Shed some light on your landscape

During the daylight hours, passers-by marvel at the beautiful landscape you've created. Don't let the darkness cover it up.

So, you're thinking about expanding your landscaping business to include landscape lighting. And why shouldn't you? It's an ideal way to increase your profits and help diversify your business even during the slower times. Many people avoid landscape lighting because they view it as being too difficult and expensive to work with. It doesn't have to be either. Use these basic principles to get started.

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Safety first Some basic concepts of landscape lighting will help you better realize what a great opportunity it presents. While there are many landscape-lighting equipment manufacturers offering products, it's important to make sure you're using only those products that will be safe for everyday low-voltage use. To protect you, the UL (Underwriter's Laboratory) has established a new standard for lighting products: UL 1838. Products that have UL 1838 approval have been tested specifically for use in low-voltage lighting applications and have met all required safety standards. Be sure and check with your low-voltage lighting manufacturer to request the appropriate certification information.

Lighting components Before you begin any lighting project, it's important to familiarize yourself with the components. Here are some of the components of a low-voltage lighting system.

q Transformer. The first component that you'll start with is the transformer. The purpose of the transformer is to "step-down" the voltage from 120 volts to 12 volts, which is the required voltage in low-voltage lighting. The transformer provides power to your system. There are many types of low-voltage transformers available, but the multi-tap offers the most flexibility. A multi-tap transformer allows you varied voltage output, which will help increase your system performance and provide maximum bulb life. With different cable run lengths and voltage needs, the multi-tap allows you to compensate for voltage loss. This is why it is also important to have a voltmeter.

q Voltmeter. Similar to a paintbrush for a painter, a voltmeter is required equipment when you're working with any type of electricity. The voltmeter allows you to measure voltage output throughout the system. Voltage should be measured at the power source where the transformer is going to be installed, as well as at each fixture. Check the voltage at each fixture. It may sound a bit obsessive, but doing so will allow for maximum system performance and bulb life. Optimum voltage for a low-voltage fixture is between 10.5 and 11.5 volts. For every half volt you go beyond 12 volts, you will severely decrease the bulb life of your fixture. Try to minimize the voltage differential between the first fixture and the last fixture to 1 volt or less.

q Bulbs. While we're on the subject of bulb life, consider selecting lighting fixtures that use halogen bulbs. These bulbs will last much longer than other bulb types. An average incandescent bulb will typically last 300 to 500 hours, whereas many halogen bulbs last up to 5,000 hours. Halogen also gives you the most flexibility, providing a wide range of wattage and beam spreads.

q Switches. Another feature to look for is the ability to use a variety of switching options. This gives the end user the ability to turn on the system with a timer or photocell, or even hook up the system for computer control. The timer/photocell requires the least maintenance. This switching option allows the photocell to turn on the transformer at dusk and then enables the timer to shut it off at a programmed time. Home-automation products can also be hooked up to your transformer, allowing you more control and customization of your low-voltage lighting system.

Wire size Selecting the proper wire size is important when designing your lighting system. Without proper wiring and sizing, you'll reduce the system's performance, resulting in the need to replace your low-voltage cable. Low-voltage cable comes in several gauges, from 8- to 16-gauge wire (the smaller the wire gauge, the thicker the wire; the thicker the wire, the more fixtures you can use and longer length you can run between your fixtures without suffering unacceptable voltage drops). The most commonly used wire is 12-gauge. In order to attach the wire to the fixtures, you'll need to use the proper wire connectors to secure your connections. It is imperative that you use waterproof connectors, which utilize a waterproof sealant or gel that is usually applied inside the connectors before they are connected. This is one of the most important parts of your low-voltage system because poor connections can potentially cause problems including wire corrosion, which will damage the fixtures and require future callbacks.

Setting the mood After you gain an understanding of the technical aspects of low-voltage lighting, it's time to focus on fixture types. When most people think of landscape lighting, they think of the typical, plastic, kit fixtures often found at your local do-it-yourself superstore. Runway lighting also comes to mind, with path lights spaced equal distance from each other on both sides of a pathway. Purchase professional-grade low-voltage lighting equipment from your local landscape and lighting-supply distributor. These distributors often have employees on staff who can assist you with proper design, fixture selection and even installation techniques. The beauty of landscape lighting is that it is an art and allows you, the landscape professional, the opportunity to let your creativity sell the entire system. The purpose of landscape lighting isn't to illuminate every single plant, but to help set the mood of the landscape by highlighting the landscape, sculptures and even the exterior of the house while providing safety and security around a property.

Lighting design To better understand landscape lighting design, consider some of the lighting effects you can implement through design.

q Uplighting is probably the most popular of the lighting effects. This effect often uses a "spot-light" fixture that concentrates light on a specific focal point. The fixture is usually mounted away from the base of the object to be highlighted. Silhouetting, shadowing and grazing are all different effects you can achieve through uplighting.

- Silhouetting shows off the shape of an object by placing the light fixture behind the object and pointing it at a vertical surface. The dark silhouette of the object stands out against the lit background.

- Shadowing is achieved by placing the light fixture in front of the object and aiming the light through it to create shadows. This is a great effect for showing off the unusual branch structure of an open plant.

- Grazing is done by placing the fixture close to a wall or facade and aiming it vertically. The fixture highlights the object, but does not illuminate all of the object's features.

q Downlighting is an effect that you can achieve by placing the light fixtures above your object. Moonlighting is an example of downlighting where the fixtures are placed in a tree and aimed downward to provide a natural "moonlit" effect. Downlighting is also useful for security purposes: a fixture can be mounted on the side of a building aimed toward a pathway.

q Pathlighting is a popular lighting effect. The objective with pathlighting is to place the fixtures inside plant material whenever possible so the lights are hidden. Be sure to select a pathway light that is durable and comes with a heavy-duty stake that can be mounted in the ground to keep people from knocking the light fixture over. Remember, placing path lights too symmetrically can create an "airport-runway" effect.

Sales pitch Now that you understand the basics of landscape lighting, it's time to learn how to go about selling the products. For your first landscape-lighting job, start with a small system; that way, you'll be able to learn the best application of the products you choose. You might even consider installing the first system at your house; that way, you will become more familiar with the installation process. Consult your local lighting distributor for assistance. You distributor should be able to provide technical information and catalogs, and may even help you with that first system.

A nighttime demo where you actually set up 10 to 15 fixtures temporarily is an excellent way to help sell a complete lighting system. The idea is to pick an area of the landscape to show your customer what the finished product will look like. Remember, each person's taste is different. What your customer likes might not seem great to you, but lighting is similar to choosing art. The more of the finished product a homeowner can see up front, the better your sales opportunities.

Don't get frustrated if you don't have an eye for fixture placement. This will develop over time and with experience. Create a photo album of before and after pictures. (Nighttime photography is difficult, so if you're not sure, consult your local distributor.) Allow potential customers to visit one or two of your previous jobs. It will help them get an idea of the kind of work you do.

Fixture selection Fixture selection is also an important part of the landscape-lighting process. There are many manufacturers of quality, low-voltage products. Be sure to carefully study their catalogs and the products themselves. Copper, aluminum and composite plastic are some of the materials that you'll commonly see for light fixtures. Pay close attention to how the fixtures are constructed as well as what type of warranty is available for them.

Now that you understand the basics of landscape lighting, you're ready to go out and install your first system. Remember to consult your lighting distributor for advice and answers to your questions.

Who: Flame Engineering, Inc. What: Patio Lites Features: These lights are designed for use around patios, pools, hot tubs, decks, backyards and walkways. They leave no oily mess and have no fragile mantels. They are available in both portable and permanent models, which operate on propane or natural gas. They are rated at 49,000 BTU/hour and stand 7.5 feet tall. The portable models feature a sturdy two-wheel cart, which holds a 20-pound cylinder gas tank. The permanent model comes with all parts necessary to be mounted in the ground.

Who: HADCO What: NightLife lighting Features: These lights are designed specifically for the new generation of PAR 30 halogen and metal halide lamps. They feature color-impregnated composites, so they will not lose their finish like some painted materials such as aluminum or steel. The compression-molded, fiberglass-reinforced, polyester material is so durable, it is able to withstand fluctuations in temperature ranging from - 40øF to 400øF. Selection ranges from 12-volt lights to 175-watt lights and includes accents, spread and path lights, in-ground and deck lights.

Who: Idaho Wood What: Landscape lights Features: Choose from miniature lights that are designed to fit into landscape designs where you still need light but do not need gigantic luminaries that detract from your design, or larger contemporary fixtures that add more light to the landscape. Both fit into flower gardens and other low landscapes, and will sit on decks, walls or rails. They contain a weather-proof, glass-globed fixture.

Who: Intermatic Malibu What: Canterbury 2000 Series lights Features: With a unique range of models from antique to modernistic styles and colors, these lights fit in with the design of any home while also adding an element of safety. The copper tier light stands 18 inches tall and uses an 18-watt wedge bulb, as does the copper coachlight, which stands 20.25 inches tall. The lights are low-voltage (using only 12 volts of electricity), so are shockless and safe for children and pets.

Who: MaxLite What: Garden light Features: The solar-charged garden path light adds safety and flexibility to any garden landscape. It provides eight to 10 hours of quality light while using only 0.1 watt. Installation requires only a quick push into the ground or the use of mounting brackets to attach to walls or fences. The LED bulb comes in amber, but will soon be available in white, green and blue.

Who: Ruud Lighting What: Retractable Bollard Features: Applying power to the light extends the UL wet-listed fixture and energizes the lamp. Removing power retracts the 13.1-inch-tall fixture into its PVC shell, safely concealing and protecting it from maintenance equipment and pedestrian traffic. Choose from three optical styles in 12-volt and 120-volt models. The Clear Path Light Bollard uses up to a 50-watt MR16 lamp, the Louvered Path Light an 18-watt T5 incandescent or a 13-watt fluorescent lamp and the Directional Accent Light a 50-watt MR16 or 13-watt fluorescent lamp.

Who: U.S.T.E. What: Elegante lighting Features: Choose from more than 20 uniquely styled copper fixtures designed to appeal to your high-end residential and commercial clients. All fixtures include halogen lamps and feature solid copper shades and stems, or solid copper shades with emerald green stems constructed from powder-coated aluminum. The solid copper shades will develop a traditional patina. The fixtures offer a 3-year mechanical and electrical warranty, along with a 10-year warranty on the finish. Each light comes with a 1/2-inch NPT mounting with ground stake, prewired with a 3-foot pigtail of 18-2 direct burial cable and underground connectors.

Who: Wausau Tile What: Concrete Bollard Features: These lights are housed in concrete bollards that come in many shapes, styles, colors and finishes. Also available are benches with lighting options.

Who: WF Harris LIghting What: Scapeform landscape lighting Features: These landscape lights have rustproof, watertight, non-corrosive, nonconductive, vandal-resistant design and construction. Fixtures for low-voltage installation arrive pre-assembled. Fixtures for line-voltage (120 volts) installation allow wiring connections through the ballast housing, eliminating the need for junction box and ground wire. These lights offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage and rust.

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