Illuminating the outside of your home and yard can highlight and beautify key design elements, extend outdoor time for family and entertaining, and increase security.
For most homeowners, the first priority is lighting the front of the house, both for security and to enhance curb appeal. But with the backyard increasingly becoming an extension of the home, providing lighting for pools, fountains, pergolas and arbors has also become important, as homeowners seek to maximize the time that can be enjoyed outdoors.
Photo courtesy of Artistic Outdoor Lighting
As darkness falls, houses and gardens disappear and a light by the front door becomes a welcome sight. Now, with advances in outdoor lighting systems, many suburban homeowners are choosing to light the entire exterior of the house and the landscape for an even warmer welcome home.
Lighting specialists in the western suburbs observe that each lighting project is different, driven by the needs and preferences of the homeowner. Many choose to begin by lighting the home itself. Others concentrate on illuminating features in the landscape, such as a patio or pool, to extend the hours that the family can enjoy the outdoors. Still others decide to invest in both.
“Most people want to light up the front of the house,” says Jeff Hannah, vice president and partner of Accents Lighting in Joliet. “They may live in a dark neighborhood and are looking to beautify their home at night.” He also hears that people want to improve security through lighting. “A well-lit house is a lot less likely to get broken into,” notes Hannah.
The first step for homeowners is to gather ideas on their preferred style of lighting and to determine a general budget. Then outdoor lighting firms can be contacted to share their expertise and provide estimates. Contractors say they are willing to work within different budget ranges, which can start as low as $500 for a very small project to $10,000 and up for a larger space, although some firms may have minimums for a project.
Hannah asks homeowners to point out areas that they are interested in lighting, which might be particular features of the landscape, a sport court or even a play-set for young children.
At Artistic Outdoor Lighting in Lombard, owner and president Michael Potucek helps homeowners envision what effects lights can achieve by setting up an on-site lighting demonstration. “We meet at night, talk about their ideas for lighting and set up a temporary demonstration while they wait, to show them as much as possible what it will look like,” he explains. The homeowners can discuss options and see how lighting can be changed to suit their preferences.
Dean MacMorris, vice president of Night Light Inc. in Lombard, looks at residential lighting projects in “layers” — the home itself and its architecture, the trees and plantings, driveways and pathways that need pedestrian lighting, and the perimeter of the landscape, which is usually done last, if at all. “Our goal is to create a natural look,” he explains.
Architectural and Natural Highlights
Lighting experts recommend placing the lights in a way that will highlight the best features of the home’s architecture as well as the landscape. With more people investing in outdoor kitchens and entertainment spaces, lighting is used to make those spaces both beautiful and functional at night. Lighting the most interesting trees, shrubs and flowerbeds also enhances the overall look.
At Apple Blossom Landscape Concepts in St. Charles, owner Harvey Willey is both a landscape designer and a lighting designer. “I take into consideration the plantings — not only how to light the house,” he explains. For example, he might up-light a tree because of the unique characteristics of the bark or wash a flowerbed with light based on what plants bloom at different times during the growing season. Lighting, Willey explains, “creates depth in the landscape and makes the house seem to be floating on a cloud of light.”
For homeowners who are planning on a major landscape project, such as a new patio or outdoor kitchen, lighting should be considered early in the planning stages. “I highly recommend — if lighting is an option — to get with a lighting contractor when the plans are done to discuss the options available,” says Rick Norwood, a partner in Outdoor Lighting Perspectives in Lemont. He advises that electrical lines for lights should be run before any structures, such as a pergola, are completed to avoid have to run lines that would be visible. Landscape architects also may subcontract light installation as part of their overall design and build plan for a major new landscape project.
Beautiful lighting is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Some people prefer subtlety while others may choose to make a bold statement with lighting.
“People will say, ‘We don’t want it to look like Las Vegas,’” says Joe Anthony, sales and design manager for The Illuminators in St. Charles. “We always tell people that less is more. Don’t try to jam in too many lights.” He explains that lighting systems are flexible and more lights can be added later, if desired.
“We try to make the backyard feel like a resort, with a lot of ambient lighting, but no glare,” adds Potucek.
On the other hand, homeowners who frequently entertain outdoors may want to turn up the lights a notch. Strings of bistro lights are popular, as are colored lights. “LED lights can now do things like color changing, which is mostly for the holidays,’ Hannah says.
The placement of the lights can also achieve special effects, such as moonlighting a tree so that it casts leafy shade on the ground, or up-lighting a flowering shrub.
Smart New Technology
The big news in outdoor lighting is in the advancement of LED lighting and smart technology for energy efficiency. Although LED was first introduced with a bright, bluish light that seemed too harsh, new LED lights are able to mimic the warmer light of halogen bulbs, while operating with considerably less electricity.
Lighting contractors agree that LED is now the standard for outdoor lighting, and many are retrofitting old halogen systems with new LED bulbs. Norwood observes that some customers are keeping their existing outdoor light fixtures and putting in LED bulbs to replace candelabra bulbs and other bulb types that require frequent replacement. He notes that 90 percent of existing light fixtures can use LED bulbs without modifying the fixture.
Hannah estimates that LED outdoor lighting systems can be operated for “pennies a day,” and MacMorris says that LED lights are “80 percent more efficient.” While homeowners will save on electricity, the upfront investment in LED lighting fixtures and bulbs can be substantially higher. However, when you consider that LED bulbs can last five to seven years, versus one year or a bit more for halogen, the systems are cost-efficient long-term. Contractors also point out that LED lights can run on a low-voltage electrical system that requires fewer transformers to power and are less likely to overload the circuits.
With the advent of smart home technology, outdoor lighting systems can now be automated or controlled remotely. “We can put a self-adjusting astronomical timer in the transformer or a smart device that brings lights on at sunset, with a battery back-up,” says Hannah. For those who prefer lower tech, lights can be put
on a regular timer, with on-off switches.
Maintenance and DIY
With any lighting system, experts agree that regular maintenance can help keep the system operating at peak performance. Some firms recommend annual contracts that cover such things as bulb replacement, trimming plants near the lights, cleaning the fixtures, and checking voltage. But Willey notes that “people want no maintenance,” and LED’s long life helps to keep maintenance to a minimum.
MacMorris points out that both the type of LED fixtures and the wiring can cut down on maintenance, when installed properly. He recommends putting the electrical wiring six to eight inches under ground so that regular landscape maintenance and annual plantings don’t damage the wiring and connections. New LED fixtures that are completely enclosed also tend to last longer, as moisture does not seep in to cause problems. However, those types of fixtures do not allow for bulbs to be changed, and the entire fixture must be replaced instead.
For people inclined to try installing a lighting system on their own, professionals caution that they probably won’t get the same results. Potucek says he often gets calls for help from homeowners who tried solar lights but found they didn’t produce enough light, or who purchased electrical lighting systems from home centers and later realized they tend to fail more quickly than heavy-duty systems.
Overall, however, local experts agree that there are now an abundance of choices, styles and price points for homeowners looking to light up the night without a lot of fuss.Edit Module