Lighting up the Night Landscape

New concepts are spurring lighting for all types of projects.
By: Craig A. Shutt

With the growth of interest in outdoor living, homeowners are looking to put their new outdoor spaces into the best light. And what better way to do that than with outdoor lighting? New technologies and a rise in popularity have made lighting techniques a key addition to outdoor projects.

"Landscape lighting really, totally enhances the home," says Kathy McGuckin, CKBA, lighting manager for the Philadelphia region of Ferguson Enterprises. "More people are spending money on landscaping and outdoor living, and they really want to show it off." Such additions also enhance the home's look and improve security, she notes. "Lighting can add depth to a home's appearance and make it easier to see," she explains. "A house without lighting looks flat and is harder to find."

Scott Gregor, CR, CGR, CAPS, owner of Master Plan Remodeling Design/Build in Portland, Ore., sees interest in outdoor lighting expanding into smaller homes. "Few people have illumination on their homes, and most of the ones that do are larger-scale homes with professional landscaping," he says. "But I'm seeing smaller-scale homes adding it now. They want to see something exciting when they drive up." In his area, he sees homes keeping up their Christmas lights from Halloween to Easter. "That's a good sign that they are looking to add interest to their homes."

High-Watt Impact With Low-Voltage Fixtures

New low-voltage wiring has made adding interest possible, both say. "There are a lot of lamp applications that are easy to wire with low-voltage products," Scott says. Their use eliminates the code issues for running line-voltage wiring through conduit. "We can run low-voltage wiring through flower beds and other locations without a lot of exposure. It's more like using an extension cord."

Kathy agrees that low-voltage applications have created new opportunities. "Low-voltage wiring can provide different techniques with the same fixtures, just by changing to different bulbs," she explains. Both use halogen lamps most often. Scott specifies mostly PAR-halogen lamps rather than floodlights, while Kathy uses MR-16 halogens. Both provide long life and good color rendition for landscaping.

Timers also offer more options and are being used more frequently, both say. Scott warns against using small timers because they don't offer longevity or durability.

"Timers are becoming more sophisticated and will be more widely used in the future," he says. "They still represent an emerging trend. If you think ahead to where to spot them to control different lighting areas, they can be used for enhancements and also for security to make the home look occupied at all times."

The Art of Lighting

Lighting is used both in front yards, to illuminate a walkway or enhance a new façade, as well as in back for all types of outdoor-living areas, landscaping and other activities. "Ponds are becoming more popular, and they can be lit up to add a nice amenity," Kathy says. Pools, patios, pergolas and gazebos all are gaining in popularity, and lighting them well adds the finishing touch. Kathy notes that the sign of a professional layout is that only the effects of the lighting are seen, not the lights themselves. "Customers want to see their walk or plants, not the light bulbs or fixtures," she says. Scott agrees. He uses dimmers and places fixtures beneath bushes to illuminate up through them, which can be done easily with low-voltage options.

Low-voltage lighting also minimizes glare or hot spots that can disturb neighbors. Louvers can be added to the front of the fixture to direct light specifically where it's needed, Kathy says. "Only if you're lighting large spaces, such as a basketball court, and using flood lighting should there be any type of glare."

Convincing customers of the benefits has become easier with low-voltage lighting, notes Scott. "It's so easy to set up. I can run some wires and add in outlets and some fixtures with spikes in a couple of hours and literally show the customer what the effects will look like in their yard. It really sells them." He also uses past projects to sell current clients on the benefits. "All it takes is a transformer, a length of cord and some temporary fixtures. And each project sells more."

For that reason, he relies on electricians and landscapers to aid him with his outdoor projects. "They are critical to my team today, because they understand the latest technology. Society is so specialized that relying on smart subcontractors makes a lot of sense. They do cost more, but they lend credibility to my business and help create a more specialized project that impresses the customer. When the end result is 'wow' at night, it's worth the cost."

But it usually is up to the contractor to explain the benefits, he stresses. "People don't ask about adding outdoor lighting, because they don't think about it as an area that should be enhanced. But once they see it, they want it."

To learn more about outdoor lighting options, visit:

Craig Shutt is a freelance writer who specializes in construction topics.

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