Landscape lighting can be an added revenue source for electrical contractors at many project sites. While not cut-and-dry, it can be a manageable and profitable way to increase the scope of work at a site where you already have a good working relationship. Talk to a homeowner or a commercial property owner about improving security and safety and, in many cases, curb appeal and overall aesthetics of the grounds with landscape lighting, and you can often pique interest.
Most landscape lighting installations combine aesthetic choices with utilitarian purpose. There are many valid approaches to outdoor lighting design and a host of fixture styles, lamps, and beam spreads for landscape applications from which to select. Landscape lighting can run off of line voltage or low voltage. Low-voltage lighting offers a wide variety of beam spreads and easy control over shape of the light pattern. Because of the range of line voltage lamps (incandescent, fluorescent, HID), line voltage offers a large variety of reflectors that could be used, typically, in commercial jobs.
Line voltage is often easier for a contractor to install because there is no need for concern about load calculation and voltage drop as there is with low voltage. Also, there's no need for concern about transformer layout.
For durability in outdoor installations, look for corrosion-resistant fixtures. Bronze has proven to be extremely capable of withstanding the effects of weathering over time, but is very expensive and rarely used. Recently, fixtures made of composite materials have become available that show signs of bearing up bravely against the elements. They could also be well suited for specifying projects at the seacoast or in other harsh environments. Increasingly, composite is becoming the material of choice for in-ground fixtures and for bullet fixtures that would be installed above ground.
There is an overall trend in landscape lighting toward keeping lighting levels relatively low, unless there is reason not to, and minimizing light pollution and glare, often effectively hiding the fixtures while showing the effects.
If possible, walk the residential property at night, flashlight in hand, and direct the beam on possible targets in each region. In each area, settle on one primary focal point and a couple of secondary focal points. Try to get a sense of the primary reasons the homeowner wants each area lit and the architectural features of which he or she is most proud. Are dinner parties on the patio in the planning? Will the pool be used at night? Find out what the intent of the lighting installation is from the commercial property owner. Is security paramount? Is curb appeal important? Is the owner afraid of being sued if someone falls down outside? Is the owner trying to deter trespassers? Which hardscape (paved paths, benches, fountain, statues, etc.) and softscape (trees, shrubs, ground cover, and lawn) elements are important to light? Hone in on the purpose of the lighting, then pick fixtures, lamps, and beam spreads to accommodate it.
The following rules of thumb that hold, most of the time for most applications, across the landscape.
- Use minimal wattage and light intensity unless there is good reason to do otherwise. When it comes to lighting up the outdoors after dark, less is more.
- Take advantage of the difference between dark and light by optimizing shadows. For example, you can maximize the nighttime drama of a waterfall by using a couple of underwater fixtures along with a series of well-placed bullytes.
- Select a few of the most interesting elements in the landscape to focus on. Highlighting a few key sections of the landscape is more effective than lighting up the night at large.
- Use fixtures to create the effect without focusing on the fixture, unless the fixture itself is a work of art.
- To prevent glare and to preserve safety, do not shine the light into people's eyes.
- Adequately light steps and walkways to make any changes in grade and all obstructions are clearly visible. Dedicated step lights can be mounted semi-recessed or flush with the side and front of the walls bordering the steps. Typical fixtures for pathways include bollard lights, shaded tiers, and mushroom-shaded fixtures, which are a good choice because the light is shined down without glare.
- When installing in-ground fixtures in soil, avoid callback by the next growing season by locating the fixture in an area with enough of a buffer zone from plantings to prevent foliage from intruding onto the lens and blocking the light. Also, don't recess the fixture so deeply that the fixture becomes a collection point for dirt and debris. Installing in-ground fixtures in concrete or stones, rather than soil, provides a natural buffer zone to protect against lens overgrowth or obfuscation, as well as added fixture stability. Various styles of fixtures installed under a tree or a grove of trees can provide uplighting that imparts dramatic impact. Where flush surface is not required, you can elevate the fixture a couple of inches and slope the concrete away from the lens for drainage.
- Generally, lighting a driveway is a way of identifying the property. It is not necessary to light up the entire route-auto headlights will do that job. A light where the driveway meets the street will suffice to indicate the beginning and a light at the garage or building will indicate the end. If the owner wants the whole run illuminated, you can minimize the airport runway look by staggering fixtures on both sides of the driveway.
Take advantage of recognized landscape lighting techniques to create a successful installation. Below are several types of lighting that can help make a layout a winner.
Area lighting is generally achieved with fixtures placed above and/or below eye level such that beam spreads overlap, typically bathing the region in fairly uniform light without any accentuation on any specific objects. Area lighting can also be done on a decorative basis. On commercial jobs, area lighting is the most common type of lighting and is often the biggest part of the job in terms of money spent. It is often possible to combine various lighting techniques for overall desired effect.
Accent lighting works best when it focuses on specific focal points, highlights objects of particular interest, or uses light to set mood. Light designers generally use a mix of special effects including:
- Uplighting: using ground level floods, bullets (typically conical or tapered, this style offers good directional control and is configured for PAR- or R-style reflector lamps), well lights, or (totally sealed) direct burial fixtures to shine up and illuminate features such as trees, statuary, stone wall, or other architectural focal points in the landscape dramatically from below. Because the lens and lamp of well lights are shielded from view and a control grill oftentimes can be directed as needed, this type of lamp is particularly well-suited to locations where avoidance of glare is a prime consideration.
- Downlighting: using bullets or other accent lights that shine down from a higher elevation, illuminating shrubbery, flower beds, and pathways from above helps hide the less attractive parts of the bushes in the shadows while drawing attention to the fuller greenery. In addition, installing fixtures for downlighting higher up can bathe a large area with light from above, increasing safety for nighttime usage.
- Moonlighting (a subcategory of downlighting): using high lights positioned in a tree or atop a fence to filter down through foliage and to cast subtle shadows on the ground below, much as you would see on a clear, moonlit night. The higher and deeper the fixture is placed inside a tree, the lower the light level and the greater the shadows.
- Silhouetting (backlighting): using lights behind and below a tree or statue in front of a wall or fence, place the light source between the object you want highlighted (a setting of trees in front of the home, for example) and the wall of the house.
- Grazing: placing the fixture close to the surface and directing the light upward at a 45-degree angle accentuates the texture of the surface you are illuminating.
- Spotlighting: using narrowly focused beams from above (perhaps mounted on a wall, pole, or stanchion) or below. This technique is effective on statues, sculptures, various garden elements, flagpoles, and other architectural details.
Landscape lighting can use three types of lamps: incandescent (120 volt and low-voltage 12 volt), fluorescent, and high intensity discharge (HID). Incandescent lamps include standard incandescent, which are typically rated to last 750 hours, and halogen, which are typically rated for 2,000 hours and give a brighter, whiter light. PAR lamps, which feature parabolic aluminized internal reflectors along with different lenses, are available for line voltage fixtures and allow designers to achieve a diversity of light distribution patterns.
For low-voltage fixtures, a number of manufacturers offer reflectored MR16 lamps sporting a variety of beam distributions and longer life than some other low-voltage lamps. Low-voltage MR16 and other low-voltage lamps can take advantage of the voltage drop to extend the life of the lamp. A 5,000-hour rated lamp rated at 12 volts can be reduced to 80 percent of its output by going to 11.5 volts; this will effectively double the life of the lamp without appreciatively effecting the output or color temperature of the lamp, according to various fixture manufacturers. Also, because of its tailored design, the MR16 lamp can prevent undesirable light spill.
Compact fluorescent lamps, which require specific types of ballasts, generally carry long life expectancies (10,000 hours average) and are generally very energy efficient.
Also requiring a ballast, HID lamps may be metal halide, high-pressure sodium, or mercury vapor. Metal halide offers excellent energy efficiency and lighting that allows objects to appear close to their natural colors. Philips MasterColor metal halide lamps, for example, are available as PAR 20, 30, and 38 lamps. Philips has warmed up the metal halide to 3,000K so it is comparable to halogen. The lamp, which has a 10,000 lamp life and high lumen output, is available as a spot and a flood.
Products mentioned in this article:
Architectural Landscape Lighting, www.alllighting.com, 800-854-8277
Greenlee Lighting, www.lsi-industries.com, 972-466-1133
Hadco, www.hadcolighting.com, 717-359-7131
Kim Lighting, www.kimlighting.com, 626-968-5666
Lumiere, www.cooperlighting.com, 805-496-2003
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