Landscape Lighting Design and Planning Tips

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Design and Planning Tips For Landscape Lighting Installations.

Often overlooked, an Outdoor Landscape Lighting plan is essential for achieving the desired effect for illuminating your home and landscape features.  A good plan will not only provide esthetic appeal but also create a functional lighting system for safety and outdoor activities.  That being said, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure you have a good approach to your overall design.   Also, keep in mind that most landscape lighting is easily moved, and since we are mainly speaking of low-voltage lighting, adding additional fixtures is a simple process allowing for painless adjustments to your initial plan.

Steps To A Good Landscape Lighting Design.

1. Take a Walk in The Dark –  One of the best ways to begin designing an Outdoor Lighting system is take a step back from your property to see where lights will be best utilized and to pinpoint areas, fixtures, and structures you want to highlight with your lighting system.  Take the time to do a brief sketch of your property so you can quickly make note of areas of interest, be sure to highlight any significant trees and features on you sketch.  Take the point of view of someone arriving at your property for the first time.  As they drive down your street or alley what do you want to accentuate, the large oak in the front yard, the statuary at the driveway, or maybe the architecture around the windows of the home.  Most of these sorts of features will usually be highlighted with a combination of down and up lighting, and these techniques will be looked at later.

Once the main features of the property have been noted, walk around the property noting any areas needing illumination.  Walkways and patio areas are likely to be your main focus here and lighting should be well thought out in these areas.  A walkway with proper lighting can look inviting, but you don’t want to turn it into a Casino entrance with too much lighting.  When planning Patio’s and Decks, think about how you use the area, for quiet nights, or social gathering, or maybe both.

In our sample Landscape Lighting Diagram we have highlighted a few common features to consider.
Landscape Lighting Design Sample
  1. Large trunk trees such as Oaks that are offset from the home can give the property a larger than life effect when illuminated with up lighting or can be be considered for downlighting from the branches above.
  2. Ornamental Trees such as Japanese Maples can be used as a focal point and provide depth to the lighting effect.  In this case can also be used for ambient lighting on the drive or walk.
  3. Walkway from the drive to the house.  Plan for lighting to provide a safe path over steps and to provide a welcome feeling to guests.
  4. Shrub Beds can be a good location for gentle ambient lighting to provide depth and ambient lighting for the front of the house.
  5. Pillars at the front of the house can be used as focal points and can be lit with narrow beam spots to accentuate height.

You’re now ready to sit down and fine tune your lighting plan with more detail.

2. Map Out Your Lighting Plan –  Once you have established an overall plan, you can begin to take a more detailed approach to planning your outdoor lighting.  This is a two step process involving the picking of the type of outdoor lighting (up, down, path, etc.), and choosing your fixtures.  This can be done with a simplified approach of taking each feature or area one at a time and choosing a lighting method that would be best suited to each.  A good lighting plan will have a variety of lighting techniques to provide depth so using different techniques throughout your plan will usually give you great results.  Here are a few sample techniques to consider for your lighting plan:

Trees:  A tree in your landscape can be a beautiful focal point both day and night.  A large tree can be a perfect place for uplighting to highlight the trunk and bark structure, but can also be a great opportunity to place downlighting to create a moonlight effect from the branches above.  Since large trees are often set forward from structures care should be taken not to over light them to take away focus from other features and areas closer to your home.

Pathways and Walkways: These are areas that never get overlooked for lighting and when done right can provide safety, function, and flare to your landscape lighting design. As their name suggests Pathway Lights are most commonly used for these areas, however  care should be taken not to over light a walkway with too many pathway lights creating a runway effect.   Try to incorporate ambient lighting from areas around the pathway such as shrub beds or ornamental trees.  The mixture of lighting will often provide a more elegant atmosphere for the area while still providing functional lighting.

Decks and Patios: Whenever possible Decks and Patios should be lit with overhead lighting to provide to provide the desired illumination.  These areas can also be accented with down lighting at low levels to provide a choice of lighting atmosphere.  For instance if you want to create a candlelit atmosphere overhead lighting wouldn’t be desirable, but a few well placed down lights at knee level can provide adequate lighting for guests to mingle.

Architectural Fixtures Building Features:  Common fixtures to give consideration to are statuary, pillars, and unique building features.  These features are most commonly illuminated with up-lighting to provide more distinct highlighting to the area.
Additional Considerations:  Take into consideration the view from inside your home, you don’t want your outdoor lighting to be beaming in at you while your inside.  You should also take into consideration light pollution from your neighbours point of view.  A good way to start a neighborhood dispute is to inadvertently point a spot light into their living room.
Bulb Considerations: At this time you should also consider what type of lamp (bulb) would best be suited for the fixtures you have chosen.  There are three basics to be aware of when choosing the LED lamp for your Landscape Lighting fixtures;
  • Watts:  This is the energy requirement for the lamp.  Generally most LED lamps have a power draw of 2.5 – 5.5 Watts, and this will coincide with the brightness of the lamp.  You will also need this to calculate the total watts required to power your lighting plan.
  • Lumens: Is the measure of how much light a lamp actually produces, more lumens will give you more light.
  • Beam Angle: This is very important for Landscape Lighting design.  Generally lamp beam angles range from 15-60 degrees.  Smaller beam angles of 15 degrees are commonly used for spot uplighting to highlight individual objects and architecture, while wider beam angles are used to diffuse light over larger areas to provide more ambient lighting of  an area.
  • CRI Rating: The CRI rating or Colour Rendering Index is the spectrum of colour a light source produces to the human eye.  CRI is rated from 0-100 with 100 being 100% accuracy of colour rendering to the human eye.  In general any LED light source with a CRI above 80 is considered excellent.
Using Our Lighting Diagram We Have Outlined A Few Sample Techniques
Sample Landscape Lighting Fixture Selection
  • UW – For large trees you could consider using Up-Lighting with a wide beam angle to accentuate the branch structure.
  • UN – Smaller trees can be highlighted with Up-Lighting but consider a narrow beam angle to accompany a smaller trunk and branch structure.
  • G – Shrub areas can be lit with Ground or Well Lights.  Consider using lower voltage for these areas to achieve a subtle lighting effect.
  • P – For walkways and paths use Path Lights.  However consider utilizing the ground lighting from the shrub area for indirect lighting as well.  Placing lights strategically for steps and/or uneven ground should be a priority.
  • S – For Pillars and Statuary use spotlighting with a beam angle to accompany the width of the feature you are illuminating.

3. Determine Your Power Needs –  Once you have established a rough plan of your lighting techniques and requirements you are now ready to determine your power needs and establishing a wiring plan.  At one time this was a much more complicated task when using incandescent lighting, but with the use of LED Landscape Lighting the process becomes relatively simple due to the low voltage requirements of LED’s.  The calculation of your power needs will then determine the transformer requirement for you system.  Transformers are commonly offered in 75-1200 watt models.

Calculating Energy Consumption:

To calculate the energy consumption required for you Outdoor Lighting system you simply add up the consumption for each of the fixtures you intend to install.  You should however be conservative with your consumption needs as lamp changes and additions to your lighting system may require additional energy consumption.  See table below for an example:

Lighting TypeLamp SelectionWattageQuantityTotal
Up LightingLN11-2.5-W-25°-LED2.5836
Pathway LightsLNT3-2.5-W-S-LED2.51025
In-Ground and Well LightsLN16-4.5-W-25°-LED4.5627
Total Energy Requirements (Wattage)88

In this example your total energy requirement is 88 watts.  For this consumption you would need a 100 watt transformer.  However it may be advisable to purchase a 150 watt model to accommodate any increase in lamp wattage and additions to the system.

Once you have planned for your layout and fixtures the hard part is over, and you can now move to the step of planning your wire layout and installing your Landscape Lighting system.  See our Landscape Lighting Tutorial for illustrations of these steps.

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