If you do a lot of evening entertaining, especially outdoors, adding landscape lighting is one of the best ways to immediately improve the look and feel of your back yard or patio. A little lighting can really go a long way, highlighting the best features of your home and garden that would otherwise be hidden at night. But there’s a particular art to stetting up lights that takes a little thought to perfect – too many lights and your back yard will look like a bad christmas decoration, and too few can stand out in a bad way, too, looking out of place rather than enhancing the spot you put them in. Whether you have your lights professionally installed or you plan to do it yourself, the very first thing you should do is take a good long look at the area you want lit, both by day and by night.
By day, you want to look for the aspects of your garden or home you want to highlight – anything from interesting architecture on your walls to a walkway to the bark of your favorite tree – you want to scope out stuff that’s going to either stand out nicely, or cast cool shadows. At night, see how much area is covered by your existing lighting (indoor or out), and anywhere that specifically isn’t. A large deck, for example, might be great for entertaining during the day, but lose some of its oomph once the sun sets. A good set of these Mission Deck Rail Lanterns on your deck’s rail posts can keep the whole area looking inviting even at the far corners, and can even help light some of your yard beyond if the lights are bright enough.
Another thing you want to consider when you’re laying out your initial landscape lighting plan is safety. For a heavily trafficked yard or front or back walkway – especially, say, a brick-lined, gravel, or stepping-stone path – can be treacherous if you can’t see it in the dark. Even if you know your back yard like the back of your hand, your guests might not. Besides that, a nice set of these whimsical Lantern Path Lights can not only make your walkway safer, but also make it look more inviting. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, a well lit path begs to be followed, which is the best kind of first impression (and often the very first one) your home can make. When laying your path lights, though, make sure to stagger them rather than lining them up on either side of your path – a too-uniform setup can end up looking a little like an airplane runway,which is NOT good first impression!
Once you’ve figured out where you want – and need! – to add some lights, you want to lay out a plan for where to put them. There are all kinds of outdoor lights that serve a variety of functions, but to start just figure out where you want them, and what you want them to light. If you’re having them professionally installed, this might be all you have to do. Usually professional landscape lighting services pair licensed electricians with designers, so they can help you figure out the best light for the job as well as the technical parts of the layout. If, on the other hand, you plan to install them yourself, be aware that you’re probably going to need a transformer to bring your house electricity down to a DIY safe, no electricians license required voltage (12v). Most types of outdoor lights are available in 12v, and will be marked that way. Brighter, more powerful lights, like this Deck Sconce, though, will need to be professionally installed.
That said, for a DIY landscape lighting project your layout should be much more complex before you even head to your hardware store. All your outdoor lights will have to be wired to your transformer, but each line of lights can only carry so much power. What that means is, if you have too many or several very bright lights running on the came circuit, they might start to look a little dimmer than they should, especially the last one on the line. The rule-of-thumb remedy is to put no more than between 3 and 6 lights on a single circuit. Also, buy a transformer that’s larger than you think you need so you can run an extra line if you need to split a chain of lights to keep them bright; it’ll also give you the freedom to add more lights later if you want to. But whether you’re just want to put a small Accent Light on a few trees or light up your whole back yard, plan to do it in smaller clusters.
Even once you have your layout planned perfectly, it still isn’t time to start digging up your yard. First, you want to measure your wire and lay out your lights (with a little slack, of course!) and power them up. Be prepared for something to go wrong – dim lights, not quite the effect you wanted, or just not quite the right angle. Trust me, it’s much, MUCH easier to make some small tweaks and adjustments before you make the commitment than it will be once your wiring is buried. That said, if all looks well once you’ve switched on your, gorgeous, staggered line of Tiffany Stained Glass Path Lights, go ahead and set it in stone (figuratively!). If you have a slightly larger transformer, you won’t have to disrupt any of what you’ve done to lay new lights – you can simply add another independent line.
And remember, keeping the area you and your guests will be in well lit is just as, if not more important than the places you’ll be looking at while you’re there. The best landscaping in the world won’t make up for a dark deck! Working lighting like this wall-mounted Newport Sconce into your existing architecture or deck structure can present a whole slew of it’s own challenges, though, especially if your exterior wall or deck frame weren’t built with wiring in mind. Ultimately that means that, unless you’re really confident about what you’re doing, you probably want a professional to install lighting into an existing deck or wall. On the other hand, if you DON’T already have a deck but are planning on building one, you absolutely want to factor in lighting (and the associated wiring) into your construction plan, as the initial build is the easiest and least expensive time to install deck lights – you definitely won’t gain anything but a headache by saving the lighting for later!
The same goes with step lights like these Recessed Louver Lights, which are the important safety cousin of path lights, but for stairs. Peeking out from the front of each stair, lights like this can keep you from tripping and can add some real character to your path or deck staircase. Unfortunately, they have to be installed along with the stairs as they’re being built, wiring, lights, and all, which makes it a much bigger project. On the flip side, though, if you’re looking to do a major back yard remodel or build or replace a deck, installing step lights is an excellent thing to add to your to-do list, and not just because you won’t be able to do it later.
Whether you’re looking for lighting that’s dramatic or merely functional, for show or for safety, as an addition or part of a larger project, be sure to plan ahead. High quality landscape lighting requires solid foresight and a little savvy to pull off right, and trust me, if you skimp on time, that one dim light is going to bug you forever. But what part of your home or garden are you looking to light? I’d love to hear about your project plans in the comments!