When we chat with clients about new projects, we educate them. We explain that there are four main objectives we account for when conceptualizing their landscape lighting design. In this blog, we’ll explore two of these objectives—safety and security—discussing why and how these objectives need to be addressed, and with what techniques.
Security: Eliminating Potential for Intruders
Landscape lighting, in addition to its beautifying qualities and making a space more usable at night, is an amazing and effective way to combat trespassing and deter theft. It can sometimes be addressed with high-voltage floodlights, but a much better approach is to strategically place low levels of light throughout a property to create cohesion, or smooth transitions of light throughout the property. This does two things: It eliminates what we call “black holes” or dark spots where intruders can hide, and prevents glaring light that can be fatiguing to the eye of a homeowner scanning the property for intruders.
An excellent way to create a secure environment is to first light the border of a property to deter trespassers from even stepping onto it. Depending on the landscape, we recommend using one of two techniques: uplighting or moonlighting. These techniques should be used to light whatever is creating the property border—whether it be a fence, trees, hedges or any other plant material. Uplighting involves placing fixtures on the ground and illuminating the border from the ground up, while moonlighting uses fixtures in trees to illuminate the tree and other border features below it. Keep in mind, the higher you place the fixtures, the wider your beam spread is, giving you a better bang for your buck.
Another key element of security is the ability to scan your property from the safety of your home—the ability to see out your windows and doors. But, this isn’t always an easy task. Generally, what happens to you when you try to look out a window at night when lights in the home are on? You see your own reflection, also known as the mirror effect, and you generally can’t see out into your property. Or, if you have poorly done landscape lighting, you may be blinded by your own outdoor lighting!
Here’s what you need to do to avoid blinding glares and the mirror effect. Create a landscape lighting design that projects light between your windows rather than directly into them, grazing the walls of your home instead. For wider, softer effect, use wash lights. For a more intense effect, use spotlights.
When it comes to security, we recommend that you divide the property into two sections: public space and private space. Your public space is the front of the house, while the private space represents the backyard. We recommend designing these areas independently of one another, and operating the two spaces separately on their own transformers and timers. We suggest this for a few reasons, including efficiency, differing needs and usage times, as well as convenience and cost when it comes to initial wiring and regular maintenance. For instance, some homeowners may have street lighting, so additional landscape lighting for security may be unnecessary; the ability to turn their public space lighting off would be more energy and cost efficient.
Finally, it’s the homeowner determines what they need to feel secure, and when they want their transformers running. Typically this means running one or both from dusk until dawn and is best achieved by using an astronomical timer. Photocell times are generally accurate and a bit cheaper, but the technology is a bit dated. Photocell timers sense when light is diminishing and when it hits a certain level, the landscape lighting system is turned on. An astronomical timer, on the other hand, is more precise, dependable, and a hair more expensive. An astronomical timer requires you to set its longitude and latitude in order for the unit to determine exactly when the sun rises and sets and therefore when the system turns on and off each day.
Safety: Lighting the Way
When we talk about safety, we’re referring to residents’ and visitors ability to safely navigate your property and avoid otherwise unseen obstacles. This is done by illuminating walkways, entranceways, and any place there is a transition in elevation, like a stairwell, or texture, like moving from a paved driveway or concrete path to a slippery bluestone patio or even grass. Stairs and texture changes can be particularly hazardous and should be well lit. This can be achieved with path lights, area spot lights, area wash lights, and moonlights.
Pools are also areas that should be well lit. The pool deck can be illuminated safely with path lights that shine down on it. And while our landscape lighting systems are low-voltage and could never cause electrocution, electrical code states that your closest fixture can’t be closer than 10 feet from the pool. The code hasn’t been updated in decades, but it’s just something you should be aware of when planning with your landscape lighting designer or contractor.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into developing a landscape lighting system that produces a safe, secure environment for homeowners. It takes a keen professional with an eye for aesthetics and strategy to conceptualize a great design, and top-quality products to carry out that design. Meeting all four landscape lighting objectives is certainly an art and a science we’d like to think we’ve mastered; and in our next blog, we’ll continue talking about these objectives and explore the final two: beauty and usability. Stay tuned!