The Cheat Sheet for Great Landscape Lighting

March 06, 2019

The Cheat Sheet for Great Landscape Lighting

Landscape lighting acts as the proverbial finishing touch to the exterior spaces of a house. It can transform the patio into the go-to spot for get togethers and provide a funky makeover to the backyard. After sundown, the trees and flowering plants in the garden can take on a new avatar as well, with a right lighting scheme. An aesthetically designed landscape lighting system can also highlight the architecture of the house.

 

However, you need to be careful about not overdoing it. If the lights are too bright and overbearing, then instead of beautifying the outdoor spaces it will overpower them and defeat the entire purpose of setting up a landscape lighting system.

 

Types of Landscape Lighting

 

There are three basic types of landscape lighting — accent, ambient and task. Depending on the space, either two of these or all three need to be combined for the best results.

 

  • Accent: This type of lighting highlights certain features of the landscape, including the trees, houses, flower beds, etc.
  • Ambient: As the name suggests, it adds to ambience of a particular outdoor space. It works best for semi-open spaces such as patios, decks and backyards.
  • Task: This type of landscape lighting is installed to serve a specific purpose. It could be to light pathways, for the purpose of security, to light up the deck, etc.

 

 

 

Low Voltage vs Line Voltage

 

  • Landscape lighting are usually low voltage, because that’s significantly more safer than the alternative, which is line voltage.
  • Low voltage landscape lighting is also quite easy to install, which allows you to set it up on your own and save the money you would have otherwise paid a professional electrician
  • Also, low voltage light fixtures cost less than high voltage ones.
  • The safety aspect becomes even more important, when you factor in the fact that outdoor lighting will be exposed to rain, kids will play in the open spaces outside the house and you will most likely entertain guests in these open spaces.
  • Line voltage, which is 120 volts, can be quite dangerous in such a scenario. Whereas, low voltage landscape lighting, which is just 12 volts, is quite harmless.
  • Due to the the higher current capacity of line voltage cables, they need to buried deep under the ground and the wire connections need to be accessible via junction boxes. You will have to hire a professional for this.

 

 

 

Salient Landscape Lighting Tips

 

Plan the Lighting Design

 

You don’t have to draw up an elaborate plan, but it’s advisable to create a rough plan on a piece of paper. Just mark the pockets of spaces around the house and types of landscape lighting you envision for each. You experience this space day-in-day-out. You know it’s vibe and rhythm. So, let your imagination guide you regarding how you want each space to look like. In case you need lighting tips for specific areas, like the patio or the garden, there’s something for you later in this article.

 

 

Buy Light Fixtures Judiciously

 

Now that you have a rough plan ready, it’s time to pick up the light fixtures that will make the plan come to life. It goes without saying that you will be using low voltage landscape lighting, which has essentially become the norm. This has enabled light fixtures manufacturers to experiment and come up with a wider variety of fixtures. So, you can choose the intensity of light you want from the fixtures, the build quality of the fixtures to ensure they are weatherproof, the color of the light, etc.

 

All light fixtures these days are available in LED, so there’s really no excuse to not buy them. Yes, they will cost you a little more than what incandescent lights will cost, but they last much longer. LED light fixtures will consume less energy as well, so you will end up saving on your electricity bill.

 

 

Beware of Glare

Unlike in indoor lighting, you don’t need to worry about reflection in outdoor lighting. Reflection can be nuisance indoor and really prick the eye. However, glare creates a similar issue in outdoor lighting. In order to ensure that none of the lights fall directly into people’s eye and have an blinding effect, you have to be position the lights carefully and shield them where required. This is where the planning and judicious choice of light fixtures help.

 

For example, if you plan to use the patio to entertain guests or hang out in evenings with your family, then the aim should be create a soft glow. It will illuminate the entire space without being too bright and intrusive. So, spotlights aren’t ideal for the patio, but well lights placed strategically on the floor, aided with hanging lights or wall lanterns looking overlooking the patio make more sense.

 

Security and Safety

One of the primary reasons why landscape lighting is important is security. Along with installing light fixtures in flower beds and ponds and highlighting the architecture of the house, make sure that all the entrances to the house are well lit as well. Lighting the pathways is important, as otherwise someone might trip and fall. If there are steps, make sure those are brightly lit too. Also, make sure that there are no external lights directed towards the rooms that provide a direct view towards the entrances.

 

Ideas for Landscape Lighting Specific Areas

 

 

Typically, the term landscape lighting is interchangeably used to denote garden lighting. Since, patios, backyards and to a lesser extent decks can all be considered to be part of the outdoor space connected to the house, so landscape lighting can refer to lighting systems designed for these spaces as well.

 

Garden

Gardens greatly differ from house to house. Some have elaborate gardens with fountains, intricate lawn design, multiples pathways, hedges and more, while others are simple with a few flowering plants, a single pathway leading to the front steps and maybe some vegetables growing on one side. So, the lighting design will also vary depending on the garden. The most common elements in a garden are trees, flowering beds/plant beds, hedges bordering the garden and possibly a small pond.

 

  • Trees: The two most commonly used lighting techniques for trees are to either aim lights up from the ground and into the foliage or to mount lights up in the canopy and direct the lights down at the foliage. While aiming the lights from the ground up into the foliage, make sure the tree trunk is also caught in the light. And if you plan to mount the light up in the canopy and direct them down, then ensure that the lights don’t cross each other. You can use flood lights or spot lights, but place them such that there’s no glare. You also have the option of wrapping the tree trunk with rope light, which is usually seen during Christmas but can be used all year round.

 

 

 

  • Flowering Beds: You need to use down lights that are slightly taller than the plants in order to light the flowering bed properly. You can add well lights or diffused up lights to further accentuate the flowers. The lights should be placed with adequate gaps between them. This will create pools of lights, instead of continuous illumination.
  • Hedges and Fences: Hedges and fences are used alternatively in gardens, while some have both. Well lights or small up lights are the ideal for illuminating them. The key is to use low voltage light fixtures and to space out the fixtures.
  • Home Facade/Wall: Strictly speaking, this isn’t part of the garden, but could be bordering the garden on one side. How you decide to light up the home facade can be tricky. You don’t want it to look garish or tacky and at the same time you don’t want the house to sit in a pool of darkness as the garden lights up. Bullet or spot lights directed up towards the wall(s) can be used. Complement it with wash lights to diffuse the reflection. The idea should be to highlight any special architectural features.

 

Pathways and Steps

Pathways are an important element in the landscape design of a house. They connect the garden to the backyard or patio, the front entrance to the driveway, etc. Depending on the gradient of the landscape, the pathways may include steps as well. Lighting up these pathways and steps at night is firstly a necessity, because then you can see clearly and walk without the risk of hurting yourself. In addition, it makes the property look more appealing and inviting to yourself and guests who come visiting.

Lighting up pathways is quite straightforward. The only decision you need to make is whether the light should focus solely on the pathway or do you want to highlight some of the features around the pathway. In case the pathway is passing through the garden, you might want to throw some light on the hedges or plants as well. If you want the light focus only on the pathway, then the lights should be knee high or at most waist high. While, if you want to illuminate the surrounding features as well, then the lights need to be waist high or at most chest high. If the lights are too high, there’s a chance of glare. So, either adjust the height to prevent glare or buy path lights with adequate shield.

You can buy path lights in packs of 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and more. Also, path lights are available in more intricate designs and shapes than other types of landscape light fixtures, because these can be seen prominently.

In regards to steps, the only decision is between whether to light the risers or the treads.

 

Patio and Backyard

 

 

Summer is the time of the year to spend as much time outside as possible. Work commitments, children's’ school, etc. prevent us from going out every day. But if you have a patio or a backyard, you can transform it into the perfect space to invite your friends and family for an outdoorsy evening together.

  • The size and shape of the patio or backyard will determine the exact lighting design that you would need. However, there are a few things that apply to all patios.
  • Firstly, and most importantly, the patio or backyard lighting shouldn’t be too bright. It needs to be comforting and inviting. A soft or diffused glow should permeate the ambience. In this regard, it needs to be mentioned that the old school incandescent lights do a better job at offering the soft glow as compared to standard LED lights. However, LED lights are versatile and you will find one that offers different colors and intensity. So, you can recreate the warm summer glow with LED candles and lanterns or create the effect of a full moon night with lunar lights.

 

 

  • Secondly, don’t uniformly illuminate the entire patio space or backyard. Begin by lighting up the spaces where light will be required the most such as the barbecue station or kitchen, around the seating areas and the entrance to the main house. Allow the light from these sources to trickle into the remaining spaces. In case, it’s not enough you can hang soft string lights in the other sections.
  • Thirdly, if there are trees in and around the patio or backyard, you can mount flood lights with lenses that diffuse the intensity of the light up in the tree and direct it down, to create a soft radius of glow around the tree. It will become the perfect spot to catch up with a friend with a bottle of beer in hand.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Check the field of illumination of all landscape light fixtures at night, to ensure that none of them shines indoors.
  • Similarly, check the path of illumination of all the fixtures to ensure that they don’t invade neighboring houses either.
  • Avoid light fixtures of high wattage. It ends up creating light pollution.
  • The transformer should have the timer feature to automatically switch on and switch off the lights. So, that you can set the timer and not have worry about manually doing it every day.

 

There you have it; a cheat sheet to help you set up your landscape lighting and make your evenings lit!

 

 


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