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Dramatic Exterior Lighting Techniques



When it comes to designing your home landscaping, take time to consider adding some dramatic exterior lighting to your plans. There are endless possibilities of lighting combinations and placements based on fixtures, budget, and personal tastes. Designing and installing exterior lights is not overly complicated. However, it will save you time, money, and frustration if you take time to explore your options and decide in advance, where you wish to include lighting in your landscape design. A few factors to consider that will influence the landscape lighting system that will work best includes your site characteristics, features you wish to highlight as well as safety and security needs.

Power Source for Landscape Lighting

The type of lighting and the power source you will be using will determine placement and installation. Low-voltage lighting is recommended for most landscaping options. Low-voltage lights use a transformer connected to your home’s existing electrical system. Since a low-voltage use only 12-volts of power, lightweight wiring and small trenched are easily used to install the lighting fixtures . Motion detectors or timers can then be used to turn lights off and on as desired. Low-voltage offer easy installation with many offering easy stake mounting options. A wide variety of choices in fixtures and bulb options are also available. High voltage lighting offers greater wattage for illuminating large trees or landscape features but requires conduit, deeper trenches to disrupt your landscape and professional electrical installation. While solar powered outdoor lighting is also available, it has the disadvantage of low illumination and limited availability without an electrical backup.

Lighting Concepts for Effect Design

When considering the addition of dramatic exterior lighting, there are key concepts to designing effective landscape lighting . They include quality, direction, perspective, symmetry, balance, focal points, depth, and cohesion. The cohesion of your lighting design refers to the overall look of your landscape once all your lighting fixtures are in place and functioning. Alternating the depth of lighting with high and low focal points will help your landscape blend smoothly. Low-voltage lighting offers the best options for quality and direction. Without the glare from a high watt bulb, you can diffuse a soft light over, on or near features, you wish to illuminate to guide visitors throughout your landscape or garden. Lighting can direct visitors along a path or stairs and offer safety as well as beauty leading to your home.

Types of Lighting

By varying how and where you place your lighting fixtures, you can add a mix of lighting options within your landscape or garden. You want the effects of your lighten design seen without the fixtures being obvious. Unless the lighting fixture itself is decorative, you should conceal fixtures whenever possible. Automatic timers or motion sensitive detectors can conserve energy by automatically turning lights on and off. Do not over illuminate and be considerate of nearby neighbors making sure your lights do not shine into their windows. Mount lights on your house or even in trees to cast light downward. Down lighting can be used over a wide area or concentrated to spotlight an ornamental plant or shrub. Up lighting created by positioning lights upward from ground level can be used to cast shadows against a wall. Soft diffused lighting works nicely to focus on flowerbeds or ground covers. Do not forget about using lighting to highlight water features such as pools, fountains, or goldfish ponds! By placing lighting behind objects near water, you can also use water surfaces as a mirror to reflect plants and other features along the water’s edge. Explore garden centers and landscape supply retailers for landscape lighting tips and ideas . Make notes, take pictures of displays, and then go home to begin planning your landscape lighting design.

Tools, Equipment, and Planning

Designing your landscape lighting after everything is in place within your landscape and garden allows you to see your overall landscape and decide which areas you wish to highlight. Keep your design flexible to allow for modifications as plants grow or other garden features are added. Before digging always, be sure to locate irrigation pipes, and any utility pipes or wiring. Contact your utility providers if there is any possibility gas, electrical, or cable lines may be buried in the area. Call before you dig that first trench or post hole! They will come and mark the locations for these lines before you begin digging. Also, check with your local city or county officials to see if any permits are needed or if your lighting plans require a professional electrician.

Sketch out your plans to include areas where you will place lighting and notes as to the type of fixtures you plan on using. Include lighting for safety in areas such as stairs and pathways. Select your focal points and determine how best to use your lighting options to direct traffic soft diffused lighting works flow well across paths. Measure distance from your power source to all light placements to determine the amount of wiring and how many transformers that will be needed. More than one transformer may be needed depending on the total wattage from all lights. Other equipment and tools you will find useful include measuring tapes that is at least 100-foot long, a garden hose, or some other way to mark placement of your new underground wire. You will also need a lawn edger or other square edge tool to cut the trench for your wire placement and a rake to cover your trench. Be sure to obtain a wire cutter, extra screws, and a screwdriver to install your transformer.


With a little planning and research, you can design a dramatic landscape lighting system that adds depth and interest to your landscape for years to come. You can use the wide variety of lighting options to create an atmosphere that is unique to your home and garden. By planning a flexible lighting system and saving your notes about the location and placement of wiring, adding additional lighting and adapting to future landscape changes will be easily accomplished. Now wait for dark, turn on the lights and enjoy your home and garden

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