The Geek Speaks: Outdoor Lighting Basics
While important year-round, landscape lighting becomes a definite priority during the warmer months, since that’s when people tend to spend more time outdoors in the evening. For advice on what to consider to properly plan a safe and impressive outdoor lighting scheme, I turned to The Lighting Geek.
The Lighting Geek, otherwise known as Tommy Herren, specializes in high-end landscape lighting projects, mostly in and around his home base of Sacramento, CA. His expertise has even earned him appearances on various series on both the DIY Network (“Yard Crashers”) and HGTV.
Herren, indeed knows his stuff. In fact, when asked about the most important things to keep in mind when planning outdoor lighting, I couldn’t shut him up. So, while there are more, here are the Geek’s top five pieces of outdoor lighting advice:
1. Avoid too much light. Herren has found this to be the #1 mistake that people make with landscape lighting: putting a light on every tree and every foot or so along a path, like it’s a runway. However, not only can you see your house from space, too much light actually eliminates any distinction and drama. Not to mention that it uses a lot of unnecessary wattage. So use discretion and highlight only the most important elements of your yard.
2. Hide the light source. You want the attention to be on the light emitted and the elements of the landscape itself, not the light fixture that illuminates them. Which means you should…
3. Choose fixtures based on function, not how they look. Go for fixtures that are unobtrusive, durable, easy to control, energy efficient and, most importantly, diffuse just the right breadth and depth of light needed for their desired tasks.
4. Keep ambient light diffused. For those outdoor lighting fixtures that are out in the open and meant to be decorative as well as functional (i.e. wall sconces, post lights, pendants, etc.), clear glass and twinkling lights might seem classic and romantic. But while such features may look great when the fixture is turned off, they are completely obscured at night, what with the resulting glare (which also greatly impairs night vision in general). So Herren recommends frosted/opaque shades for a soft, yet far-reaching ambient glow, allowing for safety and flattering illumination while still protecting the eyes. And if you still want clear glass, at least use a 15-watt frosted bulb.
5. Connectivity. Strategize an outdoor lighting plan keeping in mind the importance of connecting various landscape areas and elements with light for a single, cohesive statement. (But don’t forget #1 in the process.)