Demand for landscape lighting has continued to grow in line with the trend toward outdoor spaces in general, a trend that gained additional steam during COVID-19.
“The industry has evolved from just garden lights to where things are now,” says Mark Hanson, owner and president of TouchStone Accent Lighting. Hanson is referencing how some products now exist for specific elements of a contemporary landscape, from walkways and water features to kitchens, patios and hardscapes.
Another part of the landscape lighting evolution has been the shift to LED lamps. As a result of that shift, lighting systems have become easier to install.
“With LED, voltage drop has become a thing of the past,” Hanson says. In the past, lighting manufacturers wanted to design a system that would stay just under 12V in order to maintain maximum longevity in the lamps. But now with LED, a system can normally work within a range of roughly 9V to 17V.
“That makes installation easier because you don’t have to run as heavy a gauge of wire anymore,” Hanson says. “In the past, 10- or 12-gauge wire was typically needed, but now contractors can run 14- or 15-gauge which is smaller, lighter and easier to work with. Transformers are also smaller and lighter. Prior to LED, some were as large as 900 to 1,200 watts. Now the typical transformer might be 75 to 150 watts simply because the voltage load on the system is up to 90% less than in the past.”
Another installation-related trend is the move toward surface-mountable LED indicator fixtures. A backplate is mounted with two screws, and then the faceplate simply slips on and is secured with an Allen screw that is embedded into the side of the top cover plate. That helps save time and money on installation.
“We’re seeing this type of fixture used throughout the landscape,” says Todd Goers, director of sales for WAC Landscape Lighting. “Many people call them ‘marker lights.’ These lights can outline a path, be used as step lights, line a driveway, or be used as a safety marker to denote a change in elevation. They can also be used on porches, gazebos, decks, piers, porte cocheres, porticos and other outdoor spaces.” As important as the installation process is, both consumers and their contractors are primarily thinking about aesthetics when it comes to landscape lighting. An interesting trend has been developing here with respect to fixtures.
Black is back
“The predominant fixture color has been in the bronze family, often a darker brown that blends in well with the landscape,” says David Oborn, sales manager at FX Luminaire. “But now the whole black-and-white theme is very popular on things like house trim. So now we’re seeing the color of lighting fixtures going to black.”
“Homebuilders are driving the transition,” Goers adds. “Many new homes are gray and black or white and black, and consumers want the landscape lighting fixtures to ‘match’ the fixture color on the house, which is trending black. So black is becoming more popular with fixtures that are visible in the landscape such as path and area fixtures, accents, wall wash and even hardscape fixtures.”
Hanson has been witnessing the same trend. “In the past three years, it’s funny how black has come back from when it was really big 20 or 25 years ago,” he says. But it’s not the black finish of the old days. As Hanson says, the popular choice today is more of a black texture, as opposed to glossy black. “It’s more of a matted appearance similar to the powdercoated finishes you see on decks. It looks great and is also very durable,” Hanson explains.
Colored lights add character
More consumers are also looking for a change in the color of the lights themselves.
“Color-changing fixtures represent a trend that continues exploding,” says Brian Qualls, national business development manager at Unique Lighting Systems. “When it first came out, I thought it was nothing but a gimmick. But now my own backyard is even color-changing LEDs.”
Homeowners are looking for a range of colors to light up virtually all facets of a landscape, including the architecture. Qualls says this trend has prompted lighting manufacturers to continue offering more color options, enabling homeowners to create a variety of color-based themes geared toward the season, holidays, sports teams, etc. Case in point, Qualls had his yard blanketed in red, white and blue for Independence Day.
Oborn says some homeowners are taken aback by the idea of adding colored lights to their landscape. “They don’t want some kind of insipid green or obnoxious red all of the time,” he says. “But color can actually be used to enhance the natural colors of plant materials and other landscape features. Color can also be used to highlight water features, statues or other architecture to make things pop even more.”
Once homeowners are educated on the possibilities of using color tastefully, their attitudes often begin to shift. That said, Oborn says the traditional white light is still something homeowners want to continue utilizing as well. When one of the colors of a multi-colored LED is white, homeowners can have the best of both worlds.
Connected systems offer app-based control
More consumers are looking to control their landscape lighting through an app. At the same time, many are no longer content with just having their entire outdoor lighting system turn on and off at a certain time.
“We’re seeing more requests for some type of controller that can control groups of fixtures as well as intensity,” Oborn explains. “On the interior of a home, there are often many dimmable switches, allowing the consumer to create themes. That is now extending to the exterior where consumers want different themes for normal evenings, evening entertainment, romance and security.”
With the FX Luminaire system, an app helps control the lighting via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Furthermore, the technology allows for lights to be easily groupable, enabling the homeowner to turn certain groups of lights on or off, change intensity or add color.
“Having control over the lighting beyond just a timer is something homeowners really want now,” Qualls says. “Consumers want something they can control from their phones, tablets or other smart devices. They want to be able to adjust the on/off times and other programs, and they want it to be right at their fingertips.”
Qualls says Unique Lighting Systems’ cloud-based system is intelligent enough to recognize where an account holder is located. That enables the system to know when to turn lights on and off.
“The system also intelligently knows how to make seasonal adjustments based on location for dawn and dusk,” Qualls points out. Homeowners can also set intricate programs. For instance, lights could turn on at dusk, turn back off at 10 p.m., come back on at 4 a.m., and then turn back off at dawn. Finally, homeowners can use the app to make manual overrides of any preset programs. And because the system is cloud-based, those adjustments can be made from anywhere and at any time.
With WAC Landscape Lighting’s app-based system, the user can control a single fixture or a group of up to eight fixtures. “The technology is Bluetooth from any Apple device directly to the fixture so no Wi-Fi is needed,” Goers points out.
While many of today’s homeowners are digital-savvy and love the idea of controlling their lights with a mobile device, some prefer to get a little assistance. In those instances, Qualls says there is an opportunity for the landscape contractor to add value.
“I’ve seen some contractors who became the app account holder for their client,” Qualls says. “Then if the client is having an issue with their lights, the contractor could log into the account remotely and see what’s going on without having to drive over to the property. It’s another way for the landscape contractor to build a lasting relationship with the customer.”
While TouchStone Accent Lighting does offer an app-driven system and demand has increased, Hanson says most homeowners still want a simple, timer-based system that is just set it and forget it. “We’ve actually had customers ask us to switch them back to an astronomical timer because they never ended up spending a lot of time changing the lights and creating different scenes,” Hanson says.
It’s all about giving today’s homeowners options — from the color of the fixtures and lights to the manner in which those lights are controlled.
Times have changed, but the future’s still bright
There is a lot of uncertainty about the economy right now. Some analysts have begun using the phrase “discretionary spending recession,” meaning that with inflation such that it is, more Americans have less money to spend on things like landscape lighting. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen. In the meantime, leading light manufacturers aren’t losing any sleep over it.
“A lot of people still have what I call ‘COVID money,’” Oborn says. He’s referencing the fact that a lot of consumers have been spending more money on their homes, money that historically was spent on travel and going out to dinner and events. While consumers have more recently been spending on those types of items again, there is still a considerable amount of money being spent on home improvement, including landscape lighting.
“While some prognosticators think it’s going to be doom and gloom next year, I believe it’s going to be more of a correction,” Oborn says. “Contractors who had three months of work out in front of them might have one month. That’s not a bad thing. For a while now, a lot of contractors have been struggling to keep up. When that happens, quality can sometimes go down a little bit. The nice thing is that people with money will always see value in a service like this. If things slow down a little bit, quality can actually go up and some normalcy can come back to the business.”
Qualls is sensing that the typical consumer still has a strong desire to invest in their home. “I’m seeing more and more backyards that have a resort-like feel,” he points out. “Plus, as outdoor lighting continues to become more technologically advanced, contractors have the opportunity to make this landscape feature even more exciting and easier to use. That’s why I think the landscape lighting segment will continue to hold its own through any ups and downs in the economy.”
“It’s going to get dark regardless, so the need for outdoor lighting isn’t going to change,” Hanson adds. “I also believe that outdoor lighting is moving away from being a luxury item to being more mainstream. There are more ways to accessorize a landscape today, and people are doing that and using the exterior of their homes more. I don’t see that going away, and lighting is just one more way to help people enjoy their outdoor areas.”
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