by: David Miller
A little knowledge and planning will help you attain landscape lighting that looks like it was done by a professional. Landscape lighting should include pathways, decks, patios, doorways, drives and other beautifully enhanced features to create a visible picturesque scene of your home. If you are rather unfamiliar with this topic, you may not feel too comfortable with handling the job yourself. You may even feel the need to hire a professional landscape lighting designer. To help you overcome this obstacle, this landscape lighting design guide will offer up some basic information and tips you can apply. Once you are finished reading it, you can shop our online catalog of outdoor light fixtures and buy from us with confidence.
Benefits of Landscape Lighting
- Enhances and reveals the beauty of your home and landscape after dusk.
- Extends the amount of time spent together with loved ones while enjoying outdoor activities, relaxing, breathing fresh air and smelling the roses.
- Adds dramatic lighting effects to a landscape.
- Creates a heightened artistic scenic view with high and low points of interest.
- Increases security and wards off intruders looking for an easy target.
- Minimizes accidents by lighting up stairs, paths, drives and other traffic areas.
- Polished and beautifully created landscape lighting escalates the financial value of a home.
Designing and Planning your Landscape Lighting
- Don't over light your yard like a stadium with exterior lighting.
- Create high and low areas of interest with high and low intensity lighting variations. Overall there should be more low focal points of light than high.
- Incorporate different types of lighting fixtures into your landscape lighting as they will have different lighting effects and your landscape will be more interesting to look at.
- Decorative outdoor lights have artistic flair and are designed to bejewel and adorn a landscape and home. Ideally decorative lighting fixtures should be placed more prominently. Other types of outdoor lighting, such as low voltage well lights and spot lights, are best concealed as their purpose is to create interesting lighting effects and the light fixture itself is not designed to draw attention.
- Don't aim lights directly at windows, including your neighbor's.
- Place decorative lights in and around pathways, doorways and other activity areas.
- Pay extra special attention to the front entrance of your home, the welcoming place, which should be one of your high focal points of interest. The type of landscape lighting design you employ here is very important.
Common Landscape Lighting Techniques
- Up Lighting - Light is aimed upwards for dramatic effect. Used commonly to light up a tree, sculpture, or walls. Lighting from below or upfront creates interesting shadows against surfaces behind the lighted objects.
- Down Lighting - Casts light down and may create interesting effects by way of shadowing. Especially useful in lighting up very dark areas to heighten security and safety.
- Moonlighting - Simulates moonlight by positioning light fixtures very high above trees and larger plants or objects to create enchanting shadow effects.
- Accent Lighting - An intense beam, or spotlight, creates high focal points in your landscape. When the light is aimed at the leaves of shrubs, plants or flowers it can create a fantastic glittering effect.
- Grazing - Placing the light fixture close to a surface to achieve the effect of the light traveling and enhancing the lighted area. Grazing is done against textured walls or beautiful wood. It's also used to highlight a very rough texture of a wider tree.
- Backlighting - Silhouettes a sculpture, tree or plants.
- Cross Lighting - Enhances a three-dimensional view of a voluminous plant, tree or object.
Types of Lighting Fixtures
Always choose quality lighting fixtures and you will never be disappointed. Quality lighting fixtures are time tested for durability and reliability. Their timeless designs and illumination will create a luxurious landscape.
- Outdoor Lanterns and Wall Lights and Sconces – An excellent choice for doorways, garages, and windows. Used to enhance walled areas or square pillars.
- Outdoor Ceiling Fixtures – Perfect for porches, patios, breezeways, and covered areas or walkways.
- Post Lights – Majestically light up ponds, lakes, pools of water, main driveways and walkways. Create a picturesque scene by placing in a garden near outdoor benches. Some cast interesting light patterns.
- Diffusers and Spreads – Low voltage lighting fixtures that give off a softer light and are used to outline borders.
- Cylinders, Square and Bullet Shaped Lights – These are designed to focus a beam of light.
- Well Lights – Hidden from view, they flush with the ground. Mostly used for up lighting on plants, trees and walls. On highly textured surfaces they give interesting shadow effects.
- Accent Lighting– Very versatile fixtures that are used for up lighting, moonlighting, accent lighting, grazing, and down lighting.
Types of Energy Efficient Landscape Lighting
Always choose quality outdoor lighting fixtures and you will never be disappointed. Quality lighting fixtures are time-tested for durability and reliability. Their timeless designs and illumination will create a luxurious landscape lighting design that you can be proud of.
- Outdoor Lanterns and Wall Lights and Sconces - These exterior light fixtures are an excellent choice for doorways, garages, and windows. Used to enhance walled areas or square pillars.
- Outdoor Ceiling Fixtures - Perfect for porches, patios, breezeways, and covered areas or walkways.
- Post Lights - Majestically light up ponds, lakes, pools of water, main driveways and walkways. Create a picturesque scene by placing in a garden near outdoor benches. Some cast interesting light patterns.
- Diffusers and Spreads - Low voltage lighting fixtures that give off a softer light and are used to outline borders.
- Cylinders, Square and Bullet Shaped Lights - These are designed to focus a beam of light.
- Well Lights - Hidden from view, they are flush with the ground. Mostly used for up lighting on plants, trees and walls. On highly textured surfaces they give interesting shadow effects.
- Accent Lighting- Very versatile fixtures that are used for up lighting, moonlighting, accent lighting, grazing, and down lighting.
Landscape Lighting Easy Installation
Landscape lighting is easy to install for the do it yourselfers. There are two types of voltage for landscape lighting: 12 volt and 120 volt. Landscape lighting fixtures that are 120v can be wired or plugged into your home’s existing electrical supply. Outdoor fluorescent lighting fixtures come equipped with a ballast which limits the current to its proper value and thus can be wired directly to your home wiring. Twelve volt (12-volt), low voltage landscape lighting requires an outdoor lighting transformer to step down the volts. Low voltage lighting is easy and safe to install and you do not need to be an electrician. Most landscape lighting designs include both line and low voltage landscape lighting.
Outdoor Lighting Installation
Outdoor lights that are 120 volts do not require a landscape lighting transformer and can be directly plugged into an outdoor electrical outlet. Low voltage landscape lighting and LED requires the use of an outdoor lighting transformer to step down the current from a house of 120 volts to a safe 12 volts. Do not hook up a 12 volt lighting fixture directly into an outside electrical unit, as homes are typically equipped with 120 volts.
- If you require a lighting transformer, calculate the total amount of wattage by summing up the watts found on the bulbs that will be used for each light fixture. Purchase an outdoor lighting transformer that supports the summed wattage of the landscape lighting plus add an additional watt for every 10 feet of power cord. We recommend you buy a lighting transformer that supports more wattage to anticipate future changes and additions. However, for optimal performance use at least half of the transformer’s wattage rating.
- Plug the transformer into a GFCI-protected outdoor electrical outlet that has a protective plastic box covering the power cord. For safe and convenient operation, the transformer should be mounted at least 1.5’ above the ground.
- Lay out where the cord will run and allow extra cord to give you flexibility in moving the wires around. A #12-2 cable is recommended for low voltage landscape lights. It is recommended that the cable runs do not exceed 100 feet. If you have a very large area you may install more than one transformer and run cable between them or separate from each other.
- It is not recommended that you put more than 100 watts on one line. If the wattage exceeds 100 watts make a t-connection. You may mix wattages as long as they don’t exceed the wattage of the light transformer. Read about the types of low voltage cable layouts below.
- Connect the light fixtures to the cable. Be sure not to place light fixtures where they may be easily damaged. Use a Direct Burial (DBr) splice connector to connect the light fixtures to the cable. They are the highest quality. Direct Burial Connections are tightly sealed and prevent moisture invasion, minimizing future repairs and corrosion. All low voltage connections must be waterproof and tightly sealed.
- Test your voltage and spacing and direction of lights. Stand at different angles and distances to be sure that you have properly spaced and placed your lights.
- Between the light fixtures, where the cord will run dig a trench three to six inches deep and bury the cord. You may encase the cables in PVC pipe to minimize accidental damage.
- Seal any loose ends with electrical tape.
Low Voltage Cable Layouts
Low Voltage lighting cable is available in #12-2, #10-2, and #8-2, the lower the number the thicker the cable. A thicker cable will reduce the amount of voltage drop.
- Straight Installation – The lighting fixtures are sequentially run in one line from the transformer with only one end connected to the transformer. This is the easiest to install and requires the least amount of effort.
- Star or Split Load Installation – More than one cord is run directly from the transformer, and run in different directions, hence a "star" formation which lends to the name.
- Loop Installation – Minimizes the drop of voltage and outputs more uniform light among the light fixtures. Connect both wire ends to the transformer. Low voltage polarity is maintained by connecting the same wire leads to the proper transformer terminals. Mark on one side of the cable to note the ridge and help you make the proper connections.
- T Installation – Two cords are run from a heavier gauge cord, (use either #8 or #10 gauge), that is directly run from the transformer and forms a “T”.