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.

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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.

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

Thank you for visiting our blog. If we can be of assistance now or in the future, please feel free to contact us.

 

 

The Value of a Professional Lighting Designer

It is not uncommon for us to hear “we are trying to determine the value in considering your proposal”. Well, there are a number of factors to consider in a professional outdoor lighting design and installation to illuminate the architectural features of your home, landscape and outdoor living areas. These would include the quality of the product, the experience of the company, the professionalism and workmanship of their designers and installers, the warranty and perhaps the most important, the skill and artistic ability of the outdoor lighting designer. Comparing price from company to company is very difficult, and almost impossible to come up with a true “apples to apples” comparison. The Landscape Lighting Designer’s skills are the most difficult to measure.

From my own vantage point, landscape lighting design is learned from multiple sources. These include formal and informal education, conferences, seminars, trade shows, seeing other professionals’ work, and many years of actual hands-on experience in doing outdoor lighting design. There is a lot to proper landscape lighting design and many factors to consider in creating a subtle and elegant night scape.

Desired effect and the objects to illuminate help me to determine the appropriate lamp or LED to select. One needs to understand the customer’s goals and objectives, their taste in lighting, the objects to illuminate, required beam width, required beam distance, color of the light output and the desired effect in order to determine the appropriate lamp to use. Once the light sources have been determined, then the appropriate fixture or fixtures can be selected to achieve the best outdoor lighting effect. The following two photos show good and bad comparative lighting effect. Notice in the example on the left, lights were placed in front of the windows, throwing light into the home. Peaks of the home were ignored and dark. The far left corner of the home seems to be nonexistent. The project on the right was designed by Outdoor Lighting Expressions. Notice how the areas outside the windows are lit and not the windows themselves, the smooth transition of light from one area to another, as well as illumination reaching the upper peaks.

The photo on the left is an example of poor lighting design and amateur skills. The home on the right is an example of proper lighting design, and a demonstration of the value a good, professional lighting designer can bring to the project.

Good Lighting of Home ExamplePoor Lighting of Home
 

 

 

 

 

Next is the fixture placement. If you are illuminating the architectural features of the home, one should focus on the interesting architectural features of the home, such as columns, peaks, corners and not lighting up windows, which results in throwing a lot of light into the home. Architectural accent lighting focuses on the home’s features whereas flood lighting illuminates almost every aspect of the home with lots of light infiltration into the home. We typically advise against flood lighting. Notice how the columns and peaks of the home below are well illuminated.

Hartman Front Final This project was accomplished by picking appropriate LEDs including wide floods and narrow spots of different wattages and strategically placing the lighting fixtures to achieve the desired effect.

Illumination of trees is also done very poorly by many inexperienced in lighting design, such as placing the fixture too close to the trunk of the tree which ignores illuminating the canopy of the tree. Many times by only using one light, the tree is lit on one side even though the tree can be seen from both sides. And trees with large canopies can sometimes require as many as three to four lights to illuminate the entire canopy of the tree. In the example below, each tree has two lights on the tree to maximize the effect of the landscape lighting.

Wattsman Ornamental Trees Walkways are another common problem area with some lighting designers. It should be simple enough and one should know that you should not be able to see the light source on the path lights and to also avoid the runway-type of effect, The lights should be evenly spaced and staggered from side to side if and when possible.  In these examples, the photo on the left is a good example of proper walkway lighting. The photo on the right shows poor fixture selection and placement.

Good Walkway Lighting ExamplePoor Walkway Lighting Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Lighting is an art form and if designed properly should create a beautiful, soft and subtle lighting effect. Smooth transitions, little if any light source visible, proper color temperature of light output and all interesting features properly illuminated. Only a professional outdoor lighting designer fully understands these principals.

 These are just a few elementary examples of what a skilled, artistic and experienced landscape lighting designer can bring to your outdoor lighting project and the value incorporated in their proposal.Our experience in landscape lighting has shown that cheaper is not better. You get what you pay for, and the skills and artistic ability of the Outdoor Lighting Designer can make or break the end result of a landscape lighting project. The old saying of “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers long after the cheaper price is forgotten” is very true in our business.

Thank you for visiting our blog. If we can be of assistance now or in the future, please contact us at Outdoor Lighting Expressions.

What You Need to Consider When Using LEDs for an Outdoor Lighting Project

LEDs in the landscape lighting business are here today and continue to improve and evolve. While we initially bucked the trend several years ago to begin using LEDs in landscape lighting projects, we did so not because of reliability issues, but because of the color of the light output. Being a true professional Outdoor Lighting Designer, we were used to creating a very natural lighting effect using low voltage halogen bulbs. Many of the early LEDs consisted of chips and electronics that generated a cold, bluish-white or cooler white light, giving a very bright and sometime haunting lighting effect.

Today, advances in chip technology have enabled many manufacturers to produce landscape lighting fixtures that have a warmer white light, creating a similar effect and light output closely resembling halogen. As a result, 100% of new landscape lighting designs and installations that we complete now use high quality LEDs. But beware. All LEDs are not created equal.

So what do I look for in an LED outdoor lighting fixture? Many things, which include the following:

  • Color of the light output: For a natural lighting appearance, LEDs should produce light in the range of 2,700˚K to 3,000˚K. This will give you a more natural lighting effect similar to the older halogen bulbs. Avoid anything that is rated above 3,500˚K which starts to create a cooler or colder bluish-white light. The home below was illuminated using 5.5 watt 3,000 ˚K, LEDs.

  • Average Life: In the past, most outdoor lighting companies used halogen or incandescent bulbs with an average life of between 700 hours – 2,000 – 4,000 hours. Compare that to today’s LEDs. Most of the LEDs that we use are rated for 50,000 hours – more than 10 times that of halogen. This enables you to use the lights longer each day and to reduce maintenance.
  • Energy Efficiency: In past practice, we were accustomed to using 20w, 35w or 50w halogen bulbs. Today, our 20w bulbs have been replaced with 3w – 4w LEDs. Our 35w bulbs have been replaced with 5w-7w LEDs and our 50w bulbs with 8w-10w LEDs. All result in reduced electrical consumption and energy savings of between 80%-85%, making it possible to use your outdoor lighting system longer each evening if desired and at substantially less cost. If you look at the photo below, this home has 14 lights illuminating the architectural features of the home. If you assume 5 hours per night of usage, the approximate annual cost in electricity for this home owner is approximately $25-$30 per year.

 

  • Warranty: Beware of the “Lifetime” warranty on LEDs. 50,000 hours is a lot of hours and years of service. With an average life of 50,000 hours, your landscape lighting LEDs should last a long time – generally 10 or more years. Most reputable LED manufacturers, Landscape Lighting manufacturers and Landscape Lighting Companies warrant LEDs for at least 3-5 years under normal use and are not willing to absorb a Lifetime Liability.
  •  Integration: Many manufacturers produce LEDS that are completely self-contained. If improperly designed, heat build-up will shorten the life of the LED. If something malfunctions in the LED, the entire LED must be replaced and in some cases the entire fixture. While we use LEDs of this type, our preference is to use LEDs that have replaceable components including the optic, LED and electronics, which are all separate.  This reduces the impact of heat on the LED and increases the useful life of the LED.
  • Beam Spread, Beam Distance and Lumen Output: Understanding the characteristics of these three LED ratings can either make or break a project. You want to make sure the object you are lighting will be bright enough but not too bright. Lumen output is critical to know so you know how bright an object will be when illuminated. Beam spread and beam distance is also critical to make sure the object is going to be properly illuminated. Will the beam be too wide or too narrow? Will the beam reach the top of the object being illuminated?

Wattsman Ornamental Trees

 LEDs, if properly understood and selected appropriately, can create great lighting effects when lighting the architectural features of the home, landscape and outdoor living areas. With many things to consider, please feel free to call Outdoor Lighting Expressions if we can be of assistance, or should you have any questions as you design or consider a landscape lighting project.

 

 

What To Look For In An Outdoor Lighting Contractor

There are a lot of people out there who pretend to be in the outdoor lighting business, particularly electricians, landscapers and irrigation people. All are probably really good at doing what their principal business is, but in many cases, they are not particularly good at Outdoor Lighting. So here is a short guide of what to look for in considering and selecting an Outdoor Lighting Professional.

Some good questions to ask and consider might include:

    1. Are they a licensed contractor with a license that pertains to the Outdoor Lighting Business? Check out their license status at: http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/
    2. Are they insured, including workers compensation and general liability insurance to protect you, the homeowner, from a workers injury or property damage?
    3. Are they members of the Better Business bureau, have they been accredited and do they have any complaints in their records? Check out their business at www.bbb.org
    4. How long have they been in the landscape lighting business and do they have the experience to run a good business with the staying power to be there for future service and to honor your warranty?
    5. Speaking of warranty, what is their warranty? Does it include labor or just parts? What does it exclude? How long do they warrant the fixtures and transformers for? (10 years is a minimum standard with some manufacturers offering a lifetime warranty) How long do they warrant the LEDs for? (Make sure you are getting at least a 3-5 year warranty).
    6. Who does the outdoor lighting installations? Are they employees or sub-contractors? What is their average length of experience in installing landscape lighting and maintaining outdoor lighting systems?
    7. Are their references readily available?
    8. Lastly, but of high importance, is their outdoor lighting design expertise. Are they over-doing the design and trying to sell you a lot of fixtures? Are they suggesting that you light almost everything? Are they focusing on bright, or are they recommending subtle and elegant architectural accent lighting and landscape lighting? Are they putting lights in front of windows which will throw a lot of light into the home or are they focusing on lighting the architectural features of the home? What is the color of the light output if they are recommending LEDs?

An Outdoor Lighting project is something that is very hard to shop and to compare on an “apples to apples” basis. Many times it is a major investment in your home and one that should be enjoyed night after night and for many years to come. Make sure you are comfortable with the answers to the above suggested questions.

And remember, in the outdoor lighting business, as in anything else, you get what you pay for. Many years ago, I heard this saying and it is true for almost everything we purchase.  “The bitter taste of poor quality lingers far longer than the initial sweetness of a cheaper price”.