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Light up the night


May 2012

Warmer days inspire us to spend more time outdoors entertaining, gardening or just meditating amid the sounds of nature. But enjoying the outdoors doesnít have to end when the sun goes down. The use of appropriately placed lighting can help you make the maximum use of outdoor spaces.

Deciding how you want to use different parts of your yard helps you make decisions about lighting. For example, you might wish to light your patio, but you also may want to illuminate a dark area for safetyís sake. "There are three main reasons to light the outdoors: aesthetics, safety and security," says Jeff Hirschberger, landscape architect with David J. Frank Landscape Contracting Inc. in Germantown.

Hirschberger recommends taking the subtle approach. "When it comes to outdoor lights, I believe less is more. You donít want your backyard lit up like an airport landing strip, and it doesnít take as many lights as you might think to illuminate an area," he says. For example, you can use direct lighting over a barbecue grill or food preparation area, but consider indirect lighting for other areas. "I prefer indirect light because it isnít as harsh. Instead of aiming lights directly at an area, you can place them under seating areas and along railings or arbors."

Landscape architect Chris Miracle of LandWorks in Sussex also adheres to the concept of using fewer, strategically placed lights. "You want to avoid hot spots that come from spotlights or very bright lights. You can hide lights behind or among plants or place them beneath trees," he says.

Outdoor lighting does more than just brighten the exterior of your home for entertainment purposes, it adds a layer of safety, Hirschberger says. "Lights can be placed along pathways where people will be walking, to ensure safe footing. Any place you have uneven terrain or stairs can be lit. Lighting also elevates the security around a home. If there are dark or even wooded areas on your property, you can strategically place lights that will deter a would-be intruder." Consider post-mounted outdoor lamps for dark sidewalks or doorsteps, or motion-activated flood lights to improve personal security.

These days, outdoor lighting is affordable and available in a wide range of styles and finishes, giving homeowners plenty of choices. Landscape lighting typically includes standard electric lighting wired into the electrical system of the home, low-voltage lighting and LED lights, as well as solar lights. "I like to use a combination of ground lights, path lights and accent lights," Miracle says.

Low-voltage lights are currently the most popular choice for outdoor lighting, Miracle says. However, that is changing to LED lights as they improve in quality. "The industry is shifting to LED. They donít have that bluish look to them any longer. They are more expensive, but they pay for themselves after several years of use," he says. Solar lights are an option, but neither Miracle nor Hirschberger recommends them. "They just donít give off much useful light, and I havenít seen any real improvement," Hirschberger says.

For something completely different, try a Toto Cube lamp or the egg-shaped Uovo lamp. Large in size ó about 18 to 24 inches tall ó and made of polyethylene, these lights use incandescent bulbs, but they offer an ethereal light that glows from the inside.

"There are a lot of things people can do to give their yards a unique look," Miracle says. With the wide variety of fixtures and types of outdoor lighting now available, homeowners are limited only by their imaginations.


This story ran in the May 2012 issue of: