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Landscape Lighting

Landscape lighting used to be simple. A few recessed can fixtures lining the front path, a couple downlights tucked in the trees, and you were done. When it comes to the great outdoors, homeowners have seen the light.

"Today, the biggest excitement in outdoor lighting is the whole artistic aspect," says Dan Blitzer, education consultant for the American Lighting Association. "Think of it as painting a picture of the landscape at night, using lights to achieve the look a homeowner wants."

Night-lighting your landscape offers a creative way to showcase your home and property after dark. Properly placed, lights can dramatize trees, highlight favorite shrubs and accent statuary, fountains and flowerbeds. Like any creative work, the options abound.

"The challenge with landscape lighting is that most people don't immediately see all the possibilities," says Joe Rey-Barreau, American Lighting Association Consulting Director of Education and director of the Lighting and Design Center at the University of Kentucky.

"Outdoor lighting can be both functional and aesthetic. It's an art to understand how much light to place on a house or determine where the focal points are."

To light correctly, key in on architectural features. Consider uplighting an arbor, archway or facade for a dramatic effect. Wash the side of the house with a splash of light. Graze a textured fence or wall with a focused beam. Illuminate the water in a pool or pond with submersible lights. Silhouette a tree or bush by placing lights below and behind the object. While some lights take a fashionable approach, others focus on function. Low voltage lights installed under handrails, stairs and bench seating on decks help lighten things up for outdoor entertaining. Stronger beams designed to shine over an outdoor activity area like a basketball court add extra hours of post-dusk fun.

"If you cook out at night, position a spotlight in the eaves of the house to send a beam directly over the BBQ," says Rey-Barreau.

With more people staying at home it has helped foster the current fascination in landscape lighting. "The trends have been very home oriented," says Blitzer. "People are interested in dressing up their homes even more."

Lighting showrooms and manufacturers have expanded their stock as well, resulting in more outdoor options for consumers. "For a long time, landscape lighting revolved around do-it-yourself, low-voltage lights picked up at home centers and installed by the consumer in a line about two feet apart," says Rey-Barreau. "These were not really made to withstand the weather conditions and were not long-term solutions."

Styles range from large overhead cylindrical floodlights to minute spot or accent lights used for highlighting specific features. Spread and diffused units set low to the ground, line paths, flowerbeds and driveways and cast a broader glow. The latest looks in such path lights depend on fixtures that can be placed further apart to create a more attractive glow. Some lights are patterned like three-leaf clusters or single leaf containers. Others boast more traditional lantern styles. Still others beam from within floral fixtures installed in flowerbeds.

"There have been new product developments," says Rey-Barreau. "Weather-resistant products and new plastic technology are both attractive and functional."

Bulbs have also improved. Newer 65-and 120-watt incandescent bulbs provide up to 25% more light. Compact fluorescent bulbs produce soft lighting, the highest energy savings, and last up to 10,000 hours. Mercury vapor bulbs supply a strong, cost-conscious light with a cool color that can last as long as 24,000 hours -- or six years burning dusk to dawn.

While most homeowners opt for pure white light, others like the hint of hue. Warm tones like yellow or red introduced properly can make the landscape come alive at night. Green lights can make foliage look even greener. "Be careful with colored lights," says Rey-Barreau. "Unless they are done carefully, they can look garish."

The cost for installing outdoor lighting is as varied as the landscape designs. According to experts, highlighting a couple of trees in a typical suburban front lawn could run from $800 to $1,200. A one-acre property with an elaborate lighting scheme can cost as much as $10,000.

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