Landscape Lighting Blunders to Avoid
Designing sexy landscape lighting
I love good landscape lighting because properly done, it can transform even a mediocre yard by day, into a stunning and romantic playground at night. Poor lighting on the other hand, is not only ugly, but dangerous. To help you create an attractive plan for your home, I’ve assembled this list of landscape lighting blunders to avoid.
Cost vs benefit
For the money, nothing beats the aesthetic returns from an investment in good lighting design. Las Vegas at night is a great example. The Vegas casinos know all about making everything look exciting at night. In this post, I’ll share a few of their tricks so you can have the same sexy effects right in your own back yard. As a bonus, even the safety of your landscape at night will be increased dramatically.
Art and good light?
I’ve had the great fortune over the years to work with some of the best landscape architects in the world. These artists showed me how the use of lighting for landscapes is like texture and color to the painters canvas. For the landscape artist at night, light is the brush that forms composition and creates mood.
Gifted artists and photographers understand the power of light as an aesthetic tool. Anyone interested in learning more about the subject of light and art would benefit greatly from reading The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum. I highly recommend you read it before heading out to buy your wire and fixtures.
Here is the list of serious mistakes I suggest you avoid. Follow my advice below and it will save you lots of time and money. It will also produce a stunningly gorgeous evening landscape right in your own yard.
Things to avoid:
- Not creating a plan – Always start your lighting project with a sketch in order to experiment on paper. Start by creating a simple, roughly to scale, plan showing your home and key landscape features. Include walkways, patios, planting areas, driveway, fences, trees and major specimens or artwork. Use the plan to experiment laying out your lighting system so you can estimate how much material (fixtures, wiring, transformers timers etc.) you are going to need. Mistakes made on paper are much easier to rectify than mistakes made in the field. e trees, plants, rocks or walls. Path lights focus their light on the surfaces below them. Accent lights typically are used to throw light upward onto elevated subjects. Both accent and path lights can be purchased to produce the exact amount of coverage or illumination that you desire.
- Using poor quality fixtures – Purchase only heavy duty, moisture-sealed light fixtures. Select materials that will provide durability exposed to harsh outdoor elements. You only want to buy these once, so install pro-quality fixtures for a quality result. LED fixtures are now considered the standard for landscape lighting. Most of the good makers have LED’s that produce light at 2700 kelvin. This “temperature” emulates the warm light that came from the old incandescent fixtures. The benefit to the LED version is long life and low power consumption. This translates into more fixtures per transformer and less maintenance.
- Using low quality or underpowered transformers – Not all electrical transformers are the same. Get a professional quality unit with multiple voltage taps. The taps compensate for voltage drops over the length of long runs. Use the chart to calculate the power levels you need before you do the job.
- Not using a voltmeter – Have a voltmeter on hand for larger systems of more than 10 lights or for wire runs longer than 100 ft. This is the only way to know for certain how many volts are arriving at your fixtures from the transformer. LED’s are especially sensitive to voltage drop and may not function properly with high, low or fluctuating voltage. A voltmeter is a must-have for troubleshooting a faulty system.
- Not using waterproof splices – Landscape lighting power cables are buried underground so it is important that wiring is robustly installed. Splices or fixture connections must be done properly. Special, high quality, direct burial wire connectors will prevent corroding, excessive electrical resistance, short circuits and line failures. Do not use the “stab” connectors sold with many of the cheaper systems. You will be sorry when the lights start to wink out unexpectedly. I like to install wire connectors sticking straight up and completely out of the ground. By doing so they shed water easily and quickly.
- Excessive voltage drop – Don’t place too many fixtures on your power source or stretch the length of runs too far. It is the nature of 12v lighting systems to lose voltage over long distances or when there are many lights. A good rule of thumb is the 100/100 rule that says use a maximum length of 100′ of 12-gauge cable per 100 watts of light. Even better, pre-calculate the voltage needed using the chart below. Use a voltmeter to check the actual voltage delivered to each fixture.
- Not using break away fixture stands – Through everyday use, your landscape fixtures, especially on the ground, are going to get banged and bent. This can happen from a car driving off the road or a careless gardener dragging a hose. Utilize break away fixture stands that are made to “give”. These make it possible to perform repairs quickly when the inevitable happens.
For personal help in the SF Bay Area contact Steve at HPS Palo Alto.
Help me to help you
Congratulations on taking time to use this free website. I hope you find the information here fun and useful? Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of hard work. By sharing these pages with your friends, you help me to continue the effort. You can easily share these pages to all your favorite social media sites via the shortcut buttons on the sidebar. You can also simply email the page link to your friends, so please share often.
The very best way to help me occurs when you use the embedded links to buy things. Using a link is easy and free, yet it provides a great source of support for this site. The vendors I’ve chosen to link to have proven to be the very best resources available so that is why I recommend them personally.
If you have questions or just want to say hi, please send me a note.