If you’re waiting anxiously for your new home to be built, take heart. You have a big advantage over resale homes when it comes to exterior lighting. With a bit of planning and foresight, you can set the stage for a brilliant display now or years down the road.
“If you work with an electrician during the construction phase of your home, you can add extra outlets, run wires through the property, even hardwire a transformer which will make it easier and cheaper to add light fixtures in the future,” says Pam Bingham of LUNA, a Mississauga company that specializes in exterior lighting.
“You do need to have a landscape plan first, but many new upscale homes include this in the sale.”
Bingham explains that the best approach to lighting is to decide what you want to light, the purpose, and then worry about fixtures. “If you want to light your landscape, you’re looking for ambience and will want fixtures that help create atmosphere,” she says. “You can expect to pay between $275 and $325 for a fixture installed. A number of fixtures are needed to give a composition of light. You need layers to create the composition.
“I learned that you need to sit in your house to figure out what you want to see lit up from inside,” says Fulvia Walton, an Oakville client of LUNA who had her exterior lighting done this fall. “Then you have to decide where you want rooms outside. Sit in your backyard and choose what you want to light.”
For Paula Smith, a client of Bingham’s in Port Credit, there was no question about what she wanted to highlight…her Japanese garden.
“Pam brought light from a fixture on my balcony to uplight my Japanese garden,” says Smith. “It looks spectacular.”
In addition to landscape lighting, you need to have security and task lighting. Bingham explains that security lighting requires motion detectors that can be switched on from inside the house.
“New owners again have an advantage because they can hard wire control systems during construction. If money is not an issue, you can even get a control panel for $30,000 which allows you to check on your home from just about anywhere. If you’re in Florida , for example, you can go online and turn lights on, see the temperature of your home or see if there are any leaks.”
Task lighting needs fixtures that provide direct light for barbecues, skating rinks and pools.
“Fibre optics are becoming popular for lighting swimming pools because of their safety. Light travels down the fibre to the pool so there is no chance of electrical issues,” says Bingham.
Fibre optic lighting for a 16 foot by 32 foot pool starts at $8,500,” she says.
Another, more efficient light that’s just starting to become available to consumers is LED (light-emitting diode). “In the past it was used for clocks on microwaves and was only available in colours,” says Bjarne Pedersen, a lighting consultant who runs Architectural Lighting Design in Burlington . “LED’s are becoming more efficient, last 100,000 hours, and draw a very low wattage. They’re starting to be made in white light and are developing quickly for homeowners.”
LED lighting is found primarily in holiday lights right now. The cost for one strand of lights is about $12, compared to $3 for a traditional strand of the same length, says Bingham.
Once the fixtures are chosen, Bingham has to make sure the effect of the light is the focus, not the light itself.
She considers the wattage amount, beam spread and angle, and where the fixture should be mounted.
“I decide if the lighting fixture should uplight, downlight, graze or spotlight the feature, to get all the shadows and nuances from the light,” she says. “I use decorative fixtures for garden beds and walkways but very sparingly, otherwise they end up looking like runways.”
One thing Bingham always considers when doing a lighting plan, is the effect of the lights on the sky and neighbours, especially if the lot is small.
“Even if you can’t invest in an expensive lighting scheme, you can still be a good neighbour by using dimmers, watermarked glass on carriage fixtures that diffuses light, and avoiding spotlights which wipe out architectural details and bother neighbours with excess glare,” she says.
The International Dark Sky Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving dark skies while at the same time maximizing the quality and efficiency of night time outdoor lighting, has an excellent web site with tips on how to minimize glare and maximize the effect of exterior lights. (www.darksky.org) Among its recommendations are eliminating floodlights which glare, using low voltage halogen bulbs which cast a whiter, more focused beam than standard light, avoiding over lighting, and installing lights where they won’t be damaged by plows and shovels.
Although exterior lighting can be expensive, it is something that will last, can be enjoyed 12 months of the year, and puts an end to the black hole outside your windows at night.
If you’re in the market for a lighting specialist, Pedersen suggests making sure the person is lighting certified, which means they have passed an industry qualification exam. “You should also consider the experience of the person,” he says. “A person dedicated to landscape lighting has the time to understand all the products available.”
For more information about LUNA, contact Pam Bingham at 905-271-8024, or check out the website: www.lunalighting.ca.
Here are five tips from Bingham on how to make sure your new home will be ready for lights when you move in or years later:
- Put in as many exterior outlets as possible, and don’t forget the fascia (the band around the edge of the roof that the eaves trough attaches to). You can use it for Christmas lights.
- If you plan on adding a driveway, deck or patio, get the electrician to run wires under the area so you can hook up lighting fixtures later.
“By planning ahead, it will be easier to fish wires through in the future,” says Bingham.
- If you plan to do extensive lighting someday, you’ll need a transformer to convert the standard 120 volts to 12 volts, which is safe even if a dog bites the wire.
- Have the electrician run wire to the end of the property in the front and back, especially with a lot of land.
- When you choose bulbs for your exterior light fixtures, think about your neighbours, especially if you have a small yard. “Frosted bulbs, dimmers and fixtures that direct light down can help you be a good neighbour and save energy,” says Bingham.