By John Kmitta
When developing a landscape lighting plan or layout to meet the client’s needs, Eric Lebersfeld, president of Capitol Lighting, recommends finding out what is important to the customer, such as his/her lifestyle and locations of focus.
“I strongly suggest an in-field demonstration, using the exact fixtures being discussed with the homeowner,” he said. “Every home is different, as is every homeowner. Showing what can be done on site is the best way to make sure the homeowner will be thrilled with the outcome.”
In addition to listening to the client, Alan Brynjolfsson, president of LandscapeLightingWorld.com, recommends that you absorb the surroundings. “Look at their architecture, landscape and style, then use your creative side to develop a plan that enhances the property while fitting in their budget,” he said.
In terms of fixtures, LED fixtures are becoming the industry standard, said Lebersfeld. “The light output is great, the color is perfect, and the pricing has become very affordable. There are no bulbs to change, and the fixtures last for years, perhaps decades.”
According to Lebersfeld, LED landscape lighting makes the installation process much easier. Longer runs, lower-gauge wire with no voltage drop makes the entire process easier for everyone.
“LED technology has been around awhile, but the improvements to the ‘look’ of LED light in the last couple of years have been quite remarkable,” said Brandon Stephens executive vice president of The Decor Group, Inc., and Nite Time Decor. “For homeowners, the advantages lie in the savings — both in terms of energy, but also the cost of installation. Installations can be done using less wire due to the lowered ‘load’ on the system, smaller transformers, and more efficiency with labor. The bulbs also last a lot longer. Bulbs/fixtures are more expensive, but those prices are starting to come down.”
Brynjolfsson agrees that LED is the biggest trend in landscape lighting, but he believes that adoption will be much slower than initially thought.
“There are still many challenges with LEDs for high-output applications, and even more regarding operating electronics in harsh environments such in a landscape lighting application,” said Brynjolfsson.
When it comes to incorporating different types of fixtures and effects to create a specific style, Brynjolfsson points out that good design should incorporate a variety of effects, fixtures and techniques.
“Relying on just uplighting with bullets and couple pathlights is equivalent to the track home in construction — four sides and a roof,” said Brynjolfsson. “It serves its purpose, but is only a sliver of the possibilities and market. Frankly, a homeowner may be able to accomplish the basics — as a contractor, your goal should be custom, high-performance landscape lighting systems.”
According to Matthew Biron, landscape designer for Hoffman Landscapes in Wilton, Conn., uplighting dramatizes a home’s architecture, and creates stunning effects with trees and plantings. Downlighting installed in trees or pergola roofs illuminates living and entertaining areas. Moonlighting uses lights in trees to simulate the effect of a full moon, and creates foliage shadows, making the landscape appear less static. For accent pieces, such as sculptures, spotlights work best.
“The key to doing a good job in planning is to ask the client what they want, but be armed with enough information that you can help them with ideas,” said Stephens. “Some may not know what you are capable of. As you install more and more lighting programs, you will gain valuable experience in how to accommodate different scenarios.
“There are fixtures available for most every application,” Stephens added. “We’ve found that we do 90 percent of what needs to be done with five or six fixtures, but there are some applications that may require a specialty fixture. We use a large directional spotlight to uplight trees and the face of structures — like the front of the home. We will use a smaller directional fixture for mid-sized landscaping focal points. A smaller ‘wall washer’ adds a splash of low-level light on both landscaping or architecture. Path/area lights are used to cast soft light along walkways or in landscape beds.”
Lebersfeld points out that it is important to balance the aesthetics and effect of the design with functionality and the practical lighting needs of the client.
“Typically, the best lighting effects are the ones that make you think, ‘Where is the light coming from?’” he said. “You want to see the effect — not the source. The best effects are almost always done in a very practical and functional fashion.”
He adds that contractors should never “over-light.”
“I like to use the analogy of painting with light,” said Lebersfeld. “Every LED fixture to me represents a different brush size. We have everything available to us from a small accent brush highlighting very small accents to a large roller for washing larger items. Remember that you are accenting with this light, not blasting light like it is a parking lot or a sporting field.”
Stephens agrees that there should be an equal balance between functionality and aesthetics.
“You can supply functionality and practicality and make it look good at the same time,” he said. “The top reason why our clients approach us is to beautify their property, so, most of the time, aesthetics and functionality of that need are one in the same. Others contact us to improve safety/security on their property, and we provide an alternative to the harshness of a guard light. Lastly, many of our backyard installations are tied to the extension of living space, meaning that the client invested in outdoor landscaping and patio features, and they have to go indoors after dark. Rather than just having these things lit, our clients tell us that they actually enjoy them more with the light. So, you could say that all lighting installations serve a dual purpose.”
Stephens offers some additional tips for installation of a landscape lighting system:
1. Long-term maintenance should be offered to each client. You can use the best-quality products around, but eventually, any system will need to be maintained.
2. Use good products. You will save yourself a ton of headaches down the road in doing so.
3. Work with your client on the design. There are certain things they may not know, but you can get some valuable information from them about what is important to them.
4. Get training/experience. There are some good training programs available. Spend the time to learn your craft and to do it right.