You've pulled out all the stops to make your house and yard look first-rate. So why let that hard work disappear at nightfall when, with a flick of a switch and some strategically placed landscape lights, you can roll back the darkness
and put it all on display? Done right, landscape lighting makes the best of what you've got by highlighting your home's architectural features and drawing attention to prized plantings and trees.
Most landscape lighting today is low voltage, and with good reason. Unlike 120-volt systems, it's safer to work with and less costly to install. And though low-voltage lights receive one-tenth the power, thanks to a step-down
transformer, there's no limit to the effects they can achieve, from ethereal moonlight beamed down from a tree canopy to a subtle glow that washes over a low garden wall. More than just picking the right hardware, a
pleasing lighting scheme is also about artistry.
Landscape lighting typically relies on stepped-down power from your house.
Transformer: Reduces 120-volt household current to a safer 12 volts.
Bulb: Determines a light's brightness, color, and beam width, as well as electricity usage.
Fixture Housing: Protects bulb from elements and helps shape light beam.
Stake Holds the fixture in place.
Cable: Carries current to light through fixture's lead wires. Underlit trees and accent lights aimed at the facade create an inviting post-sunset atmosphere around this home.
Homeowners can put in a simple system in a weekend. For the most
stunning effects, go with a landscape lighting specialist familiar with
the various fixtures and ways to arrange them.
How Much Upkeep? Keep fixtures free of leaves and debris to prevent them from overheating. Replace burned-out bulbs immediately so that others on the circuit aren't subject to life-shortening voltage overloads. How Long Will They Last? Warranties on fixtures and transformers range from one to 10 years, but fixtures made of brass, copper, or stainless steel should shine indefinitely.
If you don't want to lift a finger, go with a pro. (Find one through the Association of Outdoor Lighting Professionals.) But homeowners willing to invest a little of their own time and energy can save a bundle by following the advice
of Mark Piantedosi, owner of Commonwealth Landscape Lighting in Acton, Massachusetts. Here are his top design tips:
Trees (well, bullet, or flood, and downlight). When aiming ground lights straight up into foliage, be sure to also bathe the trunk in light. If you don't, the uplit crown will look like a hovering UFO. When illuminating foliage from above, place two 20-watt downlights as high in a tree as possible and point them so that their beams do not cross.
Planting Beds (garden). Place fixtures no closer than 20 feet apart. "You want pools of light to guide your eye from one plant to the next, not continuous illumination."
Home Facade (bullet and wash).Fit bullet lights with bulbs that have 12-degree beam spreads, and aim them at the corners of your house or architectural details; softer wash lights can fill in the space between them.
Garden Walls (well, bullet, or flood).Position fixtures close to the base so that the beams bring textures into sharp relief.
Focal Points (flood, bullet, or wash). Highlight an element that deserves attention—such as a fountain, a tree swing, or an arbor—by aiming two or more lights at it. The crossing beams reduce the harsh shadows that form when only one shines on an object.
Canopies on top of 18- to 24-inch posts reflect light down into planting beds. Can also be used as pathway markers. Unlike other lights, their style and finish are on display.
Shown: Large Horizon path light by Hadco with 20-watt halogen bulb, about $50; Hadco Lighting
Throws out a soft, diffuse light ideal for brightening flat facades, privacy fences, and garden walls.
Shown: Landscape LED by Kichler with 4-watt LED, about $140; Kichler
These versatile, compact fixtures are often fitted with bulbs that project a narrow beam—good for precisely lighting house features, tree trunks, and garden structures. Shown: LV100 spotlight by Dabmar with 20-watt halogen
The bulb hides inside a waterproof housing buried in the ground, so you get light without seeing a fixture. Use well lights to illuminate the underside of plant foliage or graze the base of a facade or wall. Available with either fixed or swiveling bulbs.
These fixtures, often located high on trunks and branches, can be aimed at lawns, paths, or the tree's own foliage to create a moonlit effect. A long, cowl-shaped shroud around the bulb eliminates side glare. Choose durable copper and brass housings with LEDs—you don't want to be climbing to make repairs or replacements.