5 Professional Outdoor Lighting Design Tips

March 30, 2016

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By: Paul Gosselin of NightScenes Landscape Lighting Professionals – Austin, TX

Almost anybody can stick some lights in the landscape of your home and it would be an improvement over not having any lights at all. In order to make it better though, a little time needs to be dedicated to the actual lighting design. Here are a few tips to take an ordinary outdoor lighting system to another level:
1. Don’t use the same fixture for everything. The most commonly used fixture for residential outdoor lighting is the “bullet” or spot light. This fixture can accept an MR16 lamp, either halogen or outdoor-rated LED, which can produce several different lumen levels and beam spreads, depending on the lamp. Unfortunately, we commonly see the same lamp in every fixture, which can be a bit boring. When using this type of fixture, don’t be afraid to use different lumen outputs and different beam spreads. You can even use different light colors these days with LED lighting.
2. Move some fixtures to different locations. We see this all the time where the installer will place a single fixture in front of each tree. Yes, this does look better than no light at all, but there is no imagination and no depth in the design this way. Try back lighting some of these specimen plants to generate some interest and dimension.
3. Avoid the runway look. An all-too-common lighting design mistake is lining a walkway with light fixtures, commonly known as the runway look. Try staggering path lights back and forth on both sides of the walkway, or you may try lighting on only one side.
4. Use more fixtures with lower lumen outputs. All too often we see people trying to save fixtures by using fewer lights, but using higher light intensity. This produces really over-bright spots with very dark holes between them, creating an unsafe situation on the property that just looks bad. A great lighting design uses different light levels throughout the landscape without black holes unless there is a dramatic reason for it. Keep in mind that these dark holes become very good hiding places for bad guys.
5. Experiment with the lights. Try different locations with different fixtures to see how you can get the best effects. I know that wide wash fixtures work better for grazing walls to enhance surface texture because I did some experiments. Using bullet lights against a wall creates what I like to call the “mark of Vorro” (instead of Zorro). If you’ve seen homes with a row of V looking light beams shining up on them, you can bet that they used bullet lights with 30 degree beam spreads and no lenses. Wide wash fixtures will create a nice wide, more diffused beam of light, eliminating the telltale V that is often seen in poorly designed lighting plans.
These are just a few very basic tips, but they will help you create a more visually pleasing overall lighting system. And to learn more, bring your pictures, plans and ideas to the Austin Spring Home & Garden Show April 1-3 and stop by booth number 643 to talk with NightScenes!