Advice + Inspiration
How to Choose Landscape Lighting
Outdoor living spaces are becoming an integral part of how we live and increasingly an extension of our indoor spaces. Homeowners now have a multitude of options when it comes to illuminating gardens, walkways, patios, and decks. We spoke with Douglas Prexta, sales manager of landscape lighting at Hinkley Lighting, and Scott Sorensen, vice president of sales at BEGA, about key considerations in selecting landscape lighting.
YLighting: Why is landscape lighting important?
Douglas Prexta: It enhances the beauty of your surroundings—objects, fountains, architecture, and landscaping—after the sun goes down and increases the value of your home. It expands your outdoor living space and adds hours to your outdoor activity. Also, creating illuminated architectural features like walkways, driveways, steps, decks and stairs can ensure safe passage from one point to another while adding security.
YL: Are there any trends driving landscape lighting today?
DP: LED has changed the industry dramatically. The main disadvantage with low-voltage products in the past was voltage drop: the flickering that results from resistance in the circuit. However, with most high-quality low-voltage LED fixtures, the voltage drop concerns have virtually been eliminated, basically allowing for plug-and-play installations.
YL: What are basic rules of thumb to keep in mind when choosing landscape lighting?
DP: Work with a knowledgeable designer to lay out and install the lighting. Remember, you are making investment in your property with professional-grade product.
YL: What should one know about different voltages and using electric lights outside?
DP: Because low-voltage landscape lighting is typically 12-24 volts, it's easy to work with and doesn't require a conduit (unless passing through a building or structure). Line voltage, by comparison, requires professional installation and is much more labor-intensive and expensive. All low-voltage lighting needs a low-voltage transformer to reduce 120-volts to 12-volts, and it must be plugged into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter)- protected receptacle. If you are unsure about the installation, consult a licensed professional.
YL: What else is important to understand about transformers?
Scott Sorensen: The total load of the system, which is the total combined wattage of the luminaires, determines how large of a transformer you'll need. Typically, the transformer should be loaded to 50-80% of capacity, allowing for future additions to the lighting system. The distance from the transformer to the luminaires also must also be considered. Voltage drop occurs in wires that are run over a distance; if the voltage in the line drops too low, the luminaires will not operate to full output and may not even illuminate. The BEGA 536 transformer counteracts the voltage drop by providing 12V, 13V, 14V, and 15V taps. Controllability is an additional factor. The BEGA 536 is timer- and photocell-ready to allow for preferred operation whether lighting on a set schedule or from dusk to dawn.
YL: What are some good approaches to path lighting and lighting individual plants or beds?
DP: Typically, path lighting is placed 1 to 2 feet from the path or area to be illuminated. The light spreads 8 to 16 feet in diameter depending on the fixture. Shining a spotlight down from trees is another technique to light a pathway or bed, and is called "moonlighting." I prefer a path-lighting or wall-washing type of product like Hinkley's Atlantis Path Light or the Nexus LED Path Light for plant beds, a floodlight that creates a soft light spread.
YL: Are there special ways to light specific areas, like a deck or patio?
DP: I recommend sconces mounted on the surfaces of the deck or patio, because they are the easiest to install—they don't require major construction. A wire way (a prefabricated enclosed passage for electrical wiring) is the only thing you need to make that connection. An alternate approach is to use deck or brick lights, such as Hinkley's Square Deck Sconce and Horizontal Deck Light. These are recessed in the deck or brick wall and most often used in new construction.
YL: How about lighting outdoor steps and stairways?
DP: Linear fixtures called hardscape, deck, or bench lights are good for steps, stairways, and rails, including the Nexus LED Deck Light.
SS: You can recess luminaires into the risers, which is a great way to achieve the desired light levels (although installation can be difficult). You can also install energy-efficient LEDs, like the BEGA 2261LED low-profile luminaire at low elevations along walls that run adjacent to stairs. In addition, directional LED wall luminaires can aim light down to the desired steps or staircases. This type of fixture, similar to the BEGA 3542LED, can be mounted higher up, out of the way, yet still provide adequate light through its directional nature.
YL: Do you recommend buying lighting that has a consistent style or look?
DP: A uniform or eclectic style depends on preference and whether you want to actually see the landscape lighting fixture. Generally, the thought with landscape lighting is to see the effects of the light and not the fixture itself. However, you'll obviously see the fixtures around pathways and patios. Many of Hinkley's path lights have coordinated outdoor lanterns that can create an entire lighting theme throughout the property, such as the Atlantis and Saturn series.