Lighting up the Landscape
It's no secret. Property values are booming. In fact, real estate has been one of the rare industries that proved relatively recession-proof throughout the past few years.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 67 percent of all Americans own homes, and many more are looking to buy. Land for every venue — private, corporate, recreational, educational — is at a premium with values rising 20 percent or more annually within some locales nationwide.
With this type of investment, it is no wonder that property or grounds owners of every form are doing everything possible to heighten the value of investments, increase usability, enhance aesthetics and create a generally all-around safer environment.
Consequently, in recent years, millions of corporations, municipalities and even home and estate owners have expanded the use of outdoor spaces as well as increased the safety of these areas with the implementation of landscape and outdoor lighting products. The thinking is simple: Why spend thousands of dollars on landscaping, lawn services, architecture, decks and other expensive outdoor items and structures if they are only to be seen and enjoyed half of the time? In addition, why invest so heavily without doing everything possible to protect that investment and the people who use it?
Although the price of outdoor lighting can range from hundreds of dollars for do-it-yourself kits to tens of thousands of dollars for professional services, the expenditure can be measured by the added enjoyment, aesthetic value and security provided through its use. When properly implemented, landscape lighting offers a highly artistic method for dramatizing architectural elements and accenting flowerbeds, gardens and trees, while painting the landscape with protective beams of safety.
For the best results, use the following tips for increasing the value and aesthetics of properties, securing the perimeter and increasing the nightlife of areas normally reserved for day.
CONSIDER LOW-VOLTAGE LIGHTING
To meet the stylish demands of the landscaping, design and builder communities, lighting manufacturers have responded with the production of a wide array of new low-voltage lighting products that meet a broad range of energy-efficient, functional and dramatic lighting applications throughout the outdoors.
In fact, the proper planning can achieve spectacular lighting results. For example, tier or accent lights can be used to dramatically define paths, walkways or steps as well as provide warmth and illumination without an upward glare. Furthermore, mushroom and path lights can creatively highlight low foliage borders, walkways, paths and groundcovers while offering bright beams of security and protection.
In addition to all the aesthetic possibilities, low-voltage lighting also offers many practical benefits. Compared to other lighting sources, low-voltage lamps save energy by operating at 30 volts or less. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average American household can expect to lower their annual energy bill by 30 percent through the of use energy-efficient lighting that includes low-voltage systems.
Furthermore, low voltage energy users can even create additional energy savings with the utilization of transformers that reduce energy output levels to 12 or 24 volts without degrading lighting intensity. Since low-voltage lighting produces two-and-a-half times as much light as other incandescent lamps, a 50-watt low-voltage lamp can generate as much light as a 125-watt counterpart.
Another advantage is that low-voltage lighting can also prove a safer alternative for many applications because it uses about one-tenth of the voltage of other lighting options. Consequently, this benefit greatly reduces the possibility of shock since far fewer volts of electricity travel through wiring and lamps at any given time.
CAREFULLY ASSESS THE PROPERTY
What are its best features? What spots would you like to highlight to the outside world? Are there hard-to-see trouble areas where someone might stumble or an intruder might hide? Are there areas that you would like to use more at night?
Landscape lighting can help answer most of these questions. For example, uplighting can greatly increase the dramatic effect of archways, pools and ponds, while “grazing” or downward lighting can also be used to highlight fine stucco or other luxurious surfaces.
In addition, illumination placed under railings, benches and stairs or above designated sites can help eliminate accidents and increase the usability of decks, porches, verandas and barbecues as well as basketball courts or other public areas at nighttime. Silhouette lighting or the effect created by placing lighting below and behind objects such as fountains, statues, trees and shrubs can also greatly enhance the aesthetics of these structures as well as the overall landscape.
Another consideration is the color and the intensity of the light used. To avoid the over-dramatizing effects that look more like an airport runway, use soft, natural tones that mimic old-fashioned moonlight. Also, avoid the use of too many lights in one area and not enough in another. The lighting results should produce a balanced panorama with just a few accented points to specifically catch the user's eye.
Walk the property at night, carefully noting safety concerns and specific areas that can benefit from a splash of light. With a portable light or flashlight, get a feel for the type and intensity of the lighting needed as well as the desired results. Carefully assess dark areas where intruders may hide or someone may slip or fall. Stand by the roadside or on walkways to determine aesthetic sites that you would like seen from these areas at night.
Many lighting showroom professionals will even offer, as part of their service, a nighttime demonstration on your property or grounds. This will allow you to sample benefits and varying effects before agreeing to costly expenditures.
Work closely or partner with local lighting showrooms. These environments can often provide a wealth of professional guidance and services to help select and plan lighting needs. Lighting professionals thoroughly understand how even a little light, placed properly, can increase the aesthetic value or safety of sites ranging from parks and parking lots to walkways and gardens.
Also, remember that lighting is an art form. Think of your favorite movie and the efforts undertaken to light the most seemingly simple sets. Although most lighting needs are likely far less intricate, this exercise provides a better understanding of the many nuances involved in the process, which can range from back and front to under, down and silhouette lighting.
Partner with reputable manufacturers and distributors to learn the landscape lighting trade and expand business. The representatives of many reputable lighting companies would be more than happy to share their landscape lighting technical and business knowledge. Some have even been known to work individually with landscapers to help them learn how to use the various fixtures to achieve a wide assortment of lighting effects.
The only way to know if such an individual is available in your area is to ask. Reach out to qualified lighting manufacturers and inquire about the availability of individual tutoring or landscape lighting seminars being held in your area.
In addition, a surefire method for increasing lighting business for independent landscapers is to hold open house events at customer sites. By partnering with existing customers, you can then showcase your work and meet directly with prospects in a friendly environment that already includes satisfied users and on-the-spot referrals.
Finally, remember that landscape lighting has two purposes: functional and aesthetic. In addition to consulting with experienced lighting professionals, carefully consider needs and desires before starting the process. This could make the difference between an area surrounded by a warm bath of lit charm and safety and an overly expensive, garish display filled with safety hazards.
Eric S. Borden is director of Ambiance Lighting Systems for Sea Gull Lighting Products, Inc. (Riverside, N.J.).
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