A house is the single largest purchase most people will make. Yet, it’s tempting to leave lighting the property for a later time. The outdoor lights are often little more than an afterthought.
It’s a significant challenge to make what surrounds a home all-at-once safe, cozy, secure, inviting, and beautiful. A few well-placed lights in the backyard, for example, can make indoor spaces feel larger. A well-lit exterior not only deters unwanted guests but also extends the time a space can be enjoyed for a backyard cookout or relaxing under the stars.
“It’s one thing you can put together to make your house look sharp and a little safer, a little more secure,” says Jerry McKay, owner of McKay Lighting.
Josh Reeves of Midwest Lightscaping says that people need to keep their goal in mind when thinking about what to light.
“Is it security? Is it aesthetics?” Reeves says. “There are also safety aspects, like stairs. Once you know your lighting goals, you can match the proper fixtures to the goals.”
The best way to achieve great outdoor lighting, McKay says, is to have a plan, and a homeowner can’t do that if they aren’t sure what they want. A good way to create a plan is to act like it’s Christmas.
“Drive around the neighborhood and start to notice it,” he says. “See what good lighting looks like…what you like, and what you don’t like.”
For example, some houses are lit in such a way that it produces a lot of glare. It might actually be harder to see the front porch on those houses with the lights on than with them off. That defeats the main purposes of external lighting.
There are three main types, or functions, for external lighting: task, ambient, and accent.
Task lighting is perhaps the most important and should be the first priority. Task lighting includes lighting all entryways and footpaths, the driveway, and the garage. Task lighting is about safety and security, without intruding on anyone indoors, including the neighbors.
Ambient lighting is softer light often used in outdoor living spaces such as the back porch. Lanterns, string lights, or ceiling fans produce the kind of inviting and cozy light that’s ideal for entertaining and relaxing.
Accent lighting can include up-lighting columns or other architectural features. It also includes lighting certain landscaping elements such as trees or bushes. McKay likes to place lights high in trees to create a moonlight effect that casts dramatic shadows throughout the space.
If nothing else, give the lighting all due consideration, because striking the right balance between security, safety, and beauty isn’t easy.
“Design is important,” McKay says. “A lot of times, less is best.”
Once the design has been drawn, the property owner should then consider the best lighting for the area, and be prepared to pay for it. “There’s almost always some sticker shock when people learn the price,” McKay says. But, he adds. when it comes to lighting, he has learned the hard way that you often get what you pay for. He recalls losing a job when he bid $22,000, which was almost double the lowest bidder.
“We ended up going back to redo it five years later when it started failing,” he says.
Most hardware stores and retailers carry affordable options, but some lack in the quality of the materials used, he says.
“It’s like anything. It’s better to save up a little,” he says. “Wait until you can afford it and not go cheap, because you’ll just have to replace it later.”
For any do-it-yourselfers, McKay recommends purchasing through the manufacturers, where it’s easier to find more durable fixtures made with materials like brass and copper.
“Start with the best stuff you can afford,” he adds.
Using cheap fixtures is among the most common mistakes he sees when his crew comes in to fix home lighting attempts, whether it was a DIY project gone wrong or an inexperienced landscaper or lawn care service provider.
Reeves says that matching the lighting to the correct color temperature is important, especially if a homeowner has existing lighting that will not be replaced. Many LED lights produce a bright white or blue glow, whereas incandescent lights produce a warmer, more yellow color. Newer LED lights do a better job of creating warm light or cool light.
The color of the light is dependent on the kelvins, a unit of measure used in lightbulbs, indicated by the letter K on a bulb.
“You want to match the kelvins,” Reeves says. “When LEDs first came out, they were in the 5,000 kelvin range. A standard incandescent is in the 2,700-range, and now we have LEDs that are in that range.”
Other common mistakes include misusing fixtures (mounting a path light next to a tree instead of up-lighting it), sloppy installations with exposed or poorly hidden wires, and using cheap connectors, which he says always fail eventually and are tricky to troubleshoot when they do.
Whether outdoor lighting becomes a DIY job or requires a professional, this important part of home ownership should be attended to in order to keep a home safe and secure.
This article was printed in the July/August 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.