You’ve driven by them before after the sun goes down. Houses that may not be grand, but something draws your eye to them. Chances are good that it’s the elegant outdoor lighting that makes your head turn.
Where landscape designers agree is that less is always more when it comes to lighting. Focus first on your house — the star of the show. Then back into where plants, trees and shrubs fit into the picture. Family Handyman’s Alexa Ericson puts it this way: “Surely, the most prized, and expensive, part of your property is your home. Without it, what would landscape lighting even mean?! That’s why you should first put your attention on lighting your house using the right type of outdoor light fixtures that illuminate your home and provide safety and security at night. You should position lighting fixtures so that they highlight walls of the house as well as architectural features.
When it comes to landscape lighting, however, there is a fine line you cross when you group too many fixtures in one space. “While your thought might be to create optimal lighting of a certain object or space, you’re merely drawing more attention to the lights themselves,” she says.
To create a bright spotlight, position several lights with different angles toward the object you want to illuminate. This will reveal silhouettes and layers that make for a dramatic effect. Lighting up your walkway with all the little lights in a row may seem logical, but it can also make it look like an airport runway rather than a warm and inviting pathway to walk along. Stagger and alternate pathway lighting instead of placing the fixtures in a straight line. A few taller fixtures cover more area, while a lot of tiny ones can come off as busy or distracting.
As for energy concerns, LED is really the only game in town unless you have your heart set on solar (a wonderful green tech science, but it rarely offers strong enough lighting to satisfy security concerns). Says Ericson, “Bulbs with 40 to 75 watts are ideal for outdoor fixtures, and should work with the fixture you’re using. Using light bulbs with more wattage than needed can actually create an ugly glare that is less than inviting for your guests. LED lighting comes in plenty to warm tones and you’ll use much less energy than with incandescent bulbs. To avoid unwanted glare, use soft, downward-focused lighting.
What to feature? A beautiful tree can not only be illuminated from the bottom with an uplight that permeates and highlights it at night; it can also light up bushes and plants around it as the light bounces off the leaves and branches. Got a landscape feature, such as a fountain or a stately row of trees? Just as an interior decorator tells you to find a room’s focal point, find the focal point of your yard. Then feature it.
Ericson also speaks of “second thought” locations for outdoor lighting, such as the second floor of your home or that dark space in the corner of your yard. Ignoring these can rob you of the safety, security and beauty of landscape lighting. “Using even just a small accent light can work wonders for the dark corners around the yard. Not only will it create even more beauty, it can also help keep away potential intruders who seek out dark places to stay unnoticed.”