Professional tips on using low-voltage lighting in the landscape
Low-voltage landscape lighting is an afterthought for most homeowners, but professional landscapers consider it one of the most important elements in the landscape. We use lighting for three purposes:
- To create atmosphere
- Provide safety by repelling burglars or vandals
- Light the way on paths, patios, and other places we spend time in the landscape
Here, professional landscape contractors share their tips on using landscape lighting effectively.
Up until 2010, the majority of landscape contractors were using halogen lights, which provide a warm glow and great quality of light. Yet with the recent advances in LED lighting, most contractors have converted their operations to energy-efficient LEDs. Solar lights, by contrast, aren’t currently recommended by professionals.
“Halogen lighting has a warm, amber glow that makes everything look good,” says Wilcoxson. Gerry DuBreuil of Belknap Landscape Company, Inc. of Gilford, NH agrees. “Until recently, we were primarily using halogen and incandescent lighting because of the light quality.”
Unfortunately, halogen lighting costs more to run than LED. “Choosing LEDs over halogen will save you 60-70% of your energy costs each month,” says Wilcoxson. Halogen lights also require more maintenance. As Matt Barton of Coppercreek Landscaping, Inc. in Mead, WA points out, “Halogen bulbs need replacing every 8-12 months, depending on how long the system runs each day. Compare that to LEDs which have a 10-year bulb life, and LEDs look like a set-it-and-forget-it solution.” Halogen lights can also run hot, which means lights must be placed carefully so plants are not brushed up against the fixture or bulb.
Most professionals use LEDs almost exclusively now. “Our clientele are asking for LEDs more and more,” says DuBreuil. The obvious benefits are those of cost and maintenance savings over time. LED bulbs generally have a 10-year warranty so you rarely need to replace them, and the monthly cost to run is much less than halogen. “They’re eco-friendly,” says DuBreuil.
But there are other benefits, too. “LED bulbs have a very crisp light that really brings out the features of a home or landscape,” says DuBreuil. LED bulbs are available in warm white, white, and cool white tones. “The cool white has a bluish tone most people dislike,” DuBreuil continues. “I generally use warm white bulbs.”
Barton points out that because of the energy efficiency, LEDs can be easier for your landscaper to install. “You can use more lights on a run, or even use a smaller transformer which saves money. It takes a lot less wiring and labor time to install LEDs compared to halogen.”
LED bulbs also stay cool, which means you can nestle a plant next to your LED fixture without worrying about burning the foliage.
Most of the cons of LED lighting are in the past. “LEDs have come leaps and bounds in the last couple of years in terms of quality of light and fixtures,” says DuBreuil. While the LED bulbs of the past were a cold bluish-white, now the bulbs are available in warmer tones that feel more welcoming in the landscape. In addition, manufacturers have begun offering well-designed, professional-grade fixtures that last well in the landscape.
The price of bulbs is another consideration. “LED bulbs can run $30-40 each,” says Wilcoxson, “while halogen bulbs are only about $6.” Yet the ease of installing LEDs means that the higher cost often balances out in labor savings.
Low Voltage Lighting Terminology
By Scott Cohen of The Green Scene in Northridge, CA
When having low-voltage landscape lighting installed you may hear your contractor use these terms:
- Low Voltage Transformer: A transformer converts line voltage power from a dangerous 120 volts down to 12 volts.
- Direct burial cable: Low voltage cable can be direct burial cable meaning it does not require placement in a conduit when set underground.. The longer the run the heavier your cable should be. Line loss occurs more readily in smaller cables. Plan your system with 12-2 twisted pair wiring for typical runs and 10-2 or even 8-2 for runs over 100 feet.
- Line loss: Low voltage electrical systems are very susceptible to “line loss”, the voltage drop caused by resistance in wire during transmission of electrical power over distance.
- Watts: A watt is a measurement of total electrical power. Volts x amps = watts
- Cable Load: Cable load defines how many watts can be on any one cable. Plan for 100 watts on 12-2, 150 watts on 10-2 and up to 200 watts on 8-2.
Placement in the landscape
In a new landscape, once you have a written landscaping plan it’s easy for a professional to recommend some high-impact locations for lighting. Some of the best locations will be specific to your particular landscape, but there are a few common places that work well when lit.
- Pathways and steps – “We call this traverse lighting because it helps you get from one place to another,” says Wilcoxson.
- Decks and patios – Similarly, patio lighting is called “converse”. “This type of lighting allows you to enjoy conversation and company,” Wilcoxson says. “When you chat with friends, you want to be able to see them.”
- Home and architecture – Barton suggests lighting your front entry, pillars and stone veneer.
- Water features – “There are underwater lights available that highlight the rippling water in a simple, classic way,” says Barton.
- Driveway – Few lights are needed on the driveway, since we all have headlights. The best tactic for lighting a driveway is to light the landscape alongside.
- Trees – Uplighting into trees creates bold shadows in the landscape, while downlighting from the top of a tree mimics the romantic effect of moonlight.
- Patio covers and pergolas – “A chandelier light fixture overhead feels inviting and creates ambience,” says Barton.
While landscape lighting is one of the first things to get thrown out when the budget is tight, landscapers urge you to reconsider. “Here in Ohio, we don’t sit outside in the afternoon. “But as soon as the sun goes down, you can have barbecues, night-time parties, or just sit quietly outside enjoying the landscape. Good lighting lets you actually use your landscape.” If the budget doesn’t allow for a full lighting installation, you can either break the project into two stages, or just choose a few key locations to light.
If you can’t afford lighting right now, at least pre-wire it so if you install it later, your landscaper won’t have to dig up your sod and beautiful landscape. When your landscape is all dug up and in the construction phase, it takes very little effort to run wiring throughout the landscape. Once you lay sod and your shrubs have filled in, digging up the landscape to add wire takes a lot more time and money. I would 100% encourage people to pre-wire; it saves so much money for them in the end.
If you’d like to install lighting right now but need to keep it minimal, there are a few areas to consider first.
- Pathways and patios – The functional areas always come first. This lets you actually spend time in your landscape after dark.
- Architectural features – Suggests putting the focus on your home. Pillars, stone and veneer make beautiful shadows and cast indirect light into the landscape
- Focal areas – Every landscape will have its own unique features. Old twisting trees, waterfalls, or spiky plants are all dramatic candidates for lighting.
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EP Henry Patio Ideas
Blank Canvas Masterpiece
Think of your outdoor room as a blank canvas. Your outdoor room is an extension of the house, but it is also an expression of you. Just as your indoor decor choices inside reflect your unique style, your outdoor spaces deserve the same careful curation and dedication. Choosing the right colors of paving stones is a step in the right direction.
Owners may think their color choices are limited when it comes to designing outdoor spaces because they mistakenly believe they must use the same exact colors and materials as the house. Good design increases the resale value of your home, but good design doesn’t necessarily mean uniformity. A variation in color and style adds depth and drama to a scene. Design theory is all about the most-pleasing mix of colors and shapes. Paving stones for walkways, driveways, patios or pool decks can use colors that are complementary to the house’s colors. This adds impact and interest to your curb appeal and the property.
In the art world, mixing light colors is called “additive color mixing.” An equal combination of all the colors in additive color mixing makes white light. To mix colors with solid paints (e.g. acrylics or oils) it’s called “subtractive color mixing.” Adding all the colors of solid paint will make black paint. Let’s call outdoor paver color matching “Hardscape color mixing.” Adding all (the right) colors will make a beautiful and welcoming outdoor scene that adds value to your home.
Psychologists have long known that color affects mood. Color is used in advertising to convey messages about the product. What kind of feeling do you want your Hardscape to evoke? The subtle changes in shapes and colors of your pavers can help or hinder your goals for the space. For example, outdoor bars can be sporty or sophisticated, just like commercial establishments can be. Pools can be designed to feel slow and relaxing or to be an exciting, active area. Color takes a big role in these decisions.
We offer design consultations and installation for all of your hard scape needs. If you have considered adding a paver patio, or an outdoor kitchen, call us today! Our team of experts can transform any back yard into an outdoor living space of your dreams.
At Mock Property Services, we believe in helping you “Love Where You Live”
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Increase your Living Space Without Moving
Rather than upgrading to a larger home, many people are looking to expand their living space outdoors. As a result, patios are becoming larger, more luxurious, and more sheltered. Outdoor patios have become hubs of activity geared towards entertaining and relaxing. A well-designed patio will not only add additional living space to your home, but also increase its resale value.
Since your patio will provide the foundation for your outdoor living space, it will need to be durable, well-constructed and attractive. There are a variety of patio designs and paving materials to choose from. Mock Property Services will be able to help you determine what size, shape and style of patio that best suits your needs. We will also help you decide what other features you would like to add to your outdoor living space.
Backyards have become a true extension of the home. When properly landscaped, a backyard will provide additional outdoor living space where you can spend time with family and friends. Backyards have become areas for recreation as well as relaxation. And many amenities that used to be just for the indoors, such as fireplaces and fully equipped kitchens, are finding their way into backyard decorating ideas.
With good planning, design and construction, your backyard living space can become a multipurpose area for relaxing, entertaining and playing. In addition, custom backyard landscaping can add to the monetary value of your home. When tackling a backyard landscaping project, it’s always best to start with a plan in mind, so spend some time gathering landscaping ideas and looking at photos before jumping into your own backyard overhaul.
At Mock Property Services, we can make your outdoor living space dreams come true! We install patios, outdoor kitchens, outdoor structures, fire pits, sitting walls, landscape lighting and more! This will not only add an extension to your home, it will increase the value of your home as well!