When creating outdoor environments for our Potomac Maryland clients, landscape lighting design is always part of the discussion. In fact, it is a key component of the design plan. Why? People in the Maryland-Northern Virginia region tend to invest significantly in their outdoor living spaces because the climate here is so inviting. It makes sense for them to include lighting in their design package so that they can maximize the usability of these special places. And, since modern outdoor lighting systems use such small amounts of electricity, it makes financial sense as well. It’s a great investment.
A Marriage of Practical & Aesthetic
Outdoor lighting extends the use of outdoor environments well past sunset. Your gardens and landscaped areas express different qualities at night. You will experience different sounds and fragrances. The interplay of light and shadow calls attention to the interesting shapes and forms in the garden that aren’t apparent during the day. A carefully thought out lighting plan capitalizes on this “other” aspect of your private landscape and gardens bringing out a completely different character than what we see in daylight.
On the purely practical side, our landscape architects use built in lighting on step risers and along pathways. They light swimming pools and spas with underwater lamps. In terms of purely aesthetic appeal, we can wash the exterior of a home with light to emphasize architecture details. We can light trees, shrubs and other objects to reveal the beauty of their structure. Lighting can be used to dramatically backlight a waterfall, throw interesting shadows across an open lawn area, or create a bit of mystery in a secluded arbor.
Some houses with good landscape lighting look better at night than during the day. Landscape lighting is the single factor that can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Robert Latham, Atlantic Irrigation & Lighting
Outdoor Lighting: An After-thought?
Robert Latham of Atlantic Irrigation installs a lot of landscape lighting systems. And, he says, much of the time lighting is an after-thought: “We start with these really nice landscape plans. Then we talk about maintenance and irrigation. After that is when people start to ask how will they get the most use out of it. Then lighting is talked about. It is an enhancement item that comes in at the very tail end of the project.”
The landscape architects integrate lighting design into the budget. But, 80% of the budget is typically taken up by plantings and hardscaping. So lighting and irrigation have to fit into the budget that remains. If the budget is tight we take a phased approach to lighting. We install only the essentials in the first round, then lay conduits with the plan of coming back in a year to complete the system.
Using a Landscape Maintenance Professional for Lighting Installation
Less is more. Landscape lighting is all in placement. We don’t want to see the fixtures, and we don’t want to see hot spots. The idea is to position each light to get the illumination we want without using too many lights. We try to create layers in the landscape. Robert Latham
It is important to employ a top notch professional landscape maintenance company to manage the installation of your outdoor lighting design. An experienced lighting contractor will understand how to modulate the variables of color temperature, intensity, and focus to achieve the correct effect.
Before LEDs (light emitting diodes) replaced standard incandescent lamps, the light color tended to be warm. LEDs produce a very bright, white, cool light that is actually more true to daylight. But when shined on objects at night, LED lamps put a blue cast on everything. Robert Latham of Atlantic Irrigation explains it this way: “When we changed over to LED we had to start using filters because when you put a white light on an evergreen, for instance, it takes the green hue away unless we put a filter on the light. The filters don’t change the color. They take out certain spectrums of light so that it looks more normal to the eye. “
Most of the LED lights now include filters with their fixtures for that purpose. Your lighting technician will use combinations of those filters to bring out the correct color of the objects that are being lit.
Lighting Intensity and Focus
Wattage and beam spread are the two aspects of lamps that the lighting contractor has to pay attention to. When laying out a lighting plot, they need to be aware of the distance a light must travel in order to reach an object. They then select a wattage that will support the required brightness. They also need to think about how wide or narrow the spread of that beam will be. For example, a floodlight would be used to wash a large area like the side of a house or garden wall. To light the trunk of a tree from below they would use a well light (buried in ground) or bullet to throw a narrowly focused beam of light upward.
A Tip for Homeowners
Most contractors install landscape lighting during the day, but you can’t confirm placement or visual appearance during the day. Latham says that good landscaping lighting installers will come back after dark to make sure everything is properly adjusted: lamp placement, light intensity level and focus areas.
We extend sincere thanks to our friend and associate Robert Latham of Atlantic Irrigation for his contribution to this blog post. You may review information on some of Atlantic’s outdoor lighting systems at their website.
If you have other questions about landscape lighting systems and design, contact one our Garden Management specialists. We’d be glad to evaluate your current lighting system or advise you on a new design. That’s what we are here for.