Setting The Stage with Landscape Lighting

Setting the stage with landscape lighting…

If you think all landscape lighting is the same, take an evening drive to specifically note the variety of brightness, direction, and even color at homes and businesses in your area. With modern advancements, lighting has become more than just a security and safety feature. Perhaps the biggest development in lighting over the past few years is LED, which can now replicate the warmth of halogen. LED lighting is 60%+ more energy efficient than halogen and they can last up to ten years or longer. As a result, they are now considered the industry standard. Regardless of the type of bulb, how you use the lighting makes all the difference!

Lighting can emphasize the architectural features of a building, the bark of a tree, the foliage of a shrub, the lines of a sculpture, or the movement of a water feature. Lighting and its interplay with shadows and textures can set the mood for an entire property, evoking drama or tranquility. Not all lighting is friendly to the eye or appealing in every situation. Some feels harsh to the point of making you look away, whereas others feel warm and inviting. Cool white light can appear blue, similar to interior big-box store lighting, whereas warm light looks yellow, like a tabletop lamp. In addition to selecting the suitable type of lighting, directing the light appropriately is also important.  For example, never place a light shining directly on the house; filter it through landscaping to produce soft shadows.

Lighting can be used to accentuate the texture of a masonry wall, emphasize a silhouette or even to replicate the glow of the moon. Different scenarios require different light coverage. For example, using two or more lights to accent a feature is recommended over just one, which can create a harsh spotlight effect. There also are dos and don’ts for lighting walking paths and stairs. A flat path does not generate shadows, but steps certainly do and that can create a dangerous scenario. Illuminating steps from above creates darkness that makes it challenging to find your footing. Lights placed within the risers on the other hand create a safer space as well as a very tailored look. A flat walkway can be lit with path lighting that shines down and out, providing safety as well as atmosphere. Spacing is crucial. Path lights in particular lose their full potential to perform when overused or placed too close to one another. In general with outdoor lighting, less is often more.

Another factor to consider when choosing outdoor lighting is light pollution. Some communities have “dark sky” ordinances to lower the amount of light pollution generated by outdoor lighting. Lights that create less pollution focus the light down or use shields to guide the light to the ground instead of up or to the side. Another way to decrease the amount of light pollution you generate is to use a schedule that turns your lighting either very low or off completely during designated times.

In addition to a variety of lighting angles, types of light, and placement considerations the fixtures themselves need to complement the site and be in scale with the area being lit. With all of the options to consider and the possibilities seeming endless, hiring a professional to create a lighting plan with you is essential to producing the best results. This could be a lighting design professional or a landscape designer. A general electrician does not typically specialize in the overall design and layout of outdoor lighting. In addition to walking you through options and providing informed suggestions, a professional can also assist you with setting up programming and show you how to control and customize your lighting using your phone.

The next time you are out after dark, make note of the outdoor lighting around you. Chances are you will immediately recognize a well laid plan, one that enhances the space and creates ambiance. When you see the value added with appropriate lighting it becomes clear that investing in a professional to help set the stage is worth it!

*Facade lighting in photo #4 by Red Oak Outdoor Lighting. All other lighting by Inside Out Landscape Design.