When it comes to safety, landscape lighting designers must balance guiding people to the largest entry point of a property with creating an aesthetically-appealing look.
Consumers often think of landscape lighting as “pretty,” but a landscape lighting contractor has to balance the look with the safety of the property owner and guests in order to arrive at a successful design and installation.
The No. 1 safety concern, says Wade Slover, lighting sales manager of landscape and irrigation supplier Atlantic Irrigation, is getting people to the largest entry point of a property, whether it’s from a parking lot, street or driveway.
“That’s where we would use level one lighting and then filter everything down to level two or three from there,” Slover says.
Identifying walkways, curbs and edges is obviously important, and Slover says most landscape architects will go by the book when spacing pathlights in order to ensure the safety of the people relying on them to get where they need to go. But that doesn’t mean they have to create a “runway” effect.
“The human eye can adapt to light itself, and sometimes getting the runway effect just doesn’t look right on most properties,” Slover says. “So just carrying a flow of light using refractive light off different surfaces could achieve those objectives you’re looking for without placing lights in paths. I’m a big believer that we’re in the fundamental lighting design business, not the pretty picture business. A well-designed light project will basically have all the light sources hidden.”
Slover says a good way to understand outdoor lighting is to look at the kitchen space in a newly-constructed home today, where the same objectives exist. There are different light levels for cutting areas and prep areas, and there are usually 15 to 20 light bulbs to ensure safety and security.
Slover says there are really no other big safety concerns when it comes to landscape lighting. Slover does not know of one documented instance of someone getting harmed by anything less than 45 volts, and landscape lighting is usually 30 or less volts. Pets aren’t a concern unless a homeowner has a stubborn one that likes to gnaw on things. When it comes to the fixtures themselves, there are ones with sharp edges that could harm someone if they tripped over them, but Slover personally wouldn’t spec them on a project to begin with.
What about a client objecting to a design idea, which could perhaps compromise safety?
“We’re always going to have objections here and there, but a good designer sticks to the fundamentals and what they know, especially if you’re getting a call about safety and security issues," he says. “At that point, it’s time to say, ‘This is what you asked for and this is what I want to give you.’”
Focus on quality.
Like Slover, Scott Hulen of R & S Lawn & Sprinkler in Smithville, Mo., laments the runway effect that results from landscapers putting out too many lights for safety without regard for aesthetic appeal.
“You want to hit some of the architectural features from a design standpoint, but from a safety standpoint, you want to make sure you light the walkways and steps areas or areas where intruders might be lurking,” Hulen says. “With lighting, it’s really ‘less is more,’ but at the same time creating a safe zone where the house feels occupied.”
Consumers are more focused on aesthetics because they’re visual, which Hulen says has to be taken into consideration when installing lights.
“When people build houses, they care about the granite countertop and not so much about the insulation of the walls,” he says.
For that reason, Hulen prefers more expensive lighting that looks good but also illuminates pathways for safety. “The highest quality and best type of lights have a warm look that looks more natural,” he says. “Cheaper lights look more bluish and don’t create as good of an effect.”
Hulen says the LED lighting systems today are automatically safer than the halogen systems of the past in that, with halogen, you had to deal with voltage drops and balancing the system. LED systems are safer and more consumer friendly. Before LED lights, landscapers had the tendency to overload transformers – for example, sending 500 watts to a 300-watt transformer via 10 fixtures with 50-watt halogens – which could result in melted wires. But LED lights have solved that problem, as well as others, Hulen says. “We used to have to use heavier gauge wire in order to carry the voltage, and that increased the cost,” he says. “Now, we can use lighter gauge wire and increase our margins that way.”
Still, with safety in mind, you have to make sure the lights last a long time because, when a light goes out and stops illuminating a certain area, accidents can happen.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re installing a low-end system or high-end system, the most important thing to do to make sure the lights last a long time is to strip the wires just like an electrician would and use waterproof wire splices,” Hulen says. “If you do that, you will get great results no matter if the system is cheap or expensive.”
The author is a freelancer based in Cleveland.
Don’t turn out the lights!
Although lighting can be a nice accessory to any yard, they have another benefit as well – safety.
The next time you debate lighting up your landscaping at night, make a pros and cons list. Under pros write "safety," and then check out these products to help keep your guests safe in the dark, and your family safe at home.
Acuity Brand Predator LED
The pitch: Acuity Brands’ Predator LED floodlights from Holophane is designed to save up to 60 percent in energy costs, while cutting maintenance by as much as 50 percent.
- Optional tool-less entry and integral three-stage terminal block to ease installation
- Optional ROAMview controls for operational scheduling, dimming, monitoring and diagnostics.
- ANSI three-pin locking style receptacle is standard with optional five-pin receptacle.
For more information: www.holophane.com
FX Luminaire Luxor Wi-Fi System
The pitch: The new Luxor Wi-Fi system offers wireless lighting control from a smartphone or tablet and consists of three parts:
- Wi-Fi Module that links Luxor ZD controllers to smartphones and tablets.
- Light Assignment Module (LAM) allows group assignment of every fixture attached to a Luxor ZD system.
- A new indoor facepack mount that allows it to be remotely mounted inside.
For more information: www.fxl.com
iluma Outdoor Structure Lighting System
The pitch: The new iluma Outdoor Structure Lighting system features Iluma's Easy Plug connection technology and dimmer system.
- It can be operated independently with an outdoor power supply or in conjunction with any existing i-lighting Deck, Stair, Landscape Lighting Kit with the use of the company’s low-voltage DC system and Easy Plug connections.
- Photocell technology senses ambient light and automatically turns lights on and off. Interior systems provide battery backup emergency lighting during power failures.
- Available with either clear white or warm yellow LEDs and in stock lengths or customized lengths to meet contractor needs. It also works equally well with vinyl, aluminum, composite and wood railing, creating nearly invisible downlighting effects.
For more information: www.i-lightingonline.com
Kichler Pro LED Accent Light
The pitch: Featuring Radiax Optics, Kichler’s new 12V Design Pro LED Accent Light is available in a 2,700 Kelvin (K) color temperature option for a warm-light look. This accent light doesn't just accent the front of the home and highlights architectural aspects of the design, but it can also stay lit for safety reasons.
- Tight LED binning tolerances insure greater color consistency.
- Every unit is sealed and fully potted to protect it from weather elements for optimum performance year after year.
- With a 40,000-hour life-span, the new 12V Design Pro LED Accent Light features an integrated cowl for glare-control, a 6.5W 35 degree flood beam spread and a 9–15V constant current that keeps the light consistent from light to light on the wire run.
For more information: www.kichler.com
Vista Professional MR-16 LED Lamps
The pitch: The 5000 Series Up & Accent Fixtures combines the energy savings of LED with the flexibility and performance of Vista’s new MR-16 LED lamps. The fixture can be concealed throughout the landscape, even within tree branches. Furthermore, The MR-16 LED lamps are designed to provide up to an 80 percent energy savings over standard halogen lamps.
- A patent-pending silicone diaphragm gasket enables them to breathe during thermal cycling, which prevents moisture from being drawn into the lamp and socket and potentially damaging the fixture.
- Each 5000 Series fixture is shipped with a factory-installed 4.5- or 5.5-watt LED lamp, so no assembly is required.
- the fixture has a polyester powder coat finish applied and is available in 15 standard colors, along with a choice of accessories including lenses and louvers.
For more information: www.vistapro.com
For tips on how to add lighting as a service, read this article from our February issue: bit.ly/addlight