day your garden struts its stuff. Sun drenched blooms
and shady nooks invite you to stay awhile. But what
about when the suns dips low? Your garden at night can
still be a delight to explore and enjoy thanks to easy-to-install
Landscape lighting is fast becoming the realm of the
average homeowner thanks to do-it-yourself lighting
kits. There's a huge range of light fixture designs
and how-to information available, and starter kits can
be found at almost every garden store and building center.
For a quick and easy landscape lighting system, low
voltage and solar lighting are your best bets.
Low Voltage Lighting
Low voltage lighting kits have been
a boon to determined do-it-yourselfers, and gardens
have never looked better. Low voltage simply means that
the line voltage normally delivered from a home power
outlet is reduced by a transformer to 12 volts. 12-volt
systems are safe and can be installed without a permit
or certified electrician. However, if you need additional
outdoor outlets, a qualified electrical contractor can
install these for you. The low voltage transformer plugs
into a power source, usually a 110/120v outlet located
outside. Inside outlets can work as well as long as
the transformer is rated for indoor use and is installed
with adequate space around it to dissipate heat. From
the transformer, multiple cable runs connect clusters
of 3 to 6 light fixtures.
Because each light fixture uses a portion of the same
12 volts, you should avoid having all your light fixtures
connected to one cable run. If you have too many fixtures,
you'll notice the lights are noticeably dimmer than
they should be, especially the last light in the line.
The size of transformer depends on the number of light
fixtures you have, so a rule of thumb is to make sure
you purchase a bigger transformer than you need. That
way, you'll be in good shape to add lights in the future.
Refer to the product specifications for this information.
As for low voltage light fixtures, the options are endless.
You can find traditional pagoda style or louvered fixtures,
carriage style lanterns, and lamps with distinctive
modern appeal. You can even find low
voltage deck lighting
for wooden stairs and railings.
Solar lighting is another popular outdoor lighting option
considered by some to be even easier than low voltage
lighting because it requires no wiring whatsoever. Simply
position the fixture in a location that receives direct
or indirect sunlight and you're done. Outdoor
for decks, like post lights and recessed
deck lights, require a bit more know-how, but nothing
that can't be accomplished without a power drill and
Solar lights consist of an LED bulb (most common), rechargeable
battery, and solar panel. Energy from the sun is converted
by the solar panel and stored as electrical energy in
the battery. At dusk when the light level is low, a
photocell timer turns the lights on. Solar landscape
lights typically take about eight to ten hours to fully
discharge, which is usually more than enough time for
an evening get-together outdoors. When purchasing solar
lights, pay attention to the number of LEDs per fixture.
Unlike incandescent and fluorescent lamps, LEDs emit
light and not heat. One LED emits roughly the same brightness
as a 2 Watt bulb. If you want lots of light, look for
light fixtures with three or more LEDs.
These will work great along paths and stairs where safety
and security are concerns. Ambient or atmosphere lighting
around a deck or patio could do with one LED per fixture.
Like their low voltage cousins, solar lights come in
a great range of styles, including solar post lights
and recessed lights for decks, hot tubs, and patios.
Landscape Lighting Basics
Now for a few landscape lighting basics. You can apply
these techniques with either low voltage or solar
lights to achieve some dramatic results. Guaranteed!
- Uplighting: By positioning the
light source below the object and pointing the beam
upwards you can highlight walls, structures, and
large plantings, which creates visual interest and
dramatic focal points.
- Downlighting: By positioning
the light source high above the object and pointing
the beam downwards, you can cast light over a wide
area like a patio. By locating a downlight close
to the ground, you can create softly spreading puddles
of light ideal for walkways.
- Grazing: By positioning the light
close to an interesting surface, you can bring out
its texture. Use grazing to highlight tree bark,
stone walls, or an attractive door.
- Silhouetting: By hiding lights
behind and below a distinct landscape feature like
a tree, you can create a silhouette that is visible
against the sky at night.
There are a few things to avoid as well. Too many
lights and your property will look like a birthday cake
with too many candles. Instead, strive to draw the eye
towards specific areas, landscape features or structures.
Another common pitfall is to evenly line both sites
of a path or walkway with lights, creating something
akin to an airport runway. Instead, alternate lights
on either side of the path and refer to the manufacturer
instructions for the spacing between lights. Finally,
experiment! The great thing about low voltage and solar
lighting is that you can easily try different things.
You may have to adjust the angle, intensity, and position
of the light source to achieve the effect you want.
If you see that you've got a birthday cake or runway
effect happening, you can make the changes immediately.
Low voltage and solar lighting give you the flexibility
to move fixtures around.
voltage lighting systems
, just remember to leave
the wiring runs unburied until you decide on final
placement. The bottom line is that a small investment
in landscape lighting will provide you ten-fold the
returns in terms of your garden enjoyment. With the
right lighting solution, your home will look fabulous
and dramatic from the street, and intimate and inviting
for entertaining on the patio.
Leanne Tremblay is a freelance writer and publisher
About Outdoor Lighting
, where you can find tips
on low voltage lighting, solar
powered landscape lighting
, patio lights and more.