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Recently, we were at the home of a customer in Indianapolis for a service call and to add on a couple of path lights.  A key path light is located in the middle of some very large bushes.  Even though the stake is 3’ feet tall an even taller stake was required. 

I told the customer that it wouldn’t be a problem to get a longer stake.  We’ll order a stake 12” longer and the effect will be just what he wants.  Most of the time the standard sized path light stakes are just fine but on occasion longer, custom stakes are needed. 

Longer stakes are great for situations where a deck or pool has an area that slopes or is lower in relation to where the other path lights are located.  They are also ideal for placement in mulch beds and plantings where having the light fixture elevated enough to have a wide illumination effect is important.

Over the weekend we had a big storm.  The wind howled, it rained hard and lawn furniture was tossed around the back yard.  We were out of town but noticed when we returned that the power had gone out.  Fortunately nothing was damaged although we did have to retrieve the umbrella and table that was blown across the yard.

If our outdoor lighting system had a mechanical timer the timing for the lights would be out of synch.  Mechanical timers are easy to use but are dependent upon the continuous flow of electricity.  If power is out for 2 hours then the timer will be off for two hours.   It isn’t hard to re-set but it can be frustrating to maintain.

There is a solution.  Lighting Control Automation (LCA) is the answer.  This computer timer has a battery backup.  When programmed (based on latitude and longitude) it knows when sunset and sunrise is each day. The timer can have lights come on and off based upon the relationship to sunrise/sunset or at a specific time.  It is generally set to be a “set it and forget it” timer but it can also enable the homeowner to manually turn lights on or off.  Contact us if you would like more information about this special timer.

I recently met with a homeowner in northern Indianapolis that wanted to add some additional lights to his system.  He had his outdoor lighting system installed about 4 years ago.  The key focus was to illuminate a large oak tree and softly accent a step leading to his home.

In order to make sure that the lighting effect was exactly what he wanted I came to his home and set up a limited evening demonstration.  We initially saw how the tree looked with one light, then two and then three.  Once we created the perfect look I put flags at the center point where we had placed each demonstration fixture.  This indicates to the installer where the lights should be placed.

He wanted to light a step along the walk but didn’t want the look of a traditional path light. 

In order to create the right level of light at the step we used special shades to minimize excess light spread but still cover the step with just the right amount of light. I showed him a BB-6, a special path light with a small top.  It is very unobtrusive but still emits light.  By using the special shade and lowering the height of the path light the ideal effect was created.  The homeowner was thrilled as it captured exactly the look he wanted.

If you live in the Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield or Indianapolis area there are several options to choose from when deciding to have landscape lighting installed.  As with any choice there are pros and cons.  I’ll outline a few options and review them.

1.  Do it yourself.  The least expensive option for outdoor lighting is to visit one of the stores such as Lowe’s, Menards, or Home Depot.  There are plenty of basic lighting fixtures and equipment to choose from.  There are even books one can purchase for more information than provided with the box.   It doesn’t cost much and if you make a mistake you haven’t invested too much.  The transformers typically aren’t multi-tap and hence not suitable if the lights are placed more than a few feet away.  The fixtures are not very robust.  They won’t be very hardy and generally look cheap.  The materials used to make them aren’t very strong or able to withstand the rigors of outdoor use.  The construction of the fixtures don’t allow for withstanding a visit by the weed whacker or other hazards of outdoor use.

I always like it when I receive a call from a homeowner that installed outdoor lights themselves.  They thought that they could replicate the great look they have seen on other homes.  It can seem easy to think, “How hard can this be?”  “They sell the light kits so anyone can install these.”  Unfortunately, the look they end up with is a far cry from what the homeowner had envisioned.  They end up frustrated.  It is a lot of work to bury wire and the look just doesn’t measure up or meet their expectations.  In most cases the lights aren’t in the right place to properly accent the home or landscaping.  The light output usually isn’t strong enough and it just doesn’t look very good.  It can make an expensive house look well, cheap.  When we demonstrate our lighting system to homeowners they can see how great their home can look when installed by a professional.  What they envisioned turns into reality.   It is quite common to hear them exclaim “Now this is what I had in mind”.

2.  Another option for outdoor lighting is to have a landscaper install it.  There are a number of landscapers around Indianapolis that include outdoor lighting as one of their services.  You can find many of them exhibiting at the Flower & Patio Show each year.  It is rather common for a landscaper to tell the homeowner the following:  “We’ll be planting quite a few trees and working in your yard anyway – wouldn’t some landscape lighting look nice?”  An unsuspecting homeowner will reply “well yes, we have thought about outdoor lighting for some time and this would be a good time to tackle this project.  Why don’t you include it in the project?”  They assume that since the landscaper is smart about drawing landscape plans and knows a lot about plants that their knowledge extends to outdoor lighting. 

Landscapers are good at landscaping.  Landscape architects attend schools such as Purdue University for several years to learn about soils, plants, drainage and installing hardscapes.  Their expertise in landscape lighting is based on a day or two landscape lighting training at a local lighting supplier.  This provides general knowledge but certainly doesn’t mean that they are an expert.  Landscape lighting is an art as well as a science. 

When building a home you wouldn’t use the guy that just poured the concrete driveway to also put the roof on.  You wouldn’t hire the electrician to also install the plumbing.  Why not?  The answer is pretty obvious.  I know concrete guys, roofers, electricians and plumbers.  They are all pretty handy but are experts in their respective fields – not in the others.  Why would you use a landscaper to install outdoor lights when they aren’t experts at this craft?  Will they follow the National Electrical Code (NEC) to make sure it is properly installed?  For best results, use an expert at what they do.  Landscapers that offer a wide range of services often fall into the category of “jack of all trades and master of none.”  Landscapers that offer landscape lighting as one of their services use the same guy that installs lighting to sling fertilizer, put down sod, and install hardscapes and also put in outdoor lighting.  It is also highly unlikely that they will return at night to inspect the lighting effect to ensure that the installation is perfect. 

We recently installed landscape lighting at the front of a home in the Geist area. In the back of the property I noted that a major landscaper had installed landscape lighting.  The installation wasn’t done properly and bulbs burned out faster than they should.  This is usually due to incorrect voltage settings.  It was also apparent that landscape lighting isn’t their skill set as the receptacle that they were using did not have a weatherproof bubble cover.  This is a basic component of proper landscape lighting. 

The cost of having a landscaper install lights often isn’t any less expensive than using a landscape lighting only company.  One should also consider maintenance.  If a lighting system is installed by a landscaper will they be able to service it promptly if a problem arises?  What if they are tied up in a big project out of town and all their guys are engaged in putting in boulders and trees?  How soon will they be able to show up?  Since they likely see landscape lighting equipment only once in a while how long will it take to figure out the problem and make a fix?  Will they have the required tools, spare sockets, bulbs and diagnostic equipment?  For many landscapers, they like to install lights but avoid maintenance issues.

3.  Landscape Lighting Company.   A company that specializes in landscape lighting is the wise choice when installing outdoor lighting.  They know best what equipment and design works best.  The placement of the each light is critical to the right effect.  If a homeowner is serious about a quality landscape lighting installation then the only logical choice is to use a company that only does landscape lighting. 

There are a handful of landscape lighting companies in the greater Indianapolis area.  What sets one company apart from another?  One should choose a company that comes highly recommended from others.  Using a respected source such as Angie’s List is a good way to learn what others have reported about a vendor. 

LED Lighting

One of the most versatile use of LED lighting is the LED strip.  Outdoor Lighting Perspectives offers a UL approved LED flexible LED strip.  It is about as wide as a dime and comes in lengths of 1 and 5 meters. 

LED lighting is the latest in lighting technology. 

There are some great applications for this latest in outdoor lighting.  One use for this light is to snake it among rocks at the bottom of a water feature.  In the past, there was no way to achieve this effect.  A light rope could be used but it is too thick and has many short comings.  It can be powered via a 120 volt line voltage or with low voltage.  This provides a very versatile means to power it up.

At the Indianapolis Flower & Patio Show we had an opportunity to demonstrate a perfect use for this unique light.  At the show we installed our lights for some of the landscapers.  One of the landscaping companies we partnered with is Country Gardens.  They created a garden that featured a block pillar that had water pouring out of the top.  The top layer of the pillar was constructed of glass blocks.  This offered a great way to show case this new light. 

We coiled the LED strip around the inside perimeter of the glass blocks.  Once hooked up it put out a bright white light.   The overhead lights in the building can overpower most landscape lighting displays but this light was bright and easily seen.  Steve Tillman, owner of Country Gardens, reported that it received several positive comments.

If we had tried to use traditional, rigid lights, the effect would not have been nearly as dramatic.  It would have likely required more than one light fixture and/or the installation of a reflective material at the top of the stone lid.

If you need a bright and flexible light I would highly recommend the new LED strip light.

It is a well known fact that a home which is well lit is less likely to be vandalized than one that is dark.  Even in fairly safe communites such as Fishers, Carmel and Zionsville homeowners need to be mindful that burglers are on the prowl. 

Although it is important to take the standard precautions such as locking doors and windows there are other measures that can help prevent having ones home vandalized.  Having a sign showing that a home is guarded by one of the home security companies has been used for years.  A barking dog can help to scare away burglars as well. All of these tools are helpful, but outdoor lights on a home is one of the best ways to deter crime.  A burglar is most likely to visit a home where he won’t be seen – one that is dark. 

Outdoor lighting adds so much more than beauty.  It adds safety but more importantly – an added measure of security.  People who travel appreciate knowing that while they are gone robbers will be more likely to avoid their home because of the lights.  This is important not only to avoid having their belongings stolen but most importantly to keep their family safe.  

 

Some builders include line voltage lights in the soffits.  They shine down on the sides of the house from the top of the walls.  The appearance tends to be brightest at the top and generally casts a stripe of light down the sides.  It typically doesn’t give a soft wash of light that gives an elegant appearance.  This lighting effect was evident at a sub-division I recently visited in Avon.  The neighborhood had several expensive homes, yet the lighting effect from the soffits didn’t cast these homes in the best light.  

The best place for soffit lights are above garage doors.  Typically, when both sides of a garage are illuminated the area at the garage doors will be pretty dark.  If there are soffit lights above the garage doors it generally does a good job of spreading light in this otherwise dark area.  If these lights are controlled by our Lighting Control Automation (LCA) we can control not only when the lights come on but also the intensity of the lights.  This enables the homeowner to have the timing and brightness of the lights on the garage door area match the rest of the landscape lighting.

At other locations, the lights in the soffits do not look nearly as good as compared to using PAR 36 bulbs illuminating the home from the ground.  PAR 36 bulbs create a warm, textured effect vs. a more concentrated appearance from most soffits lights.  If the lights are not installed properly – at the right location and direction – the effect will be wanting.  

Maintenance can make the choice pretty obvious.  Would you prefer to perform maintenance on lights on the ground or drag a ladder around and hope you don’t fall?  Working on lights in the soffit can be dangerous, particularly on tall homes.  If the homeowner likes to do things themselves it will also mean the purchase of a very tall and expensive ladder.  Clearly maintaining lights on the ground is much easier than those up high.  In the Indianapolis area winter can be pretty cold and climbing a ladder can be a very hazardous decision.

If the location of the soffit light isn’t right there isn’t much that can be done to change things without hiring an electrician to install lights and replace the panels where the lights had been.  That can be an expensive adjustment.  Even with the modification you’ll hope that the new location is spot on or more work will be needed.  If a wider or narrower spread of light is needed, it means more ladder climbing.  If the light on the ground needs to be adjusted it is extremely easy.  The fixture can easily be moved to the ideal location. 

One of our customers in the Geist area used to use soffit lights to light the outside of his home.  Once we installed our lights he didn’t use the soffit lights any longer.  Instead, he exclaimed, “I just love to stand in front of my home and see how beautiful it looks.  Why would I want to use those soffit lights when it looks so much better now?”  If you want a soft and elegant look to your home – don’t rely on lights in the soffits to create the effect you want.  Up lighting your home with PAR 36 lamps will give you much better results.

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