Landscape lighting can dramatically affect the look of a home and property, not to mention the additional safety and security that it provides. There are four basic steps in landscape lighting:
- What to light?
- Choosing landscape lighting systems (12 volt or 120 volt)
- Landscape lighting techniques
- Landscape lighting plans
Step 1: What to Light?
Examine the home and surroundings. Decide what you would like to illuminate. This could be flowers, trees, shrubs, sculptures, or architectural features of the home. Determine if these features should be highlighted or just provided with general illumination from background lighting. The question to ask your customers is what favorite landscape or architectural features should have the extra brightness of accent lighting.
Step 2: Choosing Landscape Lighting Systems
Before you begin to choose the type of lighting technique, you must decide what voltage of luminaires to use. The two choices are 12 volt and 120 volt. Generally speaking, objects 25 feet tall or more and objects over 30 feet away from the light source will be better served with 120 volt systems. Ground mounted 120 volt luminaires must be permanently installed according to local and national codes and manufacturers’ instructions.
Direct burial cable should be place done foot or deeper in the earth. Sharp objects and foreign material must be removed from the trench before refilling it. Sections of cable underneath walkways and other traffic areas should be sleeved with PVC conduit. The PVC sleeve should be equipped with an insulating bushing on each end. Splices in the wiring must be waterproof
and made by approved methods only.
Systems operating at 12 volts derive their power from a step down transformer that is supplied by a 120 volt circuit. The transformer has a 120 volt primary and a 12 volt secondary. The reduction in voltage also means a reduction in current.
There is no risk of injury from electrical shock with the low voltage system. This eliminates the need to bury supply cables as deep. There are drawbacks. Circuits are limited in length and number of luminaires by the transformer used. The advantages are ease of installation and removal. This makes 12 volt lighting a good choice where periodic removal and reinstallation is necessary due to plant growth or heavy snow accumulation.
Step 3: Landscape Lighting Techniques
When lighting pathways, position lights on alternating sides of the path or walk for even illumination. Lights placed along the edge of a driveway should be one foot from the edge. This will define the edge of the driveway for better safety. Lighting for steps must be positioned to avoid shadowing.
Up lights are like footlights in a theater. They focus attention on a specific subject such as walls and trees. Remember, this lighting task will more than likely require 120 volt luminaires; therefore, position lights and wiring to allow for future growth of young plants.
Aim fixtures away from the direction of viewers. This technique will help to prevent unwanted glare. Always try to conceal spotlights behind plants to maintain the natural look of the grounds.
Grazing enhances the texture of the brick, stone, or the bark of tree trunks. Fixtures should be placed 6 to 12 inches from the surface. Aim the lights along the surface. Wider beam spreads will illuminate more surface area of a wall or gazebo, for example.
Another technique for highlighting distinctive objects is to silhouette them against a lighted wall. Place luminaires behind plants, shrubs, and small trees that are growing around the perimeter of a building. This technique of lighting the exterior walls also contributes to security lighting.
Step 4: Landscape Lighting Plans
It will help to draw an area layout to scale. Indicate what the homeowner wants to light, what techniques will be used, and if 12 volt or 120 volt fixtures will be used at each location. Remember that a little bit of light goes a long way in the dark. Don’t use any more than is necessary at any one location. When using a 12 volt system, you must add total lamp wattage and the distance along the cable from the transformer to the last luminaire on the run. Check this information with the cable/wattage chart to find transformer and cable size required for that circuit.
After the plan is drawn it is easier to select other accessories that are need or desired. Ground stakes, stems, connectors, photocells, and timers would be included in the plan.