Monday, July 20, 2009

About This Site

This site is run by individuals with decades of experience in landscape design and electrical work. Tired of seeing a terrible selection of sites available for those searching for information about landscape lighting, we decided to launch this simple site on a free host (thank you, Blogger). It’s purpose is basic: to provide consumers with real, informative insight and to help them make a better decision when they purchase outdoor lighting.

A quick search on the internet will turn up several so-called articles that are content-poor and ad-rich. It doesn’t take long to see that many of these are written by people with little or no actual experience with lighting or landscaping – much less with landscape lighting! Other sites belong to lighting manufacturers and sales companies, all of whom want to sell you their lighting products. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there seemed to be a missing link.

We felt like there needed to be a place where people could come before they buy their outdoor lighting. A place where they can get the straight story on what kinds of lighting are available, and what some of the pros and cons of each type are. We also wanted to provide a forum for questions and discussion, not just a “dead” site that provides no user interaction other than a “buy now” button.

Hopefully, the information provided here is helpful to you. We have tried to keep it straight-forward and to-the-point so you can get what you need and move on. If you have questions or any other input, there are comment boxes on every page and after each post – use them at will!

Best wishes in your quest to beautify your surroundings and to make the most out of your landscape lighting budget. Thank you for visiting.

Types of Fixtures

The kind of fixtures you choose will be dictated primarily by the area you are working with and what you want to achieve by adding lights to that area. You will likely want to put different types in different parts of your property as you go. For a front walk, you might prefer some stakes or bollards to light the way for visitors. Motion lights installed atop a garage can deter would-be intruders, while floods around perimeter areas looks nice and enhance security. Look through the list below to familiarize yourself with the most common types of fixtures available on the market today.

  • Stake Lighting- Stake (or stem) lights are one of the most common types of outdoor lighting used by homeowners to add a quick, dramatic upgrade to any outdoor area. A bollard sits atop a stake that is driven directly into the ground. These are most popular to line paths and walkways, and are also beautiful distributed throughout beds & displays.
  • Well Lighting- This type of fixture is recessed into the ground and so, of course, requires more work to install. These kinds of lights can serve to create a kind of fluidity where light seemingly emanates from the ground itself. Like bollards, they’re most often used along paths or in beds.
  • Bollards- Bollards, also known as post lights, are an increasingly popular option. Like stake lights, they stand vertically from the ground – usually between 1-3 feet in height. Bollards, though, are encased all the way up so that they look like a column or post. This kind of light fixture can look very impressive, stately, and dramatic. A major advantage of installing this kind of lighting is that the outer encasement not only looks nice; it serves to protect your actual light fixtures from damage inflicted by weather, pets, landscapers, and so on.
  • Flood Lights – Sometimes called spot lights, flood lights are used to illuminate a large area, providing enhanced security. They can be great for brightening up an area used for parties or gatherings, too. Floods placed at the outlying areas of a large property can be a good way of eliminating any temptation for thieves and such types to lurk in the shadows there.
  • Post Cap Lighting- This type of light fixture sits atop a fence post or column, and can also make a great addition to a deck or patio. Another nice use for post caps are on driveway posts, if you have them. It can be a nice way to welcome visitors, while simultaneously deterring possible trespassers.
  • String Lighting- String lights are just what they sound like, and consist of many small bulbs strung along a line. This is an especially fun way to liven up any outdoor area. Use them under an arbor, wrapped around a tree, or even on an apartment balcony. There’s a huge variety of this kind of light out there, from the silly (with bulbs encased in miniature margaritas, peppers, lobsters, the list goes on and on..) to the serious (tiny, understated, twinkling glass bulbs).
  • Wall-Mount Lights- Again, the name says it all. A wall-mount fixture is attached to the side of your house, garage, or other structure. A wide variety of lights are offered in this type of fixture, whether you want a soft and subtle glow, a bright flood effect, or anything in between.
  • Motion Sensor Lights- Primarily used for security purposes, these lights also save energy since they only come on when triggered by movement. Motion sensor lights are most commonly found in wall-mount fixtures, but can be found in other types.

Each of these types of lights are available in energy efficient models, like those using solar and LED technologies. They can also be found in vastly varying styles and colors.

If you have questions not answered by the information on this page, please post them in the comment box below.

Energy Efficient Lighting

In times past, outdoor lights ran exclusively off of electricity and used only incandescent bulbs. Landscape lighting has come a long way in the past few years, though, with more energy-saving options available than ever before. As a consumer, you’ve got some serious options when it comes to purchasing outdoor lighting that is eco-friendly and saves you money on your energy bill. Here’s a basic rundown of what’s out there and what it all means.

  • Compact Florescent lighting (CF) – CFs are a step above the traditional incandescent bulbs. They contain only trace amounts of mercury, unlike their predecessors, which had loads of the toxin. While not as ‘green’ as some other options in the energy efficient family of outdoor lighting, CFs are a step in a more ecological direction. They still run off of electricity but use less of it than older-style bulbs.
  • Solar Powered Lighting – Solar powered lights absorb energy from the sun during the day, which provides them power to run at night. No wires, no plugs, no electricity usage at all is required to run solar lights. This makes them the only 100% energy efficient option available for purchase today. A good solar powered light, given adequate sun exposure, should run for at least 12 hours. The only major drawback is that these must be placed in high-sun areas for optimum performance. These require zero mercury to operate.
  • LED Lighting - LED is an acronym for Light Emitting Diode, a technology which has all but made incandescent and halogen bulbs obsolete. Not only do LEDs put out much more light and last years longer; they are 80% more energy efficient than outdoor lighting of old. LED lights contain no mercury.

You shouldn’t be limited when it comes to style and type, either. Most companies offer energy efficient options throughout their entire product line.

Cost Concerns

Another thing you’ll find in your quest for the perfect outdoor lighting is that prices vary greatly. A set of stake lights can be purchased for less than twenty dollars, while a single fixture can cost hundreds of dollars. Often, the cheapest sets are of very poor quality. While there’s nothing wrong with installing inexpensive lighting for a quick and easy upgrade; just don’t expect them to last for many seasons.

LED and solar powered light fixtures will usually cost more than their incandescent and florescent counterparts, and prices vary even within the categories of LED and solar-powered themselves. With solar-powered units, if you are considering purchasing a lower-end brand – please make sure to read the product specifications first to make sure that they will absorb and produce enough light for your satisfaction.

High-style and decorative fixtures always carry an extra cost, but if you can afford to do so it’s nice to be able to use lighting that reflects your personal tastes. While any lighting added to your landscape is going to be an improvement, careful consideration about which lights you put in will bring the added aesthetic to new heights.

If you desire high quality and style, but are on a meager budget consider purchasing your lighting in increments – buying an individual set or fixture at a time. Eventually, your entire property will be outfitted with good products that will continue to please you and your guests for years to come.

Innovative Ideas in Modern Landscape Lighting

  • Set up an outdoor kitchen. Summertime begs for barbecues to be had, so why not deck out your deck like a fully functional kitchen. When the weather is warm, you can just head outdoors rather than firing up the oven or stove inside. Mount or hang lights above utility areas, like the sink and barbecue – as well as areas where food will be prepared. Think about using dimmers on such lights, so that the brightness can be decreased later when the cooking area is not being used. String lights can be a pretty addition to such an area, adding sparkle and an all-over, “even” illumination to enjoy a meal under. You can even find a table light or chandelier for outdoor use to place over your dining area.
  • Mimic the moon – right in your own back yard. Lights can be placed in trees or on chimneys to shine downward, giving a glow akin to soft moonlight. This can be fun to light an area for a gathering or party.
  • Colored bulbs and covers are still a good way to jazz up an area for a special occasion. Use blue for a relaxing meal with friends, red or pink to set a romantic mood, or multiple colors to add a little something extra to a garden party. It’s amazing the difference made in an area by switching out your everyday bulbs to colored ones. It’s a very low-cost way to create dramatic (and temporary) changes in your outdoor environment.
  • Instead of the more common placement in front of an object, place a light behind something (a tree, shrub, or statue) to create a shadowy outline.
  • Place lighting under the eaves of your house to create a nice glow that seems to emanate from the house itself. This has a rather welcoming effect and looks especially fantastic during a foggy night.
  • Your landscape lights can also be used to up the decorative drama around holidays. As mentioned above, switching bulbs out to appropriately-colored ones is a quick way to make your place more festive. Don’t think cheesy here, either. Christmas bulbs don’t have to be red and green. How about blue and white or red and white? Dark purple or blood red lights can make a big impression around Halloween, too. Also, if you have installed the aforementioned under-eave lighting, having a colored bulb in bathes your home in a new hue.

These are just a few interesting ideas. Imagine the possibilities for your own property, and don’t limit yourself by thinking about the way other people have configured their outdoor lighting. Get creative and think of new ways to utilize light in your yard. (Always remember to consult a certified electrician if your lighting requires the installation of a transformer.) While you don’t want to end up with something that’s just too over-the-top or wacky, be confident in adding your own twist to the design of your outdoor lighting.

Have creative lighting design ideas of your own? We’d love to hear about them!

Energy Saving Tips

Take some pointers on how to cut down on energy consumption from your landscape lighting. Even if you are already using florescents or LED lights there are plenty of ways to further ramp up efficiency. Note that most of these tips don’t apply to solar powered lights, which are already a hundred percent energy-efficient.

  • Use a timer. Set it to turn your decorative lights off after you’ve gone to bed. Lights that aren’t used for security purposes don’t need to be on until dawn. Nobody who appreciates it is looking and it’s really just a waste of electricity.
  • Don’t go light-crazy. The concept of “less is more” really applies when it comes to lighting your landscaped areas. Start with a small number of lights to delicately accent your outdoor displays. You can always add more later, but it’s often the more subtle approaches to lighting that are favored by top landscape designers.
  • Trim bushes to maximize the scope of illumination provided by any single light so that you don’t have to use multiple lights to light an area that could be handled by one well-placed and accommodated for light.
  • Use motion-sensor lights rather than flood lights whenever possible in areas that pose a security concern. Since they only come on when activated by movement – and even then for a limited time – these will obviously use a lot less power than a light that constantly stays on (plus they can startle and deter a would-be intruder).
  • When using motion detecting lights, make sure you adjust the sensitivity so it isn’t going off each time the person across the street checks their mail or the wind blows swiftly. Having the lights turn on all the time for no apparent reason is wasteful and sort of defeats the purpose of having the element of surprise over a potential burglar.
  • Keep it low-voltage. For decorative lighting, 12-volt systems should suffice in most scenarios. No need to use more than what it takes to achieve the results you want.
  • Just don’t run lights you’re not using. If you have a lighted back patio used for eating and entertaining, keep those lights off unless you are actually utilizing that space right then.

These tips can really help to cut down your overall energy use and save a little cash over the long haul. If you have energy saving tips to share, please use the “leave a comment” link below.

What’s Your Light-style

When you think of adding lighting to your landscape, an important factor to consider is style. Do you know what yours is?

If you enjoy sleek, clean decorations in your home and favor a tidy and put-together look, modern style fixtures may be the right choice for you. Lights that fit in to the modern category are contemporary and simple. They lend themselves especially well to highly-manicured landscapes, but can also provide an interesting contrast to more “wild” looking planting schemes.

If wood, wire, and weathering are your cup of tea perhaps rustic is the style for you. Rustic light fixtures are often old-fashioned looking and are adorned with images of nature. If a light fixture looks like a worn old artifact or has the silhouette of a moose on it, it’s going to fall into the rustic category. Rustic motifs often fit cabin style homes and xeriscaped yards, but can provide a pleasing offset to a more stark-looking place.

Are you an art or history buff who loves art-deco or maybe late victorian styles? If so, then period pieces might be best suited to your tastes. Period light fixtures are designed to specifically mimic certain eras and style movements. Lanterns that appear like the gas lamps of old are available to really give that old-fashioned or artsy touch to your outdoor retreat. Craftsman and mission styles fall into this category, along with many other fabulous fixtures.

If you favor funky, edgy styles that push the envelope and start conversations then perhaps trendy pieces are right for your yard. These light fixtures make use of unique materials and designs. They stand out as being unique and bold and are well-suited for someone who does a lot of entertaining as they are real conversation-starters. Sometimes you’ll pay a bit more for the designer flair, but it’s worth it if that’s what suits you best.

These are not the only styles available and lighting can be found that defies categorization or is a blend of two or more different styles. Energy efficient and eco-friendly technology can be readily found within pretty much every style out there, as can more utilitarian lights (such as motion-detecting lights and floodlights).

Pick one category and purchase all of your outdoor lights to fit within that motif or mix and match as you see fit. You could dedicate different spots on your property to different styles – maybe a zen garden with simple and sleek modern post lights in one area and some Victorian period style fixtures near a rose garden. The possibilities are endless and are limited only by your imagination.

The Importance of Choosing Landscape Lighting Carfully

Lighting is no less important an aspect of your landscape than the flora you’ve populated it with. You selected each tree and plant carefully and took great care with the placement of rocks and other decorations. You chose the type of flower beds that best suit you and your lifestyle, be that a collection of water-saving native plants with natural mulch or a Victorian rose garden with white rocks covering the ground beneath them. Each bit of your outdoor area is a chance for you to showcase your style and to create a place that embodies your idea of beauty. The right outdoor lighting set can highlight, compliment, and beautify your outdoor area. Conversely, choosing the wrong ones can take away from what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Creating just the right ambiance for your outdoor retreat is key. Making a hasty decision now can lead to disappointment and frustration later, so it’s important to take a little time to become familiar with the different options available when it comes to outdoor lighting. There are so many styles in outdoor lighting that it may be confusing at first, so figure out what styles you like most before you shop and you’ll save yourself a lot of time and undue stress.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to take into account certain variables such as the primary use of your chosen area, the lay of the land, and more. You need to decide what you hope to achieve by installing the lights. Are you looking to brighten a dim area that worries you for security reasons? Do you want to provide a gentle glow to a flower bed alongside your home? How about illuminating a basketball court or other area where safety (and fun!) is a concern? Maybe you’re goal is to light a path to your door to welcome visitors or to illuminate your address or a particular tree? Different types of light fixtures are going to be better suited for differing uses. Visit the “Types of Light Fixtures” page on this site to familiarize yourself with the basic types and their respective uses.

Taking an extra few moments to familiarize yourself with the different aspects of the varying types of outdoor illumination will be well worth the time. Be an informed consumer and end up with an outdoor haven that you are genuinely happy with.

What is a Transformer and Do You Need One?

A transformer is simply a device that steps down the 120 volt electricity coming from your house to a lower voltage suitable for running landscape lights. Unless you are using solar lights, you will want to purchase a transformer. It’s best to buy one that is rated to handle more wattage than you will use with your outdoor lights. That way, you’ll have the option to add more lighting in the future without having to buy a brand new transformer.

Add together the wattage from each individual light you’ll install around your property, and get a transformer that can handle 20 or 30 percent more than that if possible. (Don’t, however, use a transformer that is rated for more than twice the wattage you’re currently running.) Shop around a bit to find a good price, as there are ample makes and models on the market.

When it comes to installation, the unit can be mounted directly on to the house or garage, or can be housed in an above ground box. It is strongly recommended that you hire an electrician to perform the installation! To be fair, it is perfectly legal to install your own transformer as long as you strictly follow legal electrical code for your state. For those who are not highly knowledgeable in this area, it is usually much better to hire someone who is. There are a lot of little things that can go wrong with electrical work, and it is very dangerous to attempt for someone with little or no experience.

Find someone locally by word of mouth, if possible. Talk to neighbors or friends to find someone who’ll cut you a break on the going rate. It’s a fairly easy job for a professional, and it will save you a big headache – and possibly much worse. You may want to dig trenches and lay cable at this time if you will be lighting your entire property (even if you won’t be installing the fixtures themselves until a later date) to save the trouble of digging around later in established planting areas.

Again, if you’re going all solar or your home is already equipped for outdoor electricity use appropriate for landscaping lights then you won’t have to worry about this step of the process. Another tip: if you search the internet for information on the topic, enter the term “transformer” as opposed to “transformers.” With the popular movie still in theaters, searching the plural form of the word is likely to turn up a lot of hits that don’t reflect what your looking for.