Landscape Lighting: DIY Or Go Pro? 5 Things To Know

By December 20, 2016 Lighting
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If you’ve been around the internet, anywhere from Pinterest to YouTube, installing landscape lighting may seem like a breeze. There’s no shortage of DIY tutorials that make it seem affordable and doable for even the moderately enthusiastic homeowner.

For some, the cost savings coupled with a worthy challenge is enough to convince them to tackle to job themselves. For others, simple staked-in solar lights are budget friendly and a low-fuss way to venture into DIY lighting.

But if you’re on the fence, read this first, so you’ll understand what’s involved in successfully installing outdoor lighting, pro or otherwise.

Outdoor Wiring Is Different Than Indoor Wiring

Even if you’re pretty good with a switch and an outlet, you may not be equipped to handle the complexities that come into play when working with electricity outdoors.

There are inherent risks to working with electricity no matter where you are, including risk of shock and injury (or worse). There’s also a specialized skillset required to understand transformers, voltage, wattage and more.

But outdoor wiring poses its own challenges, considering factors like temperature changes, insects, water and humidity, and preserving the safety of people and pets.

A professional will have the appropriate knowledge and experience to manage the installation and mitigate threats that you may not even be aware of.

Lighting Systems Require Maintenance

Installation is only one piece of the outdoor lighting puzzle. Eventually even the most advanced and top quality systems will require maintenance. Whether an ambitious critter has thrown something out of whack or a bulb needs to be replaced, the question will arise: whose job is it?

A professional will not only be available for fast and easy ongoing maintenance, and may even offer a flat-rate yearly contract, but will know how to install lighting with ease of maintenance in mind in the first place.

There Are Different Lighting Options

If you’re thinking solely about budget, you may be tempted to install the staked-in solar lights we mentioned earlier. And while they can be a viable option if you’re just dipping your toe into the lighting world, there are inherent drawbacks.

The effectiveness of solar lights depends on the units receiving enough sun to keep them powered, which depends in part on a number of factors: where they’re placed, whether there are interfering shade trees, the season, and what direction your house faces. The lighting will be weaker during winter months, and the units themselves tend to break a lot more easily, adding to the ongoing upkeep and cost.

So while they may appear attractive at first, they may not be an ideal choice for the long haul.

Halogen lights are a common option, and more effective for reliable, long-term lighting. They cast a soothing glow that many homeowners appreciate and are ideal for creating lighting effects as well as enhancing safety. But halogens also come with drawbacks, namely, a tendency for the bulbs to “pop” during our cold New Jersey winters, and a bulb lifespan of only about two years before they require replacing.

LED lighting is yet another option, which comes with a higher price tag initially, but a bulb span of 15-20 years, which can dramatically reduce long term maintenance effort and costs. LEDs also stand up to the cold better and can help you save significantly on energy costs over halogens, again reducing your long term costs.

Not only are there different types of lighting systems, but there are different types of fixtures, too. Depending on what you want to achieve, whether safety along a pool or walkway, ambiance through “moonlighting”, underwater effects in your pond, or drama with spotlights that wash your house and play with shadow, the type of fixture matters.

Given all of that, it can be quite an undertaking to choose a lighting system and fixtures. An experienced professional will help you evaluate the relationship of budget to short term and long term costs, as well as help you choose the most effective type of lighting for your unique scenario.

Design Matters

Even if you’ve managed to line everything up perfectly until now – you’ve got your tools and electrical know-how, you’ve researched and chosen a lighting system – there’s another, and arguably the most important, consideration: design.

One of the most common mistakes that DIY homeowners make is over-lighting. If you’re not familiar with the interplay of light fixtures, you’re likely to create overlaps that result in a night-to-day effect that irks the neighbors and keeps your family awake.

Rather than beautify your home, too much lighting has the opposite effect on curb appeal and can end up looking like a glaring mess.

A professional not only understands lighting systems and fixtures, but how to use them to add beauty and function to your home without detracting from it.

Failing to consider how your outdoor lighting will affect the indoors of your home is another mistake. That spotlight you planted outside the front door may create brilliant highlights that look great from the street, but do you suddenly find yourself needing to wear sunglasses as you watch TV at night?

A professional will not only install lighting, but design the system around what landscape features you want to highlight, the effects you want to achieve, how the light looks from a street view as well as how it affects your interior comfort. Better yet, hiring a professional means you don’t have to spend much time thinking about those things at all – your pro will make recommendations and give you ideas for taking your home beyond “glowing suburban landscape” to one that is custom tailored, refined and elegant. And all of this with an eye for safety and function.

From understanding the systems themselves, to how to use certain fixtures to create certain effects, to how much lighting is just the right amount, to the spacing between fixtures and their directionality, a lighting professional can save you headaches, money and maintenance in the long run.

Thinking Ahead Is Just As Important As Planning

Part of great landscape lighting design is planning for the “what ifs.” What if you add a pool or patio? What if you light the front of the house and want to light the back later? What if you start with walkway lights but are ready to try more dramatic lighting effects next season?

Taking the future into account, including your wish list, can help streamline the process so you can install lighting in phases, and add fixtures without unnecessarily disrupting your landscape.

The Verdict

Unless you’re experienced with outdoor electrical work, have researched lighting systems, fixtures and budgets, have analyzed the interior and exterior of your home, have studied lighting effects and design, and have built in a contingency plan for maintenance and the unknowns, you’re probably better off leaving the landscape lighting to a professional.

Otherwise, you could end up with something you aren’t satisfied with and spend a lot more time and money getting it right than if you had hired a pro.

DIY videos notwithstanding, there’s actually quite a lot of thought and knowledge that goes into using lighting to create a safer, more beautiful home. If you want to learn more about outdoor lighting and design, let us know. Our pros are ready to make your home the envy of the neighborhood – day or night.