Used to improve both the functionality and the beauty of a home, exterior lighting should be an integral part of a residential landscape. From uplights to downlights to everything in between, ever-expanding outdoor fixtures can accentuate your clients' dwellings and create safe passages—and brighten your bottom line.
“There's been an explosion of [outdoor] styles in recent years,” comments Joe Rey-Barreau, an education consultant for the Dallas-based American Lighting Association. “There's an open-minded perspective on materials and styles that just wasn't there 10 to 15 years ago.”
Ranging from ornate Victorian flourishes to wrought-iron looks to Arts and Crafts-inspired designs, stylish exterior lighting fixtures are showing up in backyards and on homes in myriad materials coast to coast. For instance, Glenn Richmond, manager of San Jose, Calif.-based Galaxy Lighting, has noticed that bronze-finished products and amberhued glass are abundant in his area.
“Bronze still is the most popular color, but it's important to offer plenty of finish options,” says Richmond.
Manufacturers are taking heed, constantly expanding their outdoor lighting lines. Progress Lighting, for example, offers products in gilded iron, burnished chestnut, and forged bronze finishes that create a “sophisticated elegance,” asserts the maker. Other manufacturers are following suit.
Besides an abundance of finishes, durability also is improving. According to Rey-Barreau, composite plastic materials that are finished to look like wrought iron are in style because they're very hard and heavy and can stand up to all types of weather.
To be on the safe side, the outdoor lighting expert advises pros and homeowners to review individual manufacturer warranties. But, “unless you live within 50 miles of coastline, you don't have to worry too much” about the local weather conditions, Rey-Barreau says.
With such an abundance of products it's tough to know what type of lighting fixture to choose and where to place it. Industry experts offer some general guidelines.
Across the board, they recommend post or wall lanterns be hung at eye level at the front entryway to provide a welcoming glow. Matching garage and path lights laid out along the front walkway and throughout the backyard also are advisable for aesthetic appeal and safety concerns. Any other lighting accents are icing on the cake.
Joan Honeyman of Washington, D.C.-based Jordan Honeyman Landscape Architecture uplights trees, spotlights walls, and even makes water fountains gleam. Highlighting these outdoor features adds a sense of drama to clients' landscapes, Honeyman says. She particularly favors the shimmery effect that treetop lighting affords.
“Highlighting trees creates a blue cast that makes it look like the moon is out and glowing,” the lighting designer enthuses.
Of course, it's important to pick and choose specific areas to light up. Fixtures, which range in price from $35 for a simple uplight to more than $150 for an ornate path light, quickly add up.
What's more, the growing popularity of exterior living spaces (such as outdoor kitchens) may redirect some of the focus from accenting landscape features to keeping appliances well lit.
Although Richmond says that outdoor kitchens don't impact exterior lighting designs much, you do have to take note of how the homeowners will use the space, even if that means “just throwing light on the barbecue,” he comments.
According to Mary Beth Gotti, a lighting designer for GE Consumer & Industrial Products, exterior lighting should set a mood as well as provide illumination for a task such as cooking. She notes that the number of lighting systems per home is increasing, so consequently, control systems are more prevalent.
“At the touch of a switch, multiple layers can be switched and dimmed to create entirely different lighting compositions,” Gotti explains. “Lighting for entertaining and other festive occasions versus lighting for safety and security can be selected through a central control panel.”
Even though good looks are the big driver behind exterior lighting fixture purchases, industry experts predict that LED (light-emitting diode), low-voltage, and energy-efficient lighting technologies will become mainstream.
Honeyman already installs low 12-volt lighting standard in her projects because it is easy to set up cables and lines on the ground and cover them with mulch, unlike higher-voltage lighting that must be buried underground.
Plus, energy-efficient lighting products can save your clients money, a benefit that will keep you in their good graces for years to come.
The energy used to operate a light source costs far more than the light source itself. Using more energy-efficient light sources—for example, a compact fluorescent in a post lamp or a wall sconce—will keep electricity costs down, comments Gotti.
Additionally, compact fluorescent bulbs last much longer than traditional incandescent ones. Says Rey-Barreau, “I've had them in my own home for the past three years and they're still burning brightly.”
With bulb technologies evolving and increased fixture finishes and durability on the horizon, the future looks bright for exterior lighting.
Types of Lighting
- Compact Fluorescent Lamps. A type of fluorescent bulb that is folded for compactness. They screw into common fixture sockets, making them ideal replacements for incandescent lamps. Although they're pricier than what they replace, they last up to 10 times longer and use about one-fourth the energy of incandescents, saving money over time.
- Halogen Lamps. A type of bright incandescent lamp that is slightly more energy efficient, but not as energy wise as fluorescents.
- Incandescent Lamps. The most common type of bulb—and the most inefficient. These lamps have short life spans, although they are the least expensive.
To help create a lighting scheme that will garner glowing reviews, the American Lighting Association offers the following tips:
- When building a new house or an addition to an existing one, include outdoor lighting in the landscape plan. Pre-planning will help with placement of the transformer, pipes, and wires.
- Determine what your clients want to accomplish as well as the focal points in the yard they want highlighted.
- When working with a lighting professional, provide that person with a plan of the property, a copy of the landscape design, and/or photos of the home and its surroundings. This information will greatly aid in the planning process.
- Buy a large enough transformer to handle all outdoor lighting needs—now and in the future.
- If your clients decide to add landscape lighting in stages, run all the power in the initial phase so that mature landscaping is not disturbed later on.
Progress Lighting. Mission-style path light fixtures, Arts and Crafts-inspired wall lanterns, and a host of other exterior lighting products are available from this firm. Decorative product details include seeded glass panels and art glass. The products add warmth and beauty as well as safety and security to homes, asserts the maker.
Luraline. Shown in a faceted silver finish, this Helos series wall fixture is part of an extended family of pendant, ceiling, wall, and post-mount configurations. Products can be used in interior and exterior applications, and can be used with incandescent or energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps.
Osram Sylvania. The AquaLED luminaire uses long-life LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that last up to 60,000 hours. The fixture, which is vibration-, shock-, and water-resistant, can be installed in both indoor and outdoor applications, says the maker. It comes in chrome or granite finishes and can be used as an alternative to standard recessed lighting fixtures.
Architectural Products by Outwater. The Ambiance collection of wall sconces is available in 18 design motifs in 27 paint-ready, glazed, faux, and textured finishes. The wall sconces add a warm glow to interior rooms and outdoor settings, claims the maker. The sconces will accept standard incandescent light bulbs ranging from 60 to 150 watts, but also can be configured to accept fluorescent and halogen bulbs.
Thomas Lighting. Galley House outdoor lighting fixtures include wall-mounted, post, and hanging products. All are made from solid brass and feature seeded glass panels and an aged bronze finish. The collection also features the Thomas Easy Hanger, a metal hanging or mounting strap that holds fixtures in place, freeing your hands for the wiring process.
Sea Gull Lighting. The Eternity fixture is just one of many outdoor lighting products from the maker. Numerous pendants, wall and post lanterns, spotlights, Energy Star-approved fluorescent products, and more also are available. Finish selections include antique and polished brass, satin aluminum, forged iron, brushed stainless steel, weathered and hammered copper, and others.
Nightscaping. The compact and adjustable Jaylighter landscape spotlighting fixture is small enough to install in confined spaces where larger fixtures won't fit. Made of copper and brass, the 2½-inch-tall unit features an adjustable stem and knuckle and MR-8 lamp technology. Twelve finishes are available.
Rejuvenation. Exterior lighting fixtures from this manufacturer come in Craftsman-, English/Tudor-, Mission-, Beaux Arts-, and historic revival-inspired designs. Many products are UL damp- and wet-location listed. Finishes include burnished antique brass, black enamel, old brass, cast-iron black, and brushed nickel. Most fixtures can be paired with multiple shade options.
Heath/Zenith. DualBrite two-level lighting operates at 20 percent brightness when activated, using only half the bulb's energy potential; when the motion sensor detects movement, the fixture activates to full light level and stays on for one, five, or 10 minutes. The lights also can be set to operate during specific hours or all night.
Architectural Area Lighting. These Arts & Crafts Craftsman-style light fixtures come in round and square configurations in post top, wall, and pendant mounting applications. Hood finish options include stainless steel, copper, opal acrylic, mica, and painted aluminum. Many additional period lighting fixtures also are available.