Most of the decisions influencing a home’s aesthetics—its architecture, colors and materials—are made so the home will look its best during the daytime. But as twilight nears, the opportunity arises for homeowners to roll back the darkness and let the home’s character shine in unexpected ways. Outdoor lighting, born of the necessity to add security, also creates stunning and inviting schemes that highlight different architectural and landscape features. It’s about assessing needs to discover what works best for home and yard and incorporating trends in bulbs and fixtures to create dramatic effects.
The beginning steps of residential lighting projects tend towards the utilitarian. Making sure entranceways, stairs and driveways are appropriately lit for safe passage at night is the foundation. For a side or backyard that needs brightening for security, a wall-mounted motion-sensor light fixture that casts a wide beam ensures peace-of-mind. No one wants to be flicking on switches to catch intruders (be they human or animal), nor does anyone want to fumble around in the middle of the night when making quick trips to a garage or backyard. Automation also ensures that light and money aren’t wasted when they aren’t in use.
Web-based surveillance cameras also benefit from strategically positioned security lighting. Although these fixtures are typically sensor-based, many home automation companies are offering mobile apps that allow greater control over how these fixtures function.
Just as form follows function in other décor endeavors, so it goes with lighting. Once doors and darkened areas are illuminated and safety is addressed, the mere presence of well-appointed lighting tends to motivate homeowners to display unique features of outdoor spaces. A home’s landscape and architecture, so prominent during the daytime, can once again take center stage at night.
Amy Dowling, owner of Huntington’s Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Long Island, remarked on the value of a finished product, “You come home at night and your house is lit up and your pool is lit up, your pond looks amazing… it becomes your own little serenity and paradise.” For landscape applications, a few path lights are a good start—not only to light walkways, but also to cast welcome pools of light around garden beds and shrubbery. For trees, different varieties of ground lights shine up from a tree’s base to wash the trunk with light and showcase its texture and foliage. Smaller downlights can be hung in branches higher up to add a touch of intrigue and moonlight quality, or to provide added illumination of nearby patios and yard spaces for gatherings and entertainment. Garden walls, when lit with well lights hidden in the ground, are also a good opportunity to add texture to a landscape while extending the entertaining hours.
A home’s façade should shine both day and night. Since it’s a broader space to light, wash lights positioned in the front lawn work well to bathe the structure in a warm glow. More focused bullet lights can be arranged to uplight features such as windowsills, porch archways and eaves, bringing out the character of the home’s architecture.
“The whole idea of outdoor lighting is to paint the shrubbery and house with light. And it’s more an art than a science,” said Philip Finkelstein, president of Rockville Centre-based Illuminations. In general, the goal is to be subtle and not focus on one feature too heavily—the lighting should enhance the space, but never overpower; it should blend in, not create borders.
Bulbs and Color
If light is the paint used to decorate a home’s exteriors, then an LED bulb is the freshest paintbrush of choice. While they’re priced higher, the benefits outweigh the cost. LEDs last longer, are more energy efficient, contain no toxic chemicals and are more durable—both for impact and temperature resistance. They produce almost no UV emissions and little infrared light, both of which are harmful to skin and eyes. They brighten quicker but run cooler (making fixtures last longer, as well) and operate on low-voltage power, which is the standard system for residential outdoor lighting applications.
LEDs also have great variability when it comes to the color of light, often referred to as the “warmth.” Light color is measured on a temperature scale referred to as Kelvin (K). The lower the K number, the more yellow the light appears; the higher it is, the closer the light is to white or blue. By comparison, the standard incandescent bulb operates within a 300K range at the lower end of the scale; LEDs can operate within a range that is almost 13 times that.
Copper and bronze are still the ideal choice for fixtures. Not only are they durable, but they will also weather and gain character along with the landscape, developing a rich patina that blends in with natural surroundings. And when light is the focus, fixtures should fall away to the scenery. As Glenn Giudici, electrician and designer at Giudici Electric in Huntington Station said about the process of demoing for customers, “we’ll keep our light fixtures on during the daytime so people can see what they look like because we’re always trying to keep a low profile. At night our light fixtures disappear except for the light source, and in the day you don’t want them to be a big focal point.” Dowling also understands the necessity of making the light a prime component of outdoor projects, “…we like to say that we are not about fixtures, we are about the output of light” she said.
When considering light output, be aware of current trends against excessive lighting and light pollution, some being enforced through local ordinances. East Hampton, Riverhead and Southampton, as well as many local villages, have recent regulations in place to reduce light trespass, glare and “sky glow,” which severely inhibits visibility of the night sky. Err on the side of using shielded light fixtures that are properly aimed and consider areas where a soft touch is more apt than full exposure.
Adding outdoor lighting enhances beauty and personalization, peace-of-mind and customization all at once. Installations can be done relatively quickly and whether DIY or professional, most lighting projects are easily handled in under a week, with smaller projects taking only a day or two for turnaround. It’s a simple and effective means of increasing the value and appeal of any home. And at the end of it all, it’s sure to brighten any day.