1. Think theatrically. Outdoor lighting has far surpassed the simple porch light. It's time to consider your property as a dramatic stage designed to create a mood. Pick focal points-gardens, gazebos, patios and decks, paths, ponds, pools, waterfalls or sculptural elements-either freestanding or on the home itself. "Even modest homes are enjoying atmosphere and ambiance with lighting," says Tim Pleasant of Pleasant Lightscapes. "I like to call it landscape and architectural lighting because it's not just uplighting palm trees and downlighting flower beds. It's highlighting the beautiful architecture."
2. See the light, not the source. Most landscape lighting now is uplighting, whether on the home, trees or ground cover. Downlighting is also possible, but in either case, the newest techniques emphasize the light effect but very little of the light source itself. You can even opt for "moonlighting," a serene effect that subtly highlights just the treetops. When fixtures are seen, they are more attractive with decorative shades or other special effects. "Everything has become more streamlined," says Maury Apatow of Lighthouse Landscape Lighting. "The size and the connections have become smaller and more manageable, so it's better looking."
3. Opt for quality. Most outdoor lighting fixtures are made of aluminum, copper or brass to withstand the elements and dissipate heat. Solid brass or solid copper fixtures are especially durable. "A lot of pressed aluminum or plastic is just not going to last," says White. And Tim Pleasant points out that they're also better looking. "High-end copper accent lights are decorative and look nice during the day but provide downlighting at night."
4. Create a water attraction. Submersible fixtures are designed to illuminate pools, spas, ponds, waterfalls, and fountains to highlight water features, underwater objects or just to provide reflection. When placed underwater near docks, water-resistant fixtures not only light up the scene but also attract fish, creating a natural aquarium. "You can see massive numbers of fish, and it visually extends your property line into the water," says Kevin Ahearn of Aquatic Attractors. "We've installed them all over Siesta Key and on Longboat; a client on the Intracoastal in South Sarasota has put them all along his 400-foot seawall. It's quite impressive."
"We love doing them," says Randy White. "It actually illuminates underwater. You can see the fish swimming by."
White has also used submersible lights in fountains and underneath a manmade waterfall. He uses white lights, but some applications use a colored lens. For subtle mood lighting, "We shadow a nice palm or do underwater lighting near a pool cage so when the wind blows and leaves move you get a luminescence. Water gives a kind of sparkling effect on the cage."
Fiber-optic lighting adds elegance to your pool or spa with a glowing band installed below the rail. A five-color continuous motion wheel can be fixed at one color or provide a changing light show.
5. Control lights with automation. Automated systems let you manage lighting through keypads with programmable controls customized to your lifestyle. Randy White of NiteLites likes lights that turn on automatically at dusk, then off whenever the homeowner chooses. "Owners can turn on landscape lighting without leaving the security of their home," he explains. "And if you turn lights back on manually, say if people are leaving a party, the system remembers its programming and performs as usual the next night." With new astronomic timers a power outage will not disturb the settings. When power returns, the timer will automatically revert to the proper time.
6. Choose low voltage for high glamour. Low-voltage lights provide a lot of illumination without a huge electric bill. A transformer outside the home or in the garage usually plugs into an existing outlet and reduces the 110 or 120 volts to 12 volts so lighting runs on less power. Halogen bulbs give longer life and more illumination for little electricity. Apatow likes to use them because they "give a nice bright light, and the actual fixtures have become smaller and more attractive."
But not all low voltage is created equal. Solar lighting, for example, is not Flanegin's favorite. "At the national trade shows the talk is that solar lights aren't going to get perfected. I won't use them." He also warns about LED technology because it's expensive, and while he considers the bulb life excellent, the actual output is not the best for landscapes.
7. Avoid the beaten path. Proper lighting and placement of lights is essential to help you safely maneuver walks and driveways. Although a well-lit pathway is important, Mike Flanegin, of Night Affects, suggests that you avoid the traditional path-lighting fixtures. "They look a little dated. We try to uplight things with enough light that it creates a reflection below."