Lighting is Everything.
Those who know me have seen me fuss over the lighting in any room indoors or out. Dimmers, Zones, Color, Automation, adjust, adjust, adjust. There is just something wonderful about a properly lit space. Too much and its overwhelming, not enough and things fall flat. As a glass artist almost all my work is made with the intention of communicating the raw light that hot liquid glass radiates. I make paperweights that come on a lights base, globes that are lit from within and sculptures that are built with the lighting effect in mind.
Landscape Lighting is one of the most impactful and yet least expensive parts of an outdoor living project. Individual fixtures range in quality and price like anything else – but the general impact will be the same in the dark. Lighting creates defined paths, adds a feeling of safety, draws attention to key horticultural and architectural elements, and in many cases, it adds depth perception to the yard. By up-lighting trees at the edge of the property you create a visual understanding of the property boundary and add comfort to the entire space – reclaiming your own property in the evening.
Today’s Landscape Lighting is commonly made up of 3 key Components:
In creating a landscape lighting design, I like to begin with the functional lighting. Path lights, steps lights and other accent lights that may be important to illuminate for safety and or direction of guests less familiar with the space. Then move on to the more aesthetic lighting effects on the yard. One of the things to know about lighting is that it is very scalable. You can easily add lighting later – but ask your contractor to place plenty of extra wire in case you choose to add more. Don’t skimp on the tree up lighting and depth perception – you always need a few more fixtures than you think!
Very often the space itself will define the type of fixatures but the key ones that I like to use are:
Lighting techniques used to create a dramatic effect are some of the most fun things to do with an existing house. Whether shadowing, adding silhouettes, creating focal points, or just simply grazing the texture of the space – Lighting can instantly change the way the space feels after sunset. Most lighting installers will either demo the lights effect prior to finishing the install… or come back and adjust after a few evenings to assess initial installation.
As with all other lighting, in recent years most outdoor installers have moved to LED bulbs. This comes with two challenges and two enormous benefits.
Pros: The energy efficiency of running LED bulbs far exceeds its predecessor of incandescent bulbs. Additionally, the LED bulbs are able to run many more fixtures on a common transformer that incandescent bulbs did. Today you rarely need to use multiple transformers to accommodate the volume of fixtures… Though you may use a couple units to have different lighting zones.
Cons: LED lights are often too jarring of a white cool light for what people are expecting. Make sure your contractor is using a warmer bulb for a more comfortable glow. I feel awful addressing this in writing… part of me just wants to leave it at that… but the one last point I will make about LEDs for landscape lighting is not environmentally friendly at all… But it may matter in a few key spots in winter installations. LEDs won’t melt the snow. LEDs are so low energy that they don’t warm up enough to melt the snow that covers them – whereas incandescent bulbs are so bad with energy that they dump tons of heat and melt away the snow in a day or two exposing the light in the winter – where LED ones will need to be dug out.
Finally – I don’t recommend using colored landscape lights – but if there is a Jr Astronomer or Astrophotography in the family – it may be important to consider star gazing areas. In those spaces – it is commonplace to use dim red bulbs instead of white. This will better let your eyes adjust and throw less wasted light. For this reason – I also like to be able to have zones separating the path lights from the garden / up lights.