Let There Be Light
The basics of landscape lighting
Landscape lighting is all about the artistry of light. Whether subtle or dramatic, it creates a different kind of beauty, one built on the way light and shadow play together. It turns the ordinary into the extraordinary--just like on a theater stage. The right landscape lighting allows you to showcase beautiful trees and garden elements, but, at the same time, lets you control what you don't want people to see by leaving some things dark. From a practical standpoint, it provides security and safe access and is often recommended as a relatively inexpensive way to increase your property value.
For the homeowners' pleasure as well as guests, landscape lighting acknowledges and addresses the fact that, for about 30 percent of the time, your landscape is viewed at night. "Since so many people work and don't come home until after dark, landscape lighting means homeowners can still enjoy their outdoor property, whenever they get home," says Jeff Halper of Exterior Worlds. "It turns the landscape into a 24-hour event."
Types of Landscape Lighting
There are several types of landscape lighting, each with its own strengths and functions:
Down-lighting: Designed to replicate the effect of a full moon shining through the trees, downlighting, when placed properly, creates whimsical shadows on the ground. Mercury vapor is commonly used because it brings out the greens of plant materials while incandescent or halogen lights make brown tones more prominent.
Up-lighting: Up-lighting is dramatic. If you have small trees or trees with interesting, intricate trunks, up-lighting is very effective. If up-lighting trees, experts generally recommend mercury vapor lights, because incandescents or halogens have a tendency to make trees look dead. Incandescents work perfectly for uplighting brick columns, arbors and other architectural elements.
Incandescent lights: These simple and reliable lights use the old fashioned tungsten filament and are good at bringing out the colors in masonry, wood, stucco and other architectural features. Incandescents are prized in landscape lighting because they are dimmable, thereby increasing the drama factor. They are the least expensive, but you can expect to replace them every year or so.
Feature lighting: In theatrical terms, feature lighting can be likened to a spotlight. Feature lighting is excellent in your landscape lighting scheme when used to highlight sculptures, fountains, address markers, plaques and benches. Incandescent bulbs are recommended for feature lighting because of their ability to bring out the colors in building materials like brick, wood and stone.
Architectural illumination: This concept uses a variety of landscape lighting techniques to showcase the architecture of the house or building.
Landscape Lighting: Your Key Decisions
High voltage lighting: Great for lighting vast expanses of lawn or large trees, top to bottom. Most high voltage lights, such as mercury vapor, are installed with conduit.
Low voltage lights: These lights, usually 12 volts, are commonly used for residential landscape lighting needs like pathway lighting and for lighting small items such as outdoor water fountains, outdoor fireplaces, urns, and garden sculptures. They are less expensive to install than high voltage since they don't require conduit. One disadvantage, though, is that the wiring can be easily broken with a shovel when working in the lawn and garden. An outdoor kitchen, arbor or trellis is a great place to put low-voltage lights because you can hide the fixtures and wires in the structure.
10,000 hour lamp: This bulb, which is relatively new to the industry, makes low voltage applications more feasible. However, they should not be left on all night--a 10,000 hour lamp left on for 12 hours a night would only last two years or so. Mercury vapor lamps are more practical for overnight use since they come in 24,000 hour lamps--or a lifespan up to five years or more.
Controls: Mechanical time clocks are recommended for use in landscape lighting, particularly up-lighting, feature lighting and architectural lighting, because they help avoid wasting electricity and using up your light bulbs. Timers also save wear-and-tear on you, the homeowner, since you don't have to remember to turn the lights on and off or spend a lot of time replacing bulbs.
Photocell: Used with down-lighting, photocells read natural light and, when combined with timers, provide ease of long-term maintenance and security.
Expertise is essential in landscape lighting design, planning and installation. "About 50 percent of the technical work has to do with placement of the lights," explains Halper. "If lights are placed wrong, you end up with glares or seeing too much of the fixtures. You really don't want to see the nuts and bolts of your landscape lighting. You just want to see the beautiful effect the lights create."