Outdoor lighting is both useful and attractive.
By using a combination of lights to illuminate a tree and the ground around it, for example, you can create the effect of moonlight when the real thing has taken the night off.
Under-the-eaves illumination can wash the sides of a house with light, highlighting architectural features for passersby.
And while you are creating a thing of beauty, you are enhancing security. No burglar can do his job successfully while in the spotlight. Or in artificial moonlight, for that matter.
If security is your first concern, here is an idea: Install lights on both sides of and above the doorway so that steps, the door, the house number, and the lock can be easily seen.
If aesthetics is your motive, do not aim directional lighting at the front door if the view of any visitors will be obscured by the glare.
House-mounted or overhead lighting illuminates the face and body of the caller. Avoid direct glare on the visitor, and be sensitive to how it affects neighbors across the street.
Landscape lighting does not require the candlepower used for night games at a professional sports stadium. Low-voltage lighting (12-volt) or energy-saving halogen or krypton-filled bulbs as low as 35 watts can keep the electricity bill this side of inexpensive.
Consider solar lighting, as well. In many cases, the initial investment in solar fixtures can be higher than that for conventional lighting, but costs over time are less, and solar lights permit more flexibility in layout because you do not have to depend on wiring.
Outdoor illumination should be a reflection of your taste. If you do not like the effects you have created, keep changing them until you find them pleasing.
In effect, you are painting a portrait of your house and yard with light. You are creating the shading and the colors and the contrasts.
The only rule in this kind of design is that less light is more, because your eye will be drawn to the light. Using lamps of low wattage prevents glare, which is what you want to avoid.
By using low-wattage lights, your eye is drawn to the result -- the object being illuminated -- rather than the source of the illumination.
To eliminate glare along a walkway, for example, use what are known as mushroom lamps. These are light fixtures on short poles that are close to the ground. The fixtures have shields on top of the light source so the light is directed downward and out.
The number of lighting choices continues to expand. There are in-ground lights, down lights, lights that can fit into a brick walkway, beacons, deck and stair lights (both round and square), floodlights, wall lighting, and decorative lighting styles that recall the Victorian, Arts and Crafts, and Art Deco periods.
All come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Technology has created materials that resist the effects of weather (fiberglass, Teflon, aluminum) and creations without steel parts that succumb to rusting or need frequent painting or refinishing.
If you live by the ocean, you might want to choose fixtures made of copper, brass or bronze with less than 20 percent nickel content to resist corrosion caused by salt water.
Some lighting fixtures come with warranties and may be more expensive because of it. Comparison-shop.
Low-voltage landscape lighting is probably the easiest for the do-it-yourselfer to install, so let us focus on that.
Before you begin, Osram Sylvania, the lighting manufacturer, offers some points to consider in evaluating your lighting needs:
- The length of time you plan to own your house should determine how much money you spend on lighting.
- You do not need to spend a lot of money at the start. You can always add on later as your needs or tastes change.
- If you are concerned with security, look at the dark areas outside your house and see what should be lighted. If you are concerned with aesthetics, figure out which aspects of your house and yard you want to highlight.
- Figure out whether it is a job you can do yourself. For higher-voltage lighting, you should consult a licensed electrician. Low-voltage lighting typically includes digging and some heavy lifting, but it is not beyond the skill level of most people.