Your company has spent a great deal of time and energy to create the perfect landscape for your client, and their reaction is a very pleasant smile and perhaps a warm handshake. But what if you could add just one more element that would, with the flick a switch, produce a jaw-dropping, eye-popping WOW?
Landscape lighting is the factor that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Lighting can enhance a waterfall, add a touch of style to a deck or patio, punch up the barbecue area, or softly light a secluded nook in the backyard. For landscape contractors who have “seen the light,” they will never be able to look at a project in quite the same way as they had before.
“Lighting is now in my mind right from the start when I meet a client and throughout the entire landscape process,” says Lynn Wilhelm, owner of Linden Landscape Design, Cary, North Carolina. “As soon as I see the architecture of the home and understand how the owner wants to use their property, I plan how I can use lighting to enhance the space.”
Wilhelm got bitten by the “lighting bug” about 10 years ago, when she was working on a project with a lighting contractor who was conducting a demonstration for a client.
“I was working on their water feature, which flowed down a stream to a pond. Above the pond is a patio with a stone wall. The lighting contractor positioned the fixtures so that the light hit the water first, and the reflection against the wall gave it a ripple effect. It was incredible. The homeowners literally said, “WOW” when they saw it. It was my ah-ha! moment. From then on, I was hooked.”
Wilhelm’s goal is to make her clients’ homes as inviting as possible. “Lighting creates an enjoyable experience from the moment they walk up to the front entrance. It also provides a sense of safety and security which, of course, doesn’t exist if you’re walking in the dark,” she said.
Paul Gosselin, owner of Night Scenes in Kingsland, Texas, agrees. “In addition to creating a mood, exterior lighting provides a more secure environment that protects homeowners from falling over objects in the dark. It also protects their property from theft.”
However, Gosselin also says that safety and security is only a small part of the overall lighting experience. “With the right styles, colors and types of lights used and positioned, you can set a variety of moods for the homeowner to enjoy. Lighting can be romantic, or elegant, fun and playful, or simply create a relaxing oasis from the tensions of the workday.”
Lighting is the finishing touch, the cherry on top, the piece de resistance, of landscape design. No new home construction is complete without proper lighting, Gosselin says.
With more and more homeowners extending their living spaces by investing in outdoor patios, kitchens, and barbeques, they also want to be able to enjoy outdoor living a lot longer. “Historically, once the sun went down, you either had to go inside, or sit outside in the dark,” says Brandon Stevens of Nite Time Dcor, Lubbock, Texas.
“So what lighting does is give homeowners the ability, with a little bit more of an investment, to create their own resort in their backyards and use the improvements they made a lot longer.”
Installing lights in a landscape involves much more than simply sticking fixtures into the ground, plugging the cord into a socket and turning on a switch. “You can’t just stick a bunch of light fixtures on your truck and call yourself a landscape lighting designer,” says Maria Burk of Kichler Lighting, Independence, Ohio.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do it right and be well trained about lighting design and proper installation. Even though it’s called low-voltage, if it’s not installed correctly—per industry and safety standards—it could be quite literally a shock to the installer, or the homeowner.”
“Designing with light is very different than any other type of landscape design,” Burk adds. “Knowing what type of lights to use and where to position them, especially at different times of the year, is crucial to achieving the desired effect. There are a wide variety of lighting techniques that, if used properly, will achieve dramatic results.”
Accenting: This technique directs beams of light to highlight particular elements of the landscape, such as a prized ornamental shrub or statue.
Downlighting: As simple as illuminating a path or walkway with low fixtures, or as complex as a floodlight mounted on a pole, building or tree, this technique lights a larger area than accenting.
Uplighting: More dramatic and the reverse of downlighting. Fixtures on the surface or well lights shine upward to highlight leaves, bark, or statues.
Silhouetting: Lights located behind and beneath a landscape feature to show the general shape or silhouette without revealing details.
Lights located in front and beneath a landscape feature to throw a
shadow on a wall, fence or building behind the feature.
Moonlighting: A type of downlighting using soft diffused light from fixtures located in a tree or pole to resemble the glow of the moon through the plant canopy.
Grazing: This technique shines light on surfaces to reveal interesting textures, such as brick, rough wood or tree bark.
Deciding which technique to use, or a combination of several effects and fixtures, depends on what other hardscapes and plant material are involved. Some leaves may have silver bottoms and are best lit from underneath, while others look best lit from above.
The plant material in the landscape also makes a big difference in what type of lighting you’re using, because you’re going to get a totally different light effect with different plants.
“For example, a tree lit with a shadow on a wall is going to look really cool. Sometimes a shadow is as important as lighting the tree itself,” Wilhelm says. “Going to the property at night and doing a thorough walk-through to adjust everything after it’s been installed is crucial.”
You have to be very careful how you position the light fixtures. You need to make sure the lights don’t shine in the eyes of the people who are walking up the steps or standing at the front door. You also want to be sure that the homeowner doesn’t see that light source for aesthetic as well as for safety reasons.
“There are many fixtures available to handle the problem. Long shrouds force light to go where you want it to, and different lens pieces— like frosted lenses and spread lenses keep the light from being harsh if someone looks at the source.Careful placement will keep that from being a problem, Wilhelm added.
The optimum goal of lighting is to enhance and not overpower the landscape. Sometimes less is more, especially with lights. You don’t want your backyard looking like Las Vegas or Times Square. If you want to light up a miniature Japanese maple, you have to be careful, because even the smallest low-voltage lighting will dwarf the tree. You don’t want your clients saying, “Look at the light fixtures around that little tree,” instead of “Look at that tree.”
Placing accent lights strategically around the yard is more aesthetically pleasing than one huge light on the porch. Smaller, smarter lights placed along paths, up steps, and in landscaping beds create a beautiful ambiance that adds to the nighttime beauty of the landscape.
Small, low-voltage lighting whose source can be hidden in places where no other lighting fixture has gone before has been the motto of A.J. Hetzke of IlluminFx, Rochester, New York, for more than 17 years. He works with fiber optic lighting.
With fiber optic lighting, you can put light in places where you could never put lights before, because the end points where the light comes out is very small and easy to hide. “We’re seeing people use them on natural stone steps because they can put the fibers in between the cracks in the stones of the rock and they don’t have to figure out a way to wire and mount fixtures into the hardscape.”
Fiber optic lights are a relatively new concept in the landscape industry, but another up-and-coming lighting feature will most likely change not only the way landscapes are lit, but the very landscape of the entire lighting industry: LEDs.
Fueled in part by the energy bill passed by Congress in 2007, which bans the incandescent light bulb by 2014, LEDs (light emitting diodes) are making their way into the landscape industry faster than the speed of light. LEDs require a smaller amount of wattage to produce the same amount of light.
They also last much longer than halogen or incandescent bulbs.
“We install nothing but LEDs,” Gosselin says. “LEDs can burn 70 percent less energy and last 20 times longer, so the maintenance savings for our clients is huge.”
Lee Carbone, national sales manager for Halco Lighting Technologies, Norcross, Georgia, estimates the savings to be quite substantial over time. “If you take a standard MR16 halogen lamp, which is usually a 35-watt bulb, and replace it with a six-watt LED, you’ll be saving around $116 on the life of the lamp. A typical MR16 can last anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 hours of operation, where the LED puts out 40,000 hours. So if you figure a landscape that replaces 10 MR16s burning 35 watts with 10 LEDs, at six, the mass savings will be more than $1,000 over the life of the lamps.”
Retrofitting landscape lighting is another way to produce a wow response from your clients when you show them how much money they’ll save while also experiencing a marvelous nighttime experience. “We continue to see an upside to the lighting industry,” Carbone says. “Whether it’s using lighting as an add-on to a project, or as a separate division of your landscape business, the opportunities are only going to increase as soon as the sun sets.”
With just a few lights in the right places, the difference in a landscape can be as different as day and night. Wilhelm never grows tired of her clients’ reactions when they see how a few wellplaced lights can change their entire landscape.
Landscape lighting . . . spread the WOW!