Landscaping with Light

Smaller fixtures, long-life bulbs improve landscape lighting

Lighting has become an essential feature in outdoor settings for both commercial users and homeowners seeking a cost-efficient way to enhance aesthetic value and add curb appeal.

Landscaping with light also solves many safety and security issues. In addition to marking stairs, paths and trees to prevent injuries, landscape lighting illuminates dark areas around businesses and homes where would-be intruders might hide.

In outdoor lighting, smaller is better. Smaller sources (lamps) leading to smaller luminaires (fixtures) are the latest trend, according to Alicia A. Kapheim, lighting application manager at Philips Lighting Co. This is especially true in LED-sourced luminaires used for path lighting, step lighting and grade-level marker lighting. In addition to LEDs being low voltage, owners can expect very long lives—up to several years.

When it comes to high-color metal-halide lamps, such as Philips MasterColor lamps, the T4 size (1/2” diameter) is popular. This lamp renders green—a common outdoor color—very nicely. These lamps also boast longer lifespans, helping to reduce maintenance costs.

In upscale homes, integrated control systems are programmed to handle not only residential indoor/outdoor lighting, but also garage doors, shades, fans and other controllable devices, Kapheim said.

Homeowners can create a “new room” by lighting a deck or garden to make the space useful and enjoyable after dark, according to Jon DiGesu, director of communications at Osram Sylvania.

Sylvania offers a variety of light sources for both line and low-voltage applications—from brilliant halogens to energy-efficient compact fluorescents. Their long-lasting lamps offer a solution to any lighting challenge.

In larger-scale architectural applications, Sylvania Icetron lamp and ballast systems are ideal solutions for lighting plazas, parks, walkways and streetscapes. This 100,000-hour inductively coupled electrodeless lamp has found widespread acceptance in cities such as New York because of its low maintenance and long life.

When it comes to fixtures in professional landscape lighting, one of the biggest trends is using solid brass and copper because these materials withstand heat, humidity, salt air, fertilizer and many human elements.

Kichler Landscape Lighting offers a broad selection of innovative designs in path lights and decorative lighting accessories for gardens. Today’s landscape lighting fixtures go beyond being functional. Where path spread lights are wanted, homeowners can select decorative fixtures that blend into the landscape or serve as a focal point. For example, in 2003, Kichler introduced a lighted birdbath that serves as a focal point for the backyard and also is functional.

Long-life bulbs

Due to landscape lighting maintenance costs, contractors are demanding longer-life light bulbs. Today, 5,000-plus hour bulbs are the norm. Transformers have also changed drastically over the years. Most manufacturers now offer multitap transformers, which allow installers to design better and more efficient lighting systems. Control systems such as X-10 are becoming popular.

As the landscape lighting industry matures, the demand for more bells and whistles will continue to increase, and manufacturers such as Kichler are prepared to address those needs.

Providing higher-quality products such as brass and copper with longer-life light bulbs enables electrical contractors to bump up prices because of the higher value perceived by customers. At the same time, higher-end products eliminate the numerous callbacks required by inferior materials, thus improving overall profitability. Providing innovative products and designs also enables contractors to exude a more professional image and consequently charge a higher installed price than competitors.

According to Michael Southard, national sales manager at Kichler Landscape Lighting, offering a maintenance program is crucial for contractors installing landscape lighting. Because not many professional contractors offer this service, the market is wide open. The maintenance service (changing light bulbs, straightening fixtures, moving fixtures as needed, cleaning) can be a profitable side or fill-in service.

Vista Outdoor Professional Lighting concentrates heavily on contractor education, offering seminars not only on how to design and install lighting, but also how to market these services. To help contractors achieve their goals, Vista provides marketing material samples such as direct mail pieces and door-hangers.

An important consideration is the seasonal nature of the industry. Tom Perkins, manufacturer’s representative, said Vista encourages irrigation contractors to differentiate themselves from competitors by providing not only primary services, but also becoming full-service providers with landscape lighting, design and installation.

To save costly labor expenses of digging trenches, contractors can lay low-voltage cable when installing sprinkler systems, making the property pre-wired for the future installation of landscape lighting.


Since landscape lighting can make a dramatic difference without major renovations, it is an economical investment for homeowners. Low-voltage lighting is one of the most efficient methods for illuminating darkened areas of residences, from sprawling estates to middle-class abodes. This style of lighting transforms traditional household electricity into a safe 12V supply.

Low-voltage lighting has another distinct advantage for both commercial and residential applications. More communities such as Flagstaff, Ariz., and Ketchum, Idaho are enacting dark-sky ordinances that enable residents to see the stars at night. In some cities, supermarkets, used car lots, big box stores and even trophy homes are asked to tone down floodlights—sometimes referred to as “glare bombs.”

The city of Ketchum is replacing its “acorn” street lights—those with faux-antique globes—to light fixtures with full cut-offs that point downward, allowing no sideways glare. Upward tree lighting is not permitted in Ketchum.

The International Dark Sky Association originated in Tucson, Ariz., in the 1980s when astronomers at nearby observatories became concerned the glare from nearby cities would foil their ability to see distant galaxies.

In residential markets, Malibu’s newest line of innovative solar and low-voltage outdoor lighting products continues the company’s leadership in this category, providing both elements of safety and aesthetics in a range of exciting new styles.

“Lighting garden and deck areas brings a new ambiance to homes, creating an ideal setting for outdoor entertaining,” said Phil Kinzer, marketing manager for Malibu Outdoor Lighting at Intermatic Inc. A major selling point for residential outdoor lighting is that it can be bought in the morning and enjoyed the same night.

New Malibu models range from decorative solar accent lights in the shapes of frogs, turtles and lighthouses to color-changing lights. A fluorescent solar pathlight highlights steps, accents walkways, and borders driveways, pools and patios.

Low-voltage offerings from Intermatic run the gamut from rock lights to new shade, lantern, post and path lights. Both lines carry new nickel, pewter and rustic brick finishes. EC

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at


About the Author

Pat Woods

Freelance Writer
Pat Woods writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at" .

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