Professional vs. Amateur Outdoor Lighting Design: Why You Should Work With a Professional Outdoor Lighting Specialist

Most consumers think that all lights are equal and undervalued or don’t even think of the importance of proper lighting design. We run into this all the time but particularly in the spring when Irrigation and Landscape Professionals pretend to do landscape lighting. Many times, their premise is that while they have your yard all torn up or trenches open, they can run wire and put lights in the ground so you don’t have to rip up the yard again. So the homeowner says “go ahead”, not realizing how bad or mediocre the lighting project is about to become. The homeowners end up using a generalist to do a specialist’s work. I recently received a brochure in the mail asking me to register for a conference that provided 3 hours of landscape lighting training that would teach me all I had to know so that “Even I Can Become a Landscape Lighting Professional.” I am sure I could take a 3 hour course on how to plant trees or install an irrigation system but would that make me a landscape professional or irrigation specialist? This is what some companies are offering to get people to push their lighting fixtures.

Common mistakes made by pretender non-specialists include:

  1. Improper Fixture Selection – Frequently they only use 1-2 fixtures.
  2. No understanding of the photo metrics, color of light output and how different fixtures produce different lighting effects.
  3. Incorrect fixture placement – lights light up the wrong areas or objects.
  4. Wrong color of light output with LEDs – bright white or cold bluish-white.
  5. Inadequate lighting of objects – lighting up only trunks of trees instead of casting light into the tree canopies, or throwing light into windows on the home in lieu of actually lighting the interesting architectural features of the home.
  6. Improper wiring techniques including connectors that are not waterproof nor designed to last for years.
  7. Little or no Design Skills to properly design an outdoor lighting system.
  8. Inability or lack of desire to service customers when a bulb or LED goes out or a wire gets cut when they are busy conducting their real business of planting tress and shrubs or putting pipe in the ground.
  9. Inadequate pricing due to the use of “cheap” fixtures and cheap labor.

While these comparisons may sound radical, would you trust your dentist to work on your heart, a plumber to do fine carpentry work or if you are a golfer, can you play golf as well as Phil Mickelson? Outdoor Lighting Design and Installation is, in many ways, more of an art form and requires specialized training, years of experience and technical know-how to do and to achieve a professional look in a subtle and elegant manner. For most folks, your home is your single largest investment. If you are thinking about a lighting project, do the job right by hiring a professional who knows and understands proper lighting deign techniques. The end result will be well worth the added expenditure.

Here we have provided some examples of both good and bad landscape lighting projects. See if you can tell the difference. First, let’s look at the good. Notice how each home or landscape area is well lit, evenly and elegantly, accenting the architectural features of the home or focal points of the landscape, while providing safe and secure lighting on stairs and walkways.

Good Lighting 1

 

Good Lighting 2

Good Lighting 3

Good Lighting 4

Good Lighting 6

Good Lighting 7

And now the bad. Compare the diffences!

Bad Lighting Example 1

Notice the “hot spots”, dark spots, glare, and uneven lighting. Improper placement and incorrect use of fixtures. Entrance is very dark, light is guaranteed to be shining into these windows inside the home. A very common amateur mistake.

Bad Lighting Example 3

No description necessary. This walkway is a blinding mess with no appeal

Bad Lighting Example 2

Incorrect placement or angle of fixtures will cause lighting to be intrusive, shining into windows of home. Front entrance is dark, hot spots on columns.

Bad Lighting Example 4

What exactly are these supposed to be doing?

Bad Lighting Example 5

We call this effect “The Big Dipper”. Solar lights on a walkway. Who can see to walk?

Bad Lighting Example 6

Aesthetically unappealing – light source is overly evident.

Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure you’re going to be happy with the end result. Do your homework, and talk to a real outdoor lighting designer before you have your lights installed or install them yourself. Remember, you wouldn’t want your eye doctor to clean your teeth or ask your dry cleaner to fix your car.

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Believe It Or Not, Spring Isn’t That Far Off

Winter WindowSometimes when it gets this cold, it’s hard to imagine warmer weather will ever get here. The winter months are actually a great time to spend a little time taking a look around your home and property to see what might need to be “spruced up” or replaced before spring. When the weather warms up and the time comes to begin enjoying your outdoor living spaces again, many homeowners find that they are in need of repairs or service, and wished they had called to have the work done before they needed to use whatever might need attention. This applies to almost everything you use in warmer weather, including your patio, deck, porch, outdoor furniture, grills, heating and air conditioning units, lawnmowers, pool areas and of course, your outdoor lighting system. Is your outdoor furniture dirty or in need of repair? When’s the last time you gave your grill a good cleaning? Is your lawnmower tuned and ready? Will I need any new pool accessories? Are all of your appliances in working order? Are your roof and windows in good condition? How much mulch or planting materials will I need? Are all of your outdoor lighting fixtures working?

You may find that many businesses give “winter discounts” on work during this time of year simply because they are not that busy, especially those that do outside work. You may even save a few dollars by getting ahead of the game.  By repairing, replacing, and sprucing up during the winter months, you insure the things you use during the spring, summer and fall are ready to go when you need them.

So make a checklist of those items/areas that might be “put away” or are not being used quite as much at present. Take a few minutes to look at each one and see what might need some attention.  Take inventory of what you’ll need. Then call your professional and have it spruced up and ready for when winter’s frost turns to summer’s sun. You’ll be glad you did.

Why In the World Would You Want to Light Up Your House?

This was the question asked by one attendee who stopped briefly at our booth at a Home Show. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), he kept moving. While his question was sarcastic in nature, it was actually a good question.

Architectural accent lighting, also known as “up lighting”, accentuates the beauty of your home, creating attractive curb appeal at night. Perhaps more importantly, it adds to the security of your property. A home that is lit is much less likely to be broken into by an unscrupulous, unexpected visitor at night. Your home is a major investment; why not see it both during the day and evening? Imagine coming home after a long, hard day at work, or after running endless errands, and your home is beautifully lit, the lights coming on whether you’re home or not.  Pretty homes become warm and welcoming at night with subtle and elegant architectural accent lighting.

Landscape lighting illuminates the walkways and driveways, improving the safety of these areas, and can enhance the visibility of the beautiful landscape along the borders.

How about the back yard? Lighting of decks and patio areas, garden lighting and tree scenes, pergolas, arbors, water features and pool areas convert your dark back yard into a beautiful environment to further enjoy the outdoor living spaces during spring, summer, and fall evenings. And when old man winter brings those long, dark nights, imagine your home elegantly lit, not just for the holidays, but all through the year. Snow and ice on trees is amazing on up-lit trees in the winter.

Think back to the last time you were on vacation in a nice, warm resort. Were the grounds nicely lit enhancing your enjoyment of the evening outdoors? If they were, you most likely were able to enjoy those outdoor walkways and areas without fear of tripping or falling. If they weren’t lit, call or email us and let us know where you stayed so we can contact management to correct such a situation!

Each of our customers has different reasons for installing professional landscape and architectural accent lighting. We are sure you may have a couple of reasons yourself. Enhance the safety, security and beauty of your home and surrounding property today with outdoor lighting.

All LEDs Are Not Created Equal

More and more, Outdoor Lighting Expressions is being asked about LED lighting in lieu of traditional landscape lighting, which has historically been done with quartz halogen bulbs. We have moved away from quartz halogen and we are now exclusively using LED lighting in all of our new architectural accent lighting and landscape lighting installations.

LED offers several advantages, mostly dealing with energy consumption and longer life, as compared to halogen bulbs. The LEDs we install only use 20-30% of the energy that is required by halogen. For example, where we used to install 20 watt quartz halogen bulbs, we are now using 3 watt LEDs.  And where we installed 35 watt quartz halogen bulbs, we now use 5 or 6 watt LEDs. As far as the average life of the LEDs, most LEDs are rated for 50,000 hour average life versus a typical 4,000 hour average life halogen bulb. That’s over 12 times longer!

What most consumers don’t understand is that all LEDs are not created equal. Differences exist from manufacturer to manufacturer. These differences can pertain to the color of the light output, the amount of illumination produced by the LED (or what we would call lumen output or lumens per watt), the degree spread and beam length of the light produced by the LED. This, many times, is impacted by the optics used in the manufacturing process, as well as the method or quality of construction of the LED and how well the heat sink protects the driver of the LED. A poorly designed LED will have a much shorter life as compared to a well-designed LED due to the heat sink which disperses the heat away from the driver.

For now, if you are in the market for LED landscape lighting, work with a true lighting design professional who is particular about creating a natural effect and who truly understands the differences from one LED to another. Or if you are a do-it-yourselfer, do your homework very carefully to make sure you are using only high quality materials that will produce the desired lighting effect.

In Landscape Lighting, You Get What You Pay For

Some years ago, I met someone who was trying to sell me their services. They used the phrase “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. In the landscape lighting business, this statement is very appropriate.

Time and time again, we see projects done by homeowners, irrigation companies, landscapers and some who pretend to be in the outdoor lighting business who have little (if any) skills in landscape lighting design, and the design that they did for the customer  (if they did one) shows it. Not only is poor design common (i.e., lighting up the wrong objects), but poor quality landscape lighting fixtures are also prevalent. Also quite common is the end result of yellow light output instead of the white light output from Halogen bulbs, or the harsh, bluish-white light that comes from using the improper or cheaper LEDs. The trouble is, most of the time the homeowner or consumer does not know the difference between good or bad quality in landscape lighting.

Cheaper fixtures, which are either painted or copper-dipped aluminum can be purchased, but they will peel or fade long-term, as opposed to real solid copper or solid brass fixtures, which will not. Improper LED selection will also result in a poor lighting effect. One must pay attention to the Kelvin rating on most, if not all, LEDs. For a natural lighting effect, be sure to use LEDs with a Kelvin rating of between 2700˚ – 3000˚K. LEDs in the 4000˚-5000˚K will result in a cooler or bright bluish-white light. And try to use LEDs that are properly designed (heat sync wise) and rated for 50,000 hours average life. Generally, all cheaper versions lead to longer term problems and a lot more maintenance and cost for the homeowner in the long run.

I use the analogy all the time, that there is a big difference in price between a BMW 7 series and a Chevy Impala. Both are good automobiles that will get you to wherever you are going in roughly the same amount of time. But the quality of the BMW, the drive, the comfort, the finish, the status, all warrant a much higher price than the Chevy.

Consider this if you are thinking of having a garden lighting or landscape lighting system installed: “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial sweetness of the cheaper price”.  And so it is in almost all things. Cheap versus more expensive, you decide. But remember, you get what you pay for.

Architectural Features of Pre-Civil War Home Accented with LED Landscape Lighting

Coldbrook Farm Mailbox It is always a pleasure to be able to design and install an  outdoor lighting system to illuminate a beautiful home,  outdoor living area and grounds. But it is a rare treat in our  business to be able to illuminate a home that is on the  National Historical Register. We have done four in our  history, but this week we completed a project that has  historical significance dating back to the Civil War and a    home that was built in 1792. This is the oldest home for  which we have designed and installed an outdoor lighting  system to illuminate the architectural features of the home.

The Coldbrook Farm is located in historic Chambersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  According to the owners, the home was built in 1792 by circuit Judge Henry Riddle as his summer home.  His main residence was downtown because it took too much time to travel one mile by horseback to the courthouse in Chambersburg, a mere 2-3 minute car ride today.

Coldbrook Farm Daylight

Chambersburg, which traces its history back to 1730, played an important role in the Civil War. It was the only major northern community that Confederate forces burned during the war. “Remember Chambersburg!” became a battle cry for the Union Forces after the burning took place.

The entire town was ruined by fires set by the Confederates as the town denied paying ransom to the Confederate Army.

The original house at Coldbrook Farm was spared as it was just on the outskirts of the city.

According to Wikipedia, during the American Civil War on October 10, 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, with 1800 cavalrymen, raided Chambersburg, destroying $250,000 of railroad property and taking 500 guns, hundreds of horses, and at least “eight young colored men and boys”. They failed, however, to accomplish one of the main targets of the raid: to burn the railroad bridge across the Conococheague Creek at Scotland, five miles (8 km) north of town.

During the early days of the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, a Virginia cavalry brigade, under Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins occupied the town and burned several warehouses and Cumberland Valley Railroad structures and the bridge at Scotland. From June 24–28, 1863, much of the Army of Northern Virginia passed through Chambersburg en route to Carlisle and Gettysburg, and Robert E. Lee established his headquarters at a nearby farm.

The following year, Chambersburg was invaded for a third time as cavalry, dispatched from the Shenandoah Valley by Jubal Early, arrived. On July 30, 1864, a large portion of the town was burned down by Brig. Gen. John McCausland for failing to provide a ransom of $500,000 in US currency, or $100,000 in gold. Among the few buildings left standing was the Masonic Temple, which had been guarded under orders by a Confederate mason. Norland, the home of Republican politician and editor Alexander McClure, was burned even though it was well north of the main fire.

“Remember Chambersburg” soon became a Union battle cry. 

Of additional and significant interest is that the Confederates camped on the property prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Reports have it that General Lee’s tent was set up and used just where the current mailbox to Coldbrook Farm is located today. One of the attractions to the property was the stream that still exists today which provided a plentiful water supply for the Confederate horses.

The home has been added to over the years and was classified as a Georgian Federal in architectural style built with local limestone.

 

A Few Examples of Good vs. Bad Outdoor Lighting

What we find in most cases is that a perspective customer really has no idea of what represents good landscape lighting design versus bad landscape lighting design. We have put together this short video with some really bad examples of outdoor lighting which we have seen in our travels. The video also shows corresponding good outdoor lighting design examples which we completed recently as a comparison between good versus bad. Click on the link below to view the video.

http://youtu.be/USXf-bZ-XIs

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