to you. Spot and Flood lights are perfect for wall washing, flood lighting, and general up lighting of trees and houses.
(*Note: Don’t overload your landscape with up lighting to avoid overwhelming the space).
Do-it-yourself or hire a professional? First know that yes, you might save some money by doing it all yourself, but the time and aggravation involved usually isn’t worth it. You will probably need to hire a professional to engineer the system’s integration with the transformer. If you are not working with a designer to assist you in your layout, here are some other tips to follow for making sure everything is done safely and effectively:
1. Make a little sketch of the area you want to light.
2. It’s best to create “zones” in order to group fixtures in a specific area to share a cable run, starting with the closest to the transformer first. Each area will have its own cable run to its own landscape lighting transformer. You can expect to have three cable runs of 80-100 watts for each 300 watt transformer circuit. To make sure there are no voltage drops or damage, there are hub systems you can purchase to reduce the number of runs and manage the voltage drops.
3. Add up the total wattage of all the bulbs you will be using, in order to determine the correct transformer size you need.
4. If you are not working with a professional installer, you will need to calculate the cable gauge and length needed to reach the transformer. A good rule of thumb is to figure on 100 feet of 12 gauge cable for every 100 watts. It’s a good idea to figure in 30% more cable than your calculations. For a more specific calculation, multiply the amount of wattage per zone by the cable length in feet.
5. Purchasing Supplies: A) The first items to buy are the landscape lighting fixtures. You need to choose the correct flood and well lights, path and area lights, and bulbs for the lighting effect that you want. B) When buying the transformers, figure for every 240 watts of bulbs, you need 300 watts of transformer. It is better to buy two smaller transformers instead of a single large one. C) Splices and connectors should be purchased next. You will need two connectors per fixture, plus extras for splicing the main cable and hubs. Any accessories, such as replacement bulbs, hub systems, and wire ties should be purchased last.
6. Installation: A) Assemble all the fixtures. B) Lay everything out where they are to be installed. C) Mount the transformer boxes. D) Lay out the wire. Whether copper wire or a marine-grade tin-coated wire, which are both good choices, make sure they are “sleeved” in any locations where you or your gardener might dig, such as in flower beds. E) Determine how many lights are run off each wire (see above guidelines for wattages), leaving enough room for the potential of adding some in the future. F) Before burying the wiring, do a voltage read on each fixture to make sure all the connections are good. G) Check the direction of each light’s aim at night. You don’t want lights shining in people’s faces. H) Last thing is to bury the wire, 2-6 inches being sufficient.
7. Solar Lights: Most landscape designers avoid using solar lighting for the following reasons: A) They might be cost effective for some small DIY projects, but they just do not do the job. B) They do not provide the bright light that LED and Halogen provide, casting a cold blue light. C) Long lasting, beautifully made fixtures are not really available yet. For now, most professionals choose wired low-voltage LED lighting, because it’s energy-efficient, provides long-lasting fixtures and bulbs, and is easier to install and maintain than halogen lighting.
8. Pool Lighting: In the old days pools usually had only one glaring light at the deep end that beamed through most of the length of a pool for nighttime swimming. Not now! Pools have become “water features” and an integral focal point of a home’s landscaping, hence pool lighting has come a long way. Now it’s all about LED systems that can transform your pool into an “aquatic experience”. There are system options with colors that can be customized and programmed to give off soft glows that change throughout the night. There’s also fibre-optic lighting to create a starry night-like effect. These systems can be installed under the coping or in pipes embedded in the walls. Pool fountains and cascades can be dramatically shown off at night. The idea is to create an enchanting ambience to suit your mood and senses.
9. Motion and light sensors only detect rapid motion changes, and many are combined with burglar alarm systems. You would not rely on a sensor light for anything other than security or safety purposes. When exposed to all the elements, they also require constant inspection to avoid corrosion of the batteries and acid deterioration that would cause them to be completely inoperable.
Lighting your landscape is so often overlooked or not installed to be aesthetically appealing. Whether the look you are going for is sleekly modern, classically traditional, rustic, or Asian, there is no end to how many ways you can play with light and shadow to create all sorts of special effects in your landscape!
By Wendy Rains