Beams and streams

The right way to light water

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A water feature is a great addition to a project, but if it isn’t spotlighted correctly, it can quickly fade to just another part of your customer’s property. So L&L caught up with Andrew Coleman, outdoor lighting designer and holiday lighting director at McKay Landscape Lighting, and asked him what you need to know about illuminating water.

How do you approach the lighting of water, and can you talk about some of your projects?
Lighting water depends upon what type of water feature we are trying to light. In the first photo, we illuminated this fountain with submersible, brass underwater fixtures in each bowl. We used higher wattage bulbs in the lower bowl than we used in the upper bowls.

This project worked well because the fountain was being built at the same time as our installation and we were able to sleeve the fountain. Fountains typically have clear, clean water to allow the light to highlight the features.

In the second photo, we installed brass underwater fixtures directly below the waterfalls. This effect highlights the cascading water and creates shadows that are appealing to the eye. On this application, we also installed downlights in nearby trees filling in the rest of the area.

In the last photo, we installed copper bullets on each side of the sign. We also added fixtures across the pond aiming at the waterfalls. We also created a dramatic background view by uplighting the surrounding evergreens.

By installing lighting outside of the water feature, we are able to reduce maintenance time when it comes to re-lamping, cleaning lenses and repositioning fixtures.

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How does lighting water differ from lighting static landscapes?
The main difference is that we mount fixtures closer to the objects we are trying to light.

That can include a tree, path, or a piece of art. Our goal on every installation is to try to hide the light source as much as possible while highlighting the effect.

How do you approach the design and sales of projects?
First you must answer this question, “Is the water feature the main focal point of the landscape?” This determines how much light we use to highlight the feature. It can be difficult lighting water features as most are designed to be viewed from multiple angles. When we are called to redesign lighting on a water feature, we typically see fixtures placed on the bottom of a dirty pond, aiming skyward, causing unnecessary glare.

When designing light around a water feature, it’s best to hide the fixture and minimize the glare by proper placement. For instance, hiding the fixture behind a large boulder or plant material outside of the water and then aiming the light back at the falling water or transition points, makes for a dramatic effect.

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How do you service and maintain these projects?
It is advised to schedule future maintenance at the same time of install. It is important when dealing with an underwater light to keep a water tight seal, so equally re-tightening screws when removing the lens is important. Applying grease to the screws and cleaning the lens with a cleaner like CLR is also important.

What should contractors keep in mind and what have you learned that could help them in their businesses?
Properly installing a high quality fixture that is easy to maintain either for you or the client is vital. Selling an inexpensive fixture to a client just creates future problems.

Clients don’t always understand the difference, so it’s our job to sell them on the idea of spending more money up front to reduce problems and maintenance in the future. It’s important to let them know that you will be able to service them in the future and stand behind your work. L&L

July 2013
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