Don’t let the Michigan sun set on your garden retreat. Paint the night with landscape lighting and add new dimension to your outdoor spaces in and around Holt.
Every home can be a canvas and every light a brush. With aluminum, copper, brass and stainless steel, you can transform your home with custom-crafted palettes of light that bathe garden paths in a soft, inviting glow, welcoming a nighttime stroll, and hold nights at bay on decks, patios and
The biggest growth in landscape lighting has been during the past five years, when other outdoor amenities like water features began boosting garden enjoyment. In fact, lighting up outdoor nights has become a homeowner necessity. The increased joy of spending time outside with the family over a barbecue is why many homeowners are keeping their landscapes lit way past sundown. Also, lighting adds security - most intruders will avoid a well-lit home. Safety factors into the equation as well. That way when guests peruse steps or pathways, landscape lights can carefully guide them to proper entrances.
Dare to add drama to your landscape’s nightlife? Just a few landscape lighting fixtures around your garden, patio or deck will enhance the beauty of your surroundings, bring them to life and give them new focus and dimension, and it’s easy to do yourself. The following techniques will enable you to create an atmosphere of comfort and security anytime of the year.
. The first step in designing any lighting system is to determine what you want the light to do for you. Walk around your property, look out your windows and doors and think about the kind of mood you would like to create. Look for possible focal points for dramatic accent lighting or plan for soft but safe pathway lighting. Create romantic shadows with subtle moonlighting or make entertainment areas come alive with bright party lighting.
Next, think about the following basic landscape lighting techniques.
TECHNIQUE 1 -PATH LIGHTING
This may be as simple as a few lights placed at corners or it may involve a combination of lighting techniques that illuminate paths and walkways from high above and down low. Path lighting should illuminate an area clearly, avoiding glare.
TECHNIQUE 2 - DOWNLIGHTING
This soft, diffused technique simulates the effect of moonlight. Several fixtures are placed high in trees or on buildings to create a soft down light and cast attractive patterns through branches and leaves.
TECHNIQUE 3 - SHADOWING
Shining a light directly on an object can create interesting shadows on the vertical surface behind it. The light fixture is placed in front of and below the object. By changing the intensity of the light and the distance from the object, you can vary the size and shape of the shadows.
TECHNIQUE 4 - SILHOUETTING
The silhouette of a dramatically shaped tree or object can be created by reflecting light off of a vertical surface behind it. The light source should be concealed behind and below the object. In silhouetting, the object is seen standing out from a lighted background.
TECHNIQUE 5 - CROSS LIGHTING
This lighting variation uses two or more light sources from above or below to illuminate an object from different directions. The result is a tree, large plant or art object that is more three-dimensionally revealed than when lighted from only one direction.
TECHNIQUE 6 -SPREAD
Spread lighting creates points of interest on ground cover and low shrubbery. Usually set fairly close to the ground, spread lighting will highlight the variety of textures and shapes that are found in your garden or define the edge of ground cover where it meets the lawn.
TECHNIQUE 7 - UPLIGHTING
Although this light does not normally occur in nature, it can provide dramatic effects when used sparingly. The light source is surface mounted or recessed in the ground and angles up to display a tree, artwork or structure.
TECHNIQUE 8 - SPOTLIGHTING
Spotlighting is an effective technique for getting an object of architectural interest noticed. A statue, tree or entranceway can all be focal points through the use of spotlighting. Be selective.
TECHINIQUE 9 - GRAZING
Light is placed to shine across a textured surface, such as a brick wall or natural surface like tree bark. The light catches the high points of the surface while creating shadows in the low points.
TECHNIQUE 10 - ACCENT
Accent well lights will shed focused illumination to highlight trees, shrubbery or exterior walls. Accent step lights add safety and security to stairways, paths or patio areas.
Select the technique you feel best achieves the mood you wish to create. Note that some light will spill from the accent areas. Work outward from these accent points to fill in areas with path or spread lighting. Balance and subtlety are key tools in path and spread lighting. For instance, a tall palm tree might need a narrow spotlight, while a large oak tree may need several flood bulbs. Try out different techniques and have fun discovering the beauty of your landscape at night.
Be sure that when you decide where you want to place your fixtures, they will not interfere with lawn mowers or traffic or be a source of irritation glare.
Once you have developed your lighting plan, select the style of fixture and light bulbs that will best accommodate your needs. Remember, sometimes less is more - you do not need high levels of illumination coming from individual fixtures. Instead use several fixtures at lower wattages for better effect.
Ten years ago, lighting consisted only of basic path and accent lights. Today, however, lighting fixtures come in all shapes and sizes, such as fixtures in the shape of light houses, ivy, cattails and tulips or homeowners’ other favorite flowers, and are meant to blend into the landscape.
When choosing fixtures; also keep in mind that they come in a variety of finishes. Instead of just the basic brown and black shades of yesterday, fixtures come in brushed nickel, aged brass, bronze, dye cast aluminum, copper, verdigris, architectural bronze, patina bronze, etc. Choose materials that complement your home’s architectural style and your landscape planting style.
SELECTING THE CORRECT TRANSFORMER
. Low-voltage landscape lighting systems require the use of a transformer to reduce standard 120-volt power from your home to 12 volts. To determine the transformer size you will need, add up the wattages of all the light bulbs you plan to use. Select the transformer that matches as closely as possible the total light bulb wattage. For example, if you have 11 fixtures all rated at 24.4 watts, you will need a 300-watt transformer (11 times 24.4 equals 268.4 watts). Always choose a transformer with high enough wattage to allow you to be able to add fixtures.
Generally, the total light bulb load should not be less than one-third the transformer’s wattage rating. Do not exceed the maximum wattage capacity. If your total wattage is too high, either divide the load between two transformers or use a more powerful transformer.
PLANNING CABLE LAYOUTS
. There are four common cable layouts to lead wire from your transformer to your landscape lighting fixtures. Your choice of layout can help minimize voltage drop, which results in dim lights or lights working so hard that they burn out more quickly.
Straight run installation is a way to run the fixtures in a straight-line sequence directly from the transformer. Loop installation helps reduce voltage drop and produces a more uniform light output. With loop installation, make sure you connect the same wire leads to the proper transformer terminals by noting the ridge or marking one side of the cable.
Split load installation is a method of running wire from the fixtures up to the recommended maximum cable length in two or more directions from the transformer. With this method, it’s important that you don’t exceed the total transformer wattage.
“I” installation allows more equal distribution of power to the center of a run or to a run some distance away. Here, cable running from the transformer must be of a heavier gauge (8 or 10 gauge).
The closer the fixtures are placed to the transformer, the higher their voltage and wattage readings will be. Those farthest away will have lower voltages. If a cable run is too long or if a single transformer is powering too many lights, noticeable voltage drop may occur. Voltage should not be lower than 10.8 or higher than 12. Voltage drop causes the lights farthest from the transformer to become dim. To minimize voltage drop:
• Use heavier gauge cable
• Use a higher rated transformer
• Use multiple transformers
• Shorten cable lengths
• Reduce individual fixture wattages
• Reduce the total number of fixtures on a run
• Use a voltage enhancer
Voltage drop can actually work to your advantage if differences in light bulb brightness levels are not objectionable. Lower voltage will extend the life of a light bulb, requiring less frequent replacement.
A general rule of thumb is to use no more than 100 watts per 100 feet of cable. Of course, if you less wattage, you can go further and vice-versa (less-distance, more wattage). Just try to keep the product of the distance times the wattage below 10,000 (ie. 100 watts times 100 feet equals 10,000). If you need to use more wattage and/or distance, use higher voltage taps (13 or 15 volt) or heavier gauge cable. Always use a digital volt meter to be sure your fixtures receive not more than 12 volts or less than 10.8 volts.
By now, you have a list of fixtures, their light bulbs, one or more transformers and cable requirements. The only thing left is select nonelectrical accessories. These might include mounting accessories like stems, stakes, bollards and shielding accessories.
INSTALLATION INSIGHTS. All transformers and landscape lighting fixtures come with their own specific installation instructions, but here is a typical list of steps for both types of installation to help you complete the job.
1. Determine the desired location for mounting the transformer. Take into consideration application codes to ensure safety - these are listed with installation instructions.
2. Mark the position of the top portion of the keyhole slot location at the top of the transformer and the slot located at bottom.
3. If mounting to a solid surface, such as wood or siding, drill 1/8-inch diameter pilot holes at positions marked in the above step.
4. Slip large portion of keyhole overhead of the top screw and allow transformer to slide down, making sure bottom slot is behind head of bottom screw.
5. Tighten screws until transformer is secure.
6. Split 12/2, 10/2 or 8/2 heavy, black cable approximately 3 inches and strip ½ inch insulation off ach wire.
7. On the bottom of the terminal block, push one bare wire into the hole marked COM and tighten the corresponding screw on the terminal block face until the wire is secure.
8. Determine the appropriate voltage tap (holes marked 12 volts, 13 volts or 14 volts) for remaining bare wire following these tips:
9. Push remaining bare wire into the appropriate hole on bottom of terminal block and tighten the corresponding screw on terminal block face until wire is secure.
10. Plug power supply cord into standard 115/120 volt receptacle. NOTE: The power supply cord must be plugged into a weather tight receptacle equipped with a ground fault interrupter.
Assemble fixtures per instructions and install them in your desired locations.
By Mike Southard
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