Landscape lighting has caught on. Water features are more popular than ever, not only at tony resorts, casinos and theme parks, but also at upscale malls, hotels and private homes. Lighted water features are a profitable arena for contractors in both commercial and residential markets.

Electrical, landscape and irrigation contractors have jumped on the low-voltage bandwagon. According to Jack Miller, general manager of Kichler Landscape Lighting, many contractors also get maintenance contracts with these jobs.

While the economy has jobs on hold for some contractors, others are busier than ever. “Not many are saying they’re down since last year,” Miller said. “Landscape and irrigation contractors get involved in landscape lighting because it’s safe low-voltage. A fairly new industry, landscape lighting has tremendous potential. Just drive around at night. Every dark home or building is a potential customer.”

Upscale homeowners want style as well as function in garden and path lighting that will extend evening outdoor enjoyment year round. “Owners want handsome fixtures that look beautiful during the day, are glare-free at night, and light up what the owner wants showcased,” Miller said. “We call these chandeliers for the yard or garden. These customers put significant money into landscaping.”

Accent lighting highlights architectural features of buildings or homes, as well as statuary and trees. Low voltage is a big trend—probably 80 percent of the residential landscape lighting market, Miller said.

Fixtures are made of better materials today, so products survive in places as diverse as Florida or the Midwest. Professional landscape lighting fixtures are made of die-cast aluminum, brass, cast brass or high-quality composites. Although copper is expensive, it is popular with lighting designers and specifiers because its oxidized surface acquires a patina and turns green over time.

Landscape lighting trends

Corey Anderson, product marketing manager for Hadco, identified several trends in landscape lighting:

Shielding hides the light source. Fixtures are designed to show the effect of the light, not the source. Without the shield, your eyes automatically are drawn to the source, which detracts from the overall lighting effect.

Smaller fixtures are more easily hidden in foliage and blend into eaves, the roof peak, or a gazebo corner. They are not as noticeable as the big PAR lamp holders. Low-voltage halogen lamps are smaller. The MR16 has a 2-inch diameter, the MR8 a 1-inch diameter.

Halogen light sources offer several advantages over incandescent: they produce more lumens per watt, have at least double the lifespan and fit in smaller fixtures.

Natural metal finishes, especially copper or brass, are favored because their patinas blend in with the natural landscape—without the worry of rust. While copper and brass have traditionally been perceived as high-end in landscape lighting, manufacturers now are introducing entry-level copper and brass fixtures.

LEDs (light emitting diodes) can boost longevity up to 100,000 hours. Factories can seal the fixture tightly, making it maintenance-free after installation. White LEDs are coming into their own, and many predict LEDs will be the next lighting revolution.

Tool-less fixtures slash maintenance costs for relamping and reduce the risk of injury.

More colors. While landscape lighting had been limited to white-lamp sources, designers are experimenting with blue, green, red and amber color filters to create bold and colorful outdoor lighting special effects. Residential users also are discovering color.

New Philips Lighting products

Eddie Effron, specification marketing consultant for Philips Lighting, agreed that fixture miniaturization is an ongoing trend.

Philips recently introduced IRC MR16s, which combine halogen capsules with infrared technology, resulting in more light for less energy. In landscape lighting, one transformer can power more watts.

Philips’ 35-watt is equal in output to the standard 50-watt. This saves 30 percent more energy and allows more fixtures per transformer. “With IRC technology, for example, you can use 14 fixtures on a 500 va transformer as opposed to only 10 with standard 50-watt MR16s,” Effron said. The lamps, which have a 5,000-hour life, feature a hard dichroic coating that won’t peel off in harsh outdoor lighting conditions.

Philips’ line of MasterColor HID lamps uses innovative ceramic metal halide technology. The majority comes in 3,000-degree Kelvin (warmer lamp) or cooler 4,000-degree Kelvin, which are well suited for landscape greenery.

MasterColor offers a wide range of lamp types from miniature bi-pin 39-watt TC (tiny capsule) up through PAR 20s, 30s and 38s. Wattages run from 39 to 150. Metal halide provides generous amounts of light for very little energy: 90 lumens per watt. Depending on type, lamps can last up to 12,500 hours. EC

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at patwoods123@hotmail.com.