More homeowners have been expanding their living spaces to the great outdoors with pools, outdoor kitchens and recreation areas. And with this movement outside comes the need for some serious outdoor lighting.

Gone are the days when a couple of downlights attached to the house to brighten the barbecue area did the trick. New products and increased knowledge and creativity have completely changed the lighting landscape. 

“Sometimes lighting is needed for safety reasons, such as illuminating a walkway. But most people are interested in highlighting a unique area of landscaping or architectural feature of their home," said Kevin Malone, manager of irrigation and lighting for Jacobsen Landscaping of Saddle River and Midland Park, New Jersey. "If properly placed, they can dramatize trees, favorite shrubs and other accents like an archway or a fountain.”

Mitch Knapp, president of Scenic Landscaping Design of Haskell, New Jersey added, “Lighting is one of the few home improvement projects that a customer has a lot of control over; they can decide just how much they want to do.”

Lighting projects can add charm and sophistication to a home’s appearance and run the gamut from:

  • Ambient lighting with fixtures hidden from view
  • Fiber-optic lighting for underwater use in a pond or pool
  • Ornamental lighting where the fixture is an element of the design
  • …and much more

According to Knapp, there are two different ways to light an area, depending on the purpose and intended effect. For large areas that need to be especially bright like a tennis court, a direct line needs to be trenched from the house to that specific location. More commonly, though, a transformer wired to the house splits the electricity to multiple low-voltage lines that are used for softer, more decorative lights.

Most outdoor lighting follows a less-is-more philosophy that mimics soft moonlight with sources concealed behind shrubs, tree branches and other foliage. While homeowners usually choose white light, warm hues of yellow, red and green can add an attractive ambiance. But be careful, though, as most landscape designers warn that color can look tacky if it’s not done properly. And while lighting can essentially be installed at any time of the year, it’s also best to plan so that there is minimal disruption to your gardens and other plantings.

Technology continues to make inroads in the area of outdoor lighting as well. Malone said, “There is a new LED coming out in November that produces as much light as a halogen but is softer and less costly. The light is supposed to last about 15 to 20 years and use about one-eighth the amount of electricity. By the time it goes out, it would probably be time to replace the fixture anyway."