Landscape Lighting Essex Junction VT
Unlike sunlight that blankets everything in its path, landscape lighting can provide islands of light and shadow that highlight selected areas, including trees, shrubs, flower beds, walkways and other elements of your yard and grounds. In addition to increasing curb appeal, illuminating your home's exterior extends the usability of many areas for you and your family to enjoy safely. A deck or patio that is a terrific place for breakfast or lunch can also be a great place to dine, entertain or just plain relax after sunset, with the appropriate lighting.
Outdoor lighting also helps ensure safety for everyone who uses your paths and entrances, and it increases security around your home, discouraging trespassers and giving those inside the ability to see outside after dark. It also increases the enjoyment of your grounds from indoors. Homeowners often invest a lot of money dressing up the outdoors, and then they're not home during the day to enjoy it. So lighting up segments of your landscape gives you the opportunity to take pleasure in the plantings any time of day.
Creating a Design
Landscape lighting starts with a black canvas, with the grounds dark at night and endless possibilities. How you proceed depends on your budget and your inclination to do it yourself (which may itself be predicated on financial resources, ability and level of confidence).
Professional landscape-lighting designers are aware of all the types of fixtures and lamps (bulbs), the effects they impart, and which lighting techniques best achieve the desired mood and effect in each area.
A good outdoor-lighting designer will also take into consideration the growth patterns of the trees, shrubs and flowers, notes Eddie Effron, strategic marketing specialist at Philips Lighting.
The range and quality of products and prices run the gamut. The types offered in home centers for do-it-yourselfers generally are less expensive than those available through distributors or landscape-lighting suppliers.
For those who want to do it themselves, there is a broad range of products available retail in a diversity of styles that enable homeowners to design and install whatever effects they want fairly quickly,
notes Phil Kinzer, marketing manager of Intermatic's Malibu Lighting.
Regardless of whether you plan to hire a landscape-lighting designer or are champing at the bit to get down on your hands and knees yourself, it is a good idea to get a feel for how your property would look with nighttime lighting. Stroll your grounds after dark with both a lantern-type flashlight and a beam flashlight. Shine your flashlights, one at a time or in concert, on those elements of your softscape (trees, shrubs, ground cover, lawn) and hardscape (paved paths, pool areas, benches, eating areas, other outdoor seating, fountains, statues) to see what type of lighting would work better in each location -- area lighting (which the lantern can mimic) or accent lighting (which the flashlight can mimic). Most effective installations mix the two types, combining functionality with aesthetics.
Pick out the key landscape features to create pools of illumination and avoid the temptation to wash everything with light, suggests Ian Ibbitson, general manager, ALLScape. If you are using a flashlight that allows varying of beam spread, play with the different effects you can get on various objects by changing the beam from a spot to a flood.
Just about everyone agrees that in landscape lighting these days, the mantra is, Less is more. Keep lighting to the minimum necessary to create the desired effect.
Pick Your Power
Residential landscape lighting runs either on ordinary household line voltage (120 volts) or on low voltage, which requires a transformer to step down the voltage from 120 volts to a very low 12 volts (the same voltage that runs model trains), which generally consumes far less electricity. A line-voltage installation is more expensive than a low-voltage installation and, in most municipalities or jurisdictions, has to be installed by a licensed electrician.
For the majority of homes, low-voltage lighting has enough flexibility to handle just about any design criteria. Manufacturers offer a broad range of low-voltage fixtures and lamps and usually provide guidelines on how to install them safely.
And not only is it easy to install, but because it is so easy to change, it offers great flexibility should needs change or you want a different look, Kinzer notes.
There are four main components in all low-voltage lighting installations: the fixture, the lamp (bulb), the wiring and the transformer, which is generally installed outdoors and should be plugged into a covered ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet (and never plugged into an extension cord).
With low-voltage lighting, most installations will likely not need more than 50 watts per lamp and often will shine nicely with far less. Most installations use standard 12-volt incandescent lamps or, more often, halogen lamps, which are higher-quality incandescents that can last up to 5,000 hours.
Halogens are popular because they impart a brighter, whiter look and have excellent lumen maintenance, meaning they are good at maintaining the look of the light over time. Less frequently, for selected applications, a homeowner or lighting designer opts for compact-fluorescents (CFLs), which save energy but are harder to control in terms of beam direction and spread. Small compact fluorescent lamps, such as 9- and 13-watt units, are good choices for step lights or pathway lights, Ibbitson notes. They use about one-third the energy and yet last about 10 times longer than incandescent lamps, for the same amount of light.
In your overall installation, you can mix lamp types and wattages to create the effect you want. The only caveat is to make sure that you do not exceed the wattage rating of your transformer. If necessary, add another transformer to spread the load. Also, be mindful of the length of the wire. If you run too long a wire, you may encounter a slight voltage drop due to the resistance in the wire, which may dim the lamps a little.
Low-voltage cables are weatherproof and can be left exposed on the ground, but they risk damage from lawn mowers, foot traffic, and people or pet interference. So once you are satisfied with the look of the installation as it works its magic after dark, it is a good idea to dig a shallow trench and conceal the wires under the soil or under mulch, pebbles, or rocks. The more traffic in the area, the more important the trench. A few inches will typically suffice.
For overall durability particularly if you live near the ocean or in a harsh climate consider installing corrosion-resistant fixtures, which may be more costly but sustain their finishes a lot longer. Though very expensive, high-grade copper or bronze fixtures weather well. More affordable choices include fixtures made of composite materials.
Most successful landscape lighting installations combine area lighting with accent lighting. Area lighting features beam spreads that overlap to the extent that they bathe a region of the property in fairly uniform light. It can provide bright, even illumination for pathways, patios, decks and other areas where that type of lighting is an asset (such as an outdoor play area). Fixtures are typically located slightly above or below eye level.
Accent lighting highlights objects of particular interest or uses light to set a particular mood. There are several lighting techniques in this category that will help you achieve particular effects.
Uplighting shines light upward, illuminating objects such as trees, stone walls, statues and sculptures from below, contrasting highlights and shadows. It is achievable by using well lights recessed in the ground, shielded from view and therefore unlikely to cause glare, or by using direct-burial (totally sealed) fixtures, the tops of which are close to flush with the ground or slightly elevated. Ground-level floodlights and bullet lights, typically configured conically or tapered for PAR- or R-style reflector lamps and providing easy directional control, can also be used for uplighting. (The designating letters stand for the shape of the bulb: PAR for parabolic aluminized reflector, R for reflector, MR for multifaceted reflector. When the letters are followed by a number, such as 8 or 16, the number represents the approximate diameter of the bulb in eighths of an inch. An MR16 is a 2-inch multifaceted reflector.)
Uplighting the taller specimens or larger components of the landscape can be very effective, says Rosemarie Allaire, a professional lighting designer and member of the International Association of Lighting Designers. For example, uplighting a large tree's trunk or illuminating the underside canopy can be very dramatic. When done effectively, accenting selected elements creates a visually interesting region of ambient light.
Downlighting directs light down from a higher elevation and is useful for accentuating shrubbery, flower beds and other landscape elements. If the downlight is perched in a tree or set on a fence near trees or bushes, the light and shadows that filter through will impart the effect of moonlight. The higher the fixture, the more the effect approaches area lighting, rather than accent lighting.
Silhouetting is a technique of backlighting objects. It uses lights that are set behind a stand of shrubs, a flowering bush, a tree, a statue or another element, but in front of the house facade, other wall or fence that you want to illuminate. By aiming the light source away from the object, passersby and people approaching the house see the shadowy silhouette as a dramatic darkened shape. (There is no shadow on the wall.)
The technique of shadowing utilizes lighting placed in front of the shrub, bush or other object that is in front of the house, wall or fence. The fixture directs the beam toward those elements at about a 45° angle, creating a shadow on the wall or the fence. The closer the fixture is to the object being lit, the bigger the shadow.
Grazing uses lighting from a fixture placed close to the vertical surface to be lit. The light, directed straight upward, accentuates the texture of the surface being illuminated.
Spotlighting uses narrowly focused beams from lamps mounted above or below the subject. It is an effective way to show off lawn sculptures, statuary, flags and other architectural elements.
Some designers prefer to hide the light fixtures in the ground or in foliage, relying entirely on the magical effects of the lighting to enhance the property, while others use the style and finish of decorative fixtures to add to the overall effect.
Wherever and however you install lighting, use the lowest wattage and light intensity necessary for achieving a pleasing effect, which will keep light trespass and energy expenditure down. For safety, take care to avoid directing light beams or glare directly toward viewers eyes.
Steps, Walkways & Drives
While illuminating trees, shrubbery and foliage can really perk up your landscape, don't forget the ground underfoot. Steps and walkways should be lit well enough so that those using them can see exactly where they are walking, even if the lights inside the house are off.
Be especially careful to adequately illuminate steps and other changes in grade of the terrain, recommends Steve Goldmacher, director of corporate communications, Philips Lighting Company. And make sure all obstructions are clearly visible, so there are no surprise bumps in the night.
Dedicated step lights can be mounted semirecessed or flush with the side and the front of the walls bordering the steps.
For everyone's safety, homeowners should install pathway lights from the driveway to the front door, from the curb to front door if there is a separate path, and along paths that go to patios or around the sides of your home, Goldmacher adds.
When installing inground fixtures in soil, leave a buffer zone that allows room for growth of foliage from nearby plantings so that lenses are not blocked by the next year's greenery. You can avoid that concern by installing the fixtures into a bed of crushed stones or even concrete, which serves double duty by guaranteeing fixture stability. Unless flush installation is necessary, sloping the concrete away from the fixture will aid in drainage.
As for your driveway, there's no need to treat it like an airport runway, with bright lights lining the whole route. Keep in mind that car headlights will illuminate, too. A light at the garage end and a lantern or other subtle light where the driveway meets the street can identify your property and indicate the driving route for visitors or for emergency vehicles. Beyond that, for walking purposes, a few staggered low-to-the-ground path lights with wide beam spreads, placed about a foot from the edge of one or both sides of the driveway, are all you need to define the pavement, pebbles or dirt of the driveway.
Popular styles of fixtures for pathways include bollard lights, shaded tiers and mushroom-shaded fixtures, which are good choices because they shine the light down without glare. By matching the beam pattern of a lamp to need, you can achieve desired lighting effects with minimal wattage.
Low-voltage lamps used for accent lighting are available in different beam spreads and wattages. The beam angles fall into four general categories: spot (with an 8� to 12° beam angle), narrow flood (with a 22° to 26° beam angle), flood (36° to 40°) and wide flood (56° to 66°). The most popular beam spread is a narrow flood that casts light in an arc of about 25°.
But there is no such thing as a best beam spread, notes Effron, of Philips. Once you know what particular object or aspect of that object you are trying to light, you choose the beam angle and the wattage.
A helpful rule of thumb when selecting lamps the greater the wattage in a particular beam angle range, the longer the useful reach of the beam from the source and the wider the effective spread of the beam. For example, while an MR16 50-watt spot will cast useful light (in a 10-foot-wide swath) 50 feet from the source, a 20-watt spot will cast a 5-foot-wide swath of light 30 feet from the source. In each case, the beam widens from the source in a conical shape.
Outdoor Lighting Controls
Outdoor lights generally only need to be on part of the night. Products that control on/off cycles provide maximum energy efficiency without sacrificing safety and convenience. Photo sensors automatically turn lights on at dusk and off at dawn. Electronic timers, which easily replace ordinary on/off switches, are generally available in two types. One will turn lights on for a designated period of time and then automatically switch them off. Another type allows you to program on/off time intervals to fit specific needs.
Homeowners can also use motion sensors, which enhance safety and security by automatically turning lights on whenever they detect movement in the areas they are monitoring. The lights will automatically be switched off when movement is no longer detected. When buying a motion sensor, make sure the device will properly monitor the area where it will be installed. Manufacturers typically provide field-of-view information on the packaging to help buyers understand the dimensions of the total coverage area. If the device monitors too small an area, there will be dead zones where motion would not be detected. If the device monitors too large an area, it could trigger unnecessary on/off cycles from street traffic or a neighbor's activities.
New Technologies Lighting the Way
New landscape lighting technologies that have been piquing interest include wired LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and solar-powered LED lighting.
This generation's LEDs do not cast anywhere near the light of lamps. However, they are extremely low energy consumers and, as a light source, last much longer than lamps up to 90,000 hours or even longer. Currently, they are being used residentially for subtle accent lighting or as marker lights, but not for area lighting. Because they are digital, you can change the color with a remote control, which makes them well suited for holiday lighting or other mood setting. LEDs work very well in cold weather and are easy to seal into waterproof housing, for use near water.
Solar-powered lighting features fixtures that contain a solar collector panel that stores daytime sunlight for use as electrical energy after dark. The energy is stored in rechargeable batteries that, in turn, power LED fixtures at night. (The batteries typically should last for about three years.) The fixtures are suitable for accent-type low-level lighting as step indicators, driveway indicators, walkway outlines and decorative trim for flower beds, fish ponds, decks, and garden paths. Because they do not require any wires, you can place them just about anywhere and move them just as easily. They are more effective sources in the summertime because their run time each night is predicated upon sunshine during each day.
William and Patti Feldman are a husband-and-wife freelance team based in Chappaqua, N.Y.