We all love a beautifully lit home exterior, garden or backyard. Lighting creates atmosphere, adds warmth and welcome to your front yard, and makes your steps and walkways safer and easier to navigate at night. And let’s face it, except at weekends, you’re home in the evening a lot more than during the day. All the care you’ve taken to make your garden or yard beautiful doesn’t do much after dark, unless your outdoor lighting is well-chosen and carefully designed.
A beautifully lit exterior makes the California outdoor living life-style that much more enjoyable on those balmy summer evenings.
Until the last few years, though, outdoor lighting has had either an energy problem (halogen incandescent lights) or a hazardous waste problem (mercury in fluorescent lights). As sensitive as we are in California about the environment, concerns about toxic waste or excess energy consumption, not to mention the costs involved, have meant that planning your landscape lighting was a trade-off between beauty and pollution, aesthetics and energy consumption. Enjoyment, in other words, didn’t come entirely guilt-free.
The Landscape Lighting Power Problem
Typical landscape light fixtures use low-voltage halogen incandescent bulbs. These are more common than regular 120v lights for safety reasons: if you have pets or kids, the last thing you want to risk is Rover digging through a line voltage cable, or junior poking an inquisitive finger into a light socket.
The problem is that only about 20% of the energy incandescent lights consume shows up (pun intended) as light you can see; the rest is heat. In technical terms, we say that incandescent lighting is “20% efficient.” But it gets worse.
Getting electric power to the light involves long runs of wiring. That wire also heats up a bit, draining power before it can do anything useful, especially at low voltages. The longer the run, and the greater the amount of current consumed by the lights, the more power is wasted. (If this is the kind of thing that makes you wish you’d paid more attention in high school physics class, don’t worry: your landscape lighting designer has your back.)
Beauty Without the Guilt
For home owners, the modern outdoor lighting technique is to use LED lighting. An LED bulb turns 80% of its electrical power into light. That means less power to produce the same amount of light, less wasted energy in the light fixture and in the wiring. A typical low-voltage LED lighting installation uses less than one third the power of an equivalent halogen light system.
One of the foremost local manufacturers of outdoor environmental lighting, Lightcraft Outdoor Environments, supplies the high-quality LED lighting fixtures we need for our designs.
Because LED lights last for years (as much as 10 times or more the life of incandescent bulbs), they require far less maintenance, a big cost saving, and—if you’re the one who’s changing those burned-out bulbs—one less yardwork chore. This video explains the benefits very well, including one very surprising property: because of the light spectrum they emit, LED lights attract insects far less than regular lights.
LED Lights are Multi-colored
LED lighting provides a range of colors from cool white (think “moonlight”) to warm (“regular light bulb”) and extra warm (“firelight”). This gives the landscape designer and home owner many options to create the right night-time look for a home’s exterior.
If you really want to go to town, there are multi-color LED lamps that let you switch colors according to your mood or the season: red, white and blue in July; jolly red and green in the holiday season; and anything you like in between.
Another video from our friends at TriState Water Works in Ohio highlight the many ways that LED lighting can beautify your home or yard:
Making the Switch to LED Lighting
When you’re planning an installation from scratch with your landscape designer, the decision to use LED lighting is a no-brainer. But what if you installed your lighting a decade ago, or your new home already has landscape lighting in place?
The manufacturers have you covered here, too. There are LED drop-in replacements for all of the standard incandescent outdoor bulbs, giving you the energy-saving, non-polluting, low-maintenance benefits of LED lighting without the expense of swapping out all your existing fixtures, as this video explains:
Talk to a Landscape Designer
Whether you’re planning new lights, extending an existing installation, or wondering about the costs and benefits of swapping out energy-hogging incandescent lights, an experienced landscape designer can help you make the best choices. Of course, we’d love for you to call us rather than the competition, but either way, you get to make your environment a little more beautiful and a little more energy-efficient, and that’s good for everyone.
Meanwhile, here is a video from New Zealand with more fantastic outdoor lighting ideas: