YARD LIGHTING CONSIDERATIONS
Before you start buying and installing lights, you need to spend some time thinking and planning. Measure the perimeter of your yard and make a scale drawing of it. Add in the major elements-trees, flower beds, bird baths, your house-in their approximate locations. Now sit down with that diagram and look around. Ask yourself some basic questions.
How do you hope to use the space? Do you want part of it to be bright enough for guests to eat out on the patio and actually see what they're eating? Do you want other parts lit more dimly, just to provide an effect? Will people be walking through the space? What paths will they take? What obstacles will they need to avoid? What parts of the area would you prefer to de-emphasize? Make notes on your diagram to help you remember the answers to these questions and suggest placement for the lights.
Even if you plan to have the lighting professionally done, these are good questions to know the answer to.
Choosing the Lighting
If you want to continue down the do-it-yourself path, you'll probably want to steer toward low voltage lighting or solar lighting. Low voltage lighting can be bought in kits at home improvement stores. They'll sell you the lights, wiring, and transformer in a single box with instructions. Depending on the size and complexity, these kits can run from $20 to over $250. Because they are low voltage, you don't need a building permit or a license electrician to install them. Setup time is pretty quick. You can get done in an afternoon.
Solar lights are also an attractive option for the do-it-yourselfer. They can be had individually for $20 to $80 or in sets. Setup time is even quicker for solar lights since they don't require any wiring. Often, it's as simple as finding the place where you want the light and pushing a stake into the ground. Naturally, you'll want to make sure these lights have a steady supply of direct sunlight during the day.
High voltage lighting (standard lighting) is for the experienced do-it-yourselfer. You'll need a building permit or a professional who can install this lighting for you. Depending on the contractor, you may have to wait weeks or months.
You may worry that all this lighting will drive your power bill up. That's certainly possible. But it's also possible you'll find you're spending more time outside and using the air conditioning and indoor lighting less. This may result in a decrease of power consumption.