Outdoor Lighting System Design - Part I

To take an outdoor lighting system from concept to finished product, you first need to plan a design, then you need the tools to implement that design and a good understanding of what the obstacles may be. This article will deal with the planning stages.

1. To start with, it helps to have the blueprints to your landscaping. This will help you make notes about precise locations and angles for the lighting you're going to install. If you don't have blueprints, sketch a plan of your landscaping on graph paper, trying to keep everything as much to scale as possible. Include the house, other structures such as sheds, trees, bushes, flower beds, walkways, steps, and anything else you might want to light or that might affect your placement of lighting. Make several copies of this drawing when you are done.

2. Decide what you want to light. Some areas need to be lit for safety reasons. Stairs, pathways, fences, and random trip hazards in the lawn are prime examples. Other areas should be lit so they can be used at night. A deck, patio, or pool area will be lit with this in mind. Still other features ought to be lit simply because lighting them will be beautiful or dramatic. Trees, bushes, flowers, statues, birdbaths, and ponds are just a few examples. Remember not to choose too many of these. Lighting everything is almost as ineffective as lighting nothing.

3. Decide how you want to light the chosen areas. Stairs should be lit so the shadows don't disguise where they start and end. Walkways should be lit so that the path is visible without glare coming up into the eye. Decks and plants can be downlit from above. Trees can be uplit for dramatic effect, "moonlit" from within, or shadowed on a wall. Bushes and statues can be shadowed as well or silhouetted from behind. Take a flashlight with you at dusk or later and experiment with different angles to get a feel for how things will look. Mark on your blueprint where you think the fixtures should be placed and note the direction(s) in which the light should shine.

4. Decide what fixtures you need. Well lights can be used for uplighting, hanging lights for downlighting and moonlighting. Lights on short posts work for pathways and flood and spot lights for shadowing and silhouetting. Decks and patios need shielded lighting to keep out the glare. There is a huge variety available in all these types of lighting. Spend some time at a home improvement store or a lighting web site to get an idea of what you can have.

5. Find your nearest source of electricity and measure the total length of wire you'll need to supply all the fixtures. Remember that the wire will need to be buried at least 18 inches if it's line voltage (120v). Low voltage wiring will need to be kept out of the way, running along fences or under mulch.

6. Select a position for the transformer for low voltage lighting. This should be easily accessible, near the power source, but still as out of the way as possible.

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