Night & day

Features - Lighting

Advances in technology and architectural style, plus a pandemic, have all contributed to changes in lighting trends.

January 25, 2021

Photo courtesy of Kichler Lighting

Since March, because of COVID-19, many people in the U.S. are spending more time at home, leading to a larger focus on the back patio, outdoor kitchen and fire pit areas. Homeowners want this area lit up, says Rick Baird, national sales manager at Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting.


“You put light out there, it just kind of pulls you outside. It's kind of an extension of the indoor family room or kitchen outside now with lighting,” he says.

When lighting this space, Baird says a professional contractor will strategically place lights to create an environment that’s inviting, safe and comfortable: lighting on the grill, lighting over where the cutting board will go and soft lighting around areas of conversation. It’s about using fewer fixtures to create more effective lighting with a larger output. When done properly, the difference is “night and day,” he says.

“This expands the living space and possibilities during social distancing,” says Scott Pesta, senior product manager of landscape lighting at Kichler Lighting.

In designing outdoor spaces, creativity is often needed to solve niche lighting issues, says Sarah Auyeung, associate product manager for Hunter Industries’ lighting brand, FX luminaire. For example, instead of a pathway being lit by path lights, perhaps a homeowner would want something that isn't a potential tripping hazard. There could be a wall nearby where a light could be positioned, put a shroud over it to control the glare and throw the light across the path.

This can change how the fixtures are designed in the future. Auyeung sometimes sees what homeowners and contractors do with the fixtures and will change them accordingly to be more versatile. Also, there are more products that are multipurpose.

“There is much greater diversity in landscape lighting products, especially individual fixtures that can complete a broad range of tasks formerly accomplished by less efficient models,” says Todd Goers, national sales manager for landscape lighting at WAC Landscape Lighting.

“You put light out there, it just kind of pulls you outside.” Rick Baird, national sales manager, Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting

Contemporary style.

Recently, the look of the landscape lighting fixtures have trended differently. Now, many take on a contemporary look, often to match contemporary architecture. They don't distract from the house, having thin, clean lines and clear colors, like brushed nickel, aluminum, black and sometimes white, says Jon Bowman, national sales director at Coastal Source. Instead of a standard path light with a rounded top, a contractor might purchase an L-shaped one to match the clean lines of the house. Another type is a bollard-style fixture. It is a square, simple and clean design that comes up from the ground.

Homeowners are looking for a “New, fresh look,” Bowman says.

Homeowners also want small fixtures because they don't want to see them, he says. They have a “small footprint, but fairly significant output.” This is possible because of light emitting diode (LED) technology, as opposed to the old incandescent light bulbs, Baird says.

Baird says today, almost all sales of lights are LED. They have come a long way in the past decade. When LED first came out, there was hesitation to buy it based on ignorance and skepticism. Many people were first introduced to LED as a bright, stark bluish light. It didn’t fit in most lighting situations, especially indoors. Now, it can produce light that’s softer, warmer and can match any color temperature.

LED brings efficiency with it. A product that uses one and a half watts of electricity to give the same amount of light that a 20-watt light bulb did eight years ago, Baird says. A good quality LED can get 50,000 hours in the landscape, Bowman says.

“There's probably not a citizen, homeowner, consumer ... that doesn't know about LED today,” Baird says.

On some systems, homeowners can have lighting scheduled, so the lighting will automatically turn on when it gets dark outside, then turn off at dawn.
Photo courtesy of Kichler Lighting

Custom benefits.

As LED technology advances, automation and control also continue to advance. This automation allows light to be controlled through schedules and systems or manually through an app or desktop. It also allows the lighting to be connected to other systems, like home, voice-command and audio systems, so it all can all be controlled at the “touch of their finger,” Baird says.

“(Connected products have) really taken off,” Baird says. “Now… we can tell each individual light bulb what to do, to come on, to shut off and to dim, or to be green or red or blue.”

On some systems, homeowners can have lighting scheduled, so the lighting will automatically turn on when it gets dark outside, then turn off at dawn. They can choose their own schedule, too, says Eden Allen, product manager, Lighting for Unique Lighting Systems. This can be set differently for separate areas of the yard.

“So, if you want to, for instance, always have your front yard turned on from that time period, you can set it so that it turns on and off at ‘dusk till dawn’ in your front yard, but you only want to have your backyard turned on when you have people over,” Allen says. “So, just having that control is something that is a really big demand from the market.”

These integrations give more value to these products, which help customers.

“Customers are requesting that contractors focus on the budget and getting the most value for their project dollars,” Pesta says. “This may be drop-in fixtures with LED lamps for some, while other customers want the advantages of an integrated LED product.”

Color-changing capabilities.

Another capability of this new technology is the ability to control the color of the light. The range is wide: it can produce millions of colors, Baird says. It can be changed to be season specific: red, white and blue for the Fourth of July and red and green for Christmas. These can also be changed in temperature and brightness to illuminate and highlight certain aspects of properties.

“You can change the color on those also to enhance your outdoor space. And that's really meant for enhancing like a green in a tree that will look better with a cooler white temperature versus if you have like a stucco finish on a house that looks better with a warmer white, so you can play around with that as well,” Allen says.

Landscape lights can be set to a soft pastel pink to highlight pink flowers when they bloom. Once they’re gone, that can be changed to a soft blue or green to highlight a palm tree in the yard, Auyeung says.

“It's accentuating and bringing out those colors. It's not masking the colors,” she says.

Allen says people also like to be able to play around with the color changing options. However, the trend is regional. It is mainly in southern coastal markets, where the landscape can be enjoyed year-round.

“That's something that's bigger than I ever imagined It would be. I knew that it was something that was kind of coming up in the industry, but the response to it has been really overwhelming,” she says.

While Allen has continued to see this trend grow, Bowman says he’s seen it decline a bit.

“The rage a couple of years ago was color,” he says. “It's still a need out there, but I don't know if it's necessarily what it was two or three years ago.”