One of the best things that we’ve added to our exterior landscape was lighting. I loved coming home and seeing the front of our house beautifully illuminated in a way that highlights the plantings and architecture of our house.
Landscape lighting is best described as painting with light and is about beautifying all that is natural or manmade in a landscaped setting around the home. It is most effective when used in limited, subtle ways.
If designed correctly it can be an extension of your home decor and can extend the use of outdoor spaces to the home while providing safety, atmosphere and space definition.
Properly placed landscape lights can be used to bring trees and shrubs to life at night and accentuate features around your home that are not visible or obvious during the day time. If used correctly, low level lighting can be used to illuminate pathways and stairs for safety and security. Landscape lighting allows you to enjoy your garden and exterior amenities of your home even after the sun has set.
My partner Chris loves to do lighting design, so when we had the front of our home landscaped, he suggested that I have the contractors install the necessary wiring and transformers. The company sized the transformer so that we could add wire to the existing landscape at the back of our home and Chris added that wiring for us later. He designed the lighting and installed all of the lights.
Landscape lighting around our home has given us the following benefits:
1. Safety – We placed mushroom lights along our front walkways. In addition to beautifully accenting the pavers with pools of light, they make it very easy for visitors to find their way to our front door.
2. Security – Properly placed rocks lights and spot lights not only accentuate the landscape and front of our home, but the illumination can serve to deter trespassers.
3. Ambience – small domed lights placed throughout the landscaping around our deck accentuate the plantings and provide plenty of lighting for entertaining without the need to turn on glaring spotlights.
So how do you get started?
Design and Plan
Once the layout of the landscape has been established, it is very important to plan the placement of your landscape lighting. Lighting can focus on aspects in your landscape which are special to you, such as garden art, a water feature, or an unusual planting. Create a point of interest by highlighting a particular tree, shrub, or architectural aspect of your landscape with a flood light placed at ground level and focused upward.
Combinations of light and shadow can create dramatic effects in complete contrast to the daylight scene. Lighting around pools can create a nice mirroring effect off of water or create a tropical feel. Lighting can hide obvious landscape problems while accentuating positive features.
TIP FROM CHRIS: You want to accentuate the landscape, not have it look like Stalag 13. Use a flashlight to test out your design. Go out at night and use the flashlight to find the best angle to highlight a plant or feature or decide where to create pools of light on a pathway.
If you’re still not sure, hire a landscape architect to provide a design.
Typically, low voltage lighting systems are used for landscape lighting around the home. The preferred light fittings used to create landscape lighting, are low voltage, weather resistant fixtures. The low voltage used reduces the risk of electrocution if live wiring or terminals are touched. Also if power supply transformers are used to reduce the voltage, then they also isolate the low voltage system from the mains voltage which increases safety.
Pre-wired low voltage systems are available for those who want to install their own. These are low voltage light fittings that come completely prewired and ready to install, with weather proof transformers, sealed connectors and pre-installed lamps.
Separately wired low voltage light fittings and transformers should only be installed by persons that have the experience to do so. It is recommended that these installations should be carried out by a qualified electrician. (Chris used to work for his grandfather’s electrical contracting business, so he had the necessary experience.)
TIP FROM CHRIS: Safety first! He notes that if you aren’t using a prewired lighting package, it’s necessary to calculate how much electricity your combination of lights will draw so as not to overload the system. If you don’t know how to do this – hire a professional!
Whatever you choose, be sure to include a timer or a daylight sensor so that the lighting is automatically switched off during daylight hours.
What About Solar?
An alternative to low voltage lighting are solar lights. Solar landscape lighting stores energy captured during the day and then when it becomes dark enough, the outside lighting switches on automatically and stay on all night until they run out of battery power. One advantage is that solar lighting does not use any wiring or external power source.
When we did our lighting design years ago solar options were limited. While there are more options available today, Chris says he would still use the low voltage wired lights in the areas where we have them. Why? Because they provide consistent dependable levels of lighting. Depending on shade and the weather, solar charging levels can be unpredictable. In addition, the lighting levels will diminish as the night goes on.
TIP FROM CHRIS: Use solar lights where it’s impossible or challenging to run the wire necessary for low voltage systems.
We used solar lights to accent a dark corner near our garage and in a bed next to our shed which is far away from the house to light that corner of the yard.
Whatever style you choose, lighting can truly add to your landscape. Comment below and show us your designs!