Light Up Your Landscape
By Theresa DiMarco
Few people realize that lighting design is a specialized field. Advice is often given about the simplicity of installing outdoor lighting, and the general notion is that anyone can do it.
An experienced lighting designer will get to know the homeowner and find out what mood the homeowner wants to create. Special garden features should be considered, and may include waterfalls, statues and other unusual landscape details. Key variables in the overall design include all entrances to the home, outdoor entertainment needs, and security for the property.
According to Bill Locklin, the inventor of professional low voltage landscape lighting fixtures, “the effect, not the source” is the basis of all good lighting designs. Your attention should be drawn to the object or plant that is being lit, not the light or the light fixture itself. Light fixtures should be concealed at night and during the day.
A distinctive feature of professionally designed landscape lighting is the placement of the fixtures. All light should be contained within the perimeter of the property. There should be no overflow of light onto neighboring properties or streets. The goal in all professional outdoor light designs is a ‘subdued’ effect.
“Glare should be kept down to a minimum and the overall effect should be aesthetically pleasing to the eye,” says Frank DiMarco, of DiMarco Landscape Lighting in Toronto. DiMarco, my husband, is a Lighting Designer and a Master Electrician.
Lighting designers use a number of special techniques to enhance focal points and illuminate a property. With ‘up lighting’ the light source is mounted in the ground, throwing light upward. ‘Down lighting’ uses light fixtures located at the highest point in a tree or structure, casting light downward to create shadows and a moonlight effect. With ‘back lighting’ the light source is placed behind a plant or object, creating silhouettes and shadows.
Light focused on specific areas of a landscape is referred to as ‘focal point’ lighting. ‘Cross lighting’ is achieved when two lights are placed on either side of a plant or object. ‘Flood lighting’ is soft, general lighting projected onto large areas, such as the façade of a house. ‘Path lighting’ is low-level light (lower than knee level) provided along a pathway to ensure safety and indicate grade changes.
The intensity of light will depend on the level of ambient light, which consists of streetlights and house lights. In most designs, the lighting designer’s objective is to portray and enhance the natural color of the landscape. This is why colored lenses are generally not used.
The most commonly used types of light sources are incandescent, quartz halogen, mercury vapor, and metal halide. Incandescent lamps are the least expensive to install but have a short lamp life. Metal halide and mercury vapor lamps have considerably longer lamp life but are expensive to install. Mercury vapor lamps give a blue/green spectrum and are most effective when used to enhance trees, shrubs and lawns, which are blue or green in their natural state.
Some landscape lighting systems use low voltage (12 volts), but other systems require a higher voltage. High voltage is used to achieve intense levels of illumination for trees and other large structures. Low voltage is safer to work with, less expensive to install, and more energy efficient.
All professional landscape lights are guaranteed to be corrosion resistant and durable, making them suitable for our seasonal climate. Some lighting systems are manufactured in Canada. Others are available through distributors who sell exclusively to contractors.
“Every manufacturer has their specialty. One fixture is preferred over another in certain applications to achieve a particular effect. This is why in many designs, a variety of quality products will be used,” says DiMarco.
There are a number of ways to regulate outdoor lighting systems. Controls range from simple switches to electronic timers. The most sophisticated control is a programmable scenist – a dimming system that allows you to create different lighting effects with the touch of a button.
Landscape lighting should be programmed to come on at dusk and shut off after three to six hours. The customer should be able to control the number of light hours and change the options at any time. The control panel should be easy to use and a demonstration should be provided to the customer once the installation is complete.
To ensure that the standards of the Canadian Electric Code are met, an electrician with a Master's Certification should install your landscape lighting system. “In both low voltage and line voltage an electrician should put in a ground fault interrupting breaker, which controls the power to the lighting circuits. If there is a leakage to ground, the breaker will shut down, allowing no power to the outdoor lights,” advises Bill Hirons, a lighting educator, designer and electrician.
about the qualifications of the lighting designer and the installer. The
installer should have Workers Compensation coverage for electrical
installations and electrical liability insurance. Electricians
with the proper coverage are insured for electrical damage. Contractors
that are not licensed or insured to install outdoor lighting will not
have liability coverage.
Ask your lighting contractor about the warranty of products, guarantees for installation, and follow up service. Ask to see the lighting designer’s portfolio and get customer references. The lighting designer should be able to recommend the type of fixture suitable for a particular area. The designer should also be willing to work with you to incorporate your ideas. The lighting plan should reflect your personality.
You can expect to spend approximately ten to fifteen percent of the value of your landscape on professional outdoor lighting. Designed and installed landscape lighting systems range from $3,500 to $10,000, and more elaborate systems can cost as much as $100,000. The price will depend on the number and type of fixtures, the size of your property, the voltage level, and the installation requirements.
If the cost of the lighting system is not feasible, the designer can implement the system in stages. You should receive a complete plan that lets you prioritize those stages, so that the stages that are most important to you are installed first. All the wiring for the complete system can be done in the first stage of installation, making the addition of more fixtures less expensive. You can then implement additional stages later.
Landscape lighting is well worth the investment. You will get many compliments and years of nighttime pleasure from your landscape. There is nothing more welcoming at night than being guided to your home by soft lighting. And since outdoor lights act as a deterrent for potential prowlers, your night lighting will also provide extra security for your home.
Consult a lighting designer today. Light up your landscape and discover the magic of outdoor lights.
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