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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Lighting Your Koi Pond: Do You Trust the Average Pond Guy?

There is a lot of information out there about building, designing, and maintaining koi ponds, but very little information about lighting them. 

Part of the problem is the fact that, even online, the world of pond keeping is small. Specific information related to ponding outside the basics isn't largely discussed: especially lighting. 

Even online pond retailers who may carry a large swath of lighting products usually offer little explanation for what kind of lighting will enhance your ability to enjoy your pond in the evening.

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At best, they might have a single web page on their site with some rudimentary information about pond lighting basics. At worst they will have a list of products that leave it up to you to figure out how to design and engineer the system yourself. In any event, its really left up to you to figure out how to light your pond.

If you're looking to have your pond builder do your lighting, just keep in mind they probably have the same amount of experience you do. They may even come flat out and ask you "where do you want your lights?"

If they are the expert, shouldn't they already know how the pond ought to be lit without asking?

Let me be clear, there are knowledgeable people in the ponding community, and pond building world, who may be able to answer the basic pond lighting related questions you have. They may even know a surprising amount about lighting.

But even professional pond contractors who offer lighting are typically using your project as an experiment since, in all reality, they very rarely end up installing any lighting on the ponds they build. Sure they've lit a handful of ponds in the past. However, pond lighting is really only something they offer on the side to help supplement their income. 

For example, I took this photo while on a pond tour (a parade of homes except for to showcase ponds) and saw this. See the photo below

Directional Up Light in Water

This is a directional up light; some refer to it as a spot light. They are most commonly used to accent trees and other vegetation in the landscape. Its the most common landscape lighting fixture you'll see in most landscape, and they are absolutely not meant or intended to be submerged in water like this. 

The company who installed this lighting system also built the pond. The pond itself looked absolutely wonderful. From the teared falls to the bolder placement and shape of the pond, the whole project looked phenomenal. The company is well known in the local pond community to do outstanding work with their pond construction projects.

The lighting they did here, on the other hand, is another story.

specialists produce better results 

When it comes right down to it, the explanation for why this company's lighting game was so weak is very simple:  Pond people know ponds; Lighting people know lighting. A company that makes ponding their business is far better suited to building a wonderful water feature for you than they are attempting to lighting it. 

The inverse is also true; I wouldn't trust a specialized landscape lighting company to build my pond. would you?

pond-and-waterfall-lighting

This is one of the reasons why it can be well worth it to work with an outdoor lighting designer / a company that makes landscape lighting design / installation their only focus and not their side hustle. If you don't want your pond lighting to look like it was an afterthought, choose a specialized professional.   

I know what you're probably thinking: "ok, Mr. Lighting guy, Mr. high and mighty, Mr. God Complex bestowing light upon us all: we get it. From up atop your lighting thrown you're telling us we need to only hire a landscape lighting specialized company if we want to have a good pond lighting experience".

underwater-lighting

While I do think you will have a far better experience if you choose to go with a specialized landscape lighting company, I'm not here to say they are the only option. There are plenty of companies who do lighting projects, even if its not what they are specialized in, that work just great.

My agenda for writing this blog is actually to help give you the tools you need, whether you're a DIYer or looking to hire a company, to get great results from your pond lighting system. 

Today, I want to discuss the red flags and smart moves to make when it comes to having lighting done for your koi pond, gold fish pond, water feature, fountain, etc. 

what not to do when lighting your pond

There are countless things you should not do when lighting your pond! But for the sake of sanity, we are going to just go over some of the mistake highlights I've seen over the years. 

  • keep wire connections out of the water
    I know this one sounds like a no brainer, but electricity and water together is bad. All wire connections should be kept out of the water, even if its a 12v system. Even supposedly water proof connections should be kept out of the water. This is a rule of thumb within our own company. 

  • plastic or composite underwater lights will fail
     It really doesn't mater what the manufacturer has written on the box. In all my years working in the lighting industry I've never seen a low quality underwater light stand the test of time. If the fixture is made of plastic or composite material and uses a plug in lamp, it will eventually fail. 

  • path lights around the perimeter of the pond will create glare
    Path lights are very easy to misuse / abuse and ponds are not an exception. Water is a highly reflective surface and path lights cast light downward. If you have path lights around your pond, when you look over the plane of water chances are you will just experience the source of the light reflecting off the water rather than the effect it was meant to create. 

  • never place a copper fixture in pond with fish or invertebrates
    Copper is a great fixture material for outdoor lighting. But not for pond lighting. Copper will hurt or even kill your fish if placed in the water. Some fish medications use copper because it treats diseases like ick. However, these medications need to be carefully dosed out. Too much copper is a very bad thing.  

basics to good pond lighting

Adondokis Pond From Back

The average pond guy probably wont consider light refraction when aiming a submerged underwater light up onto a waterfall. But the truth is getting that specific in lighting design isn't helpful. Lets talk about the basic things you want to see in a pond with a good lighting system and design. 

  • use brass fixtures
    If the lighting for your pond is going to be submersed in the water, make sure you are using a high quality marine grade brass fixture. Brass is a non ferrous metal; it will not rust or corrode over time. In addition, it is safe for your fish.
    One of the biggest reasons to use brass, however, is simply because it is durable enough to stand the test of time. As mentioned before, Composite (plastic) and aluminum fixtures will fail. If you're going to go through all the trouble of adding lighting to your pond, be sure you are using something that is going to last. 

  • water tight connections are paramount
    The wire connections are the weakest points any lighting system. particularly when water is introduced into the equation. Connections should never be submersed in water, but they still need to be water tight even when they are located in flowerbeds.

  • submerged fixtures should aim away from your viewing angle
    If your pond is located next to your patio, have your underwater light(s) directed out into the pond from the patio side. This will create a soft glow illuminating the fish. 
    Don't have an underwater light located at the opposite end of the pond pointing back towards you. In good outdoor lighting designs, you want to experience the effect the light creates and not the source. Aiming a light back towards your eyes will ruin the whole experience. 
  • place some emphasis on the surrounding landscape
    Accenting trees and other key features throughout the area surrounding your pond will create a backdrop and greatly elevate the overall effect. 
    statue-lighting-slc
  • use down lighting effects if you can
    Down lighting is my absolute favorite lighting effects. If you have established trees in close proximity to your pond, down lighting is a great option.
    As strange as it might sound, lighting your pond doesn't mean you have to have lights placed in the water. Down lighting is where a fixture is placed up high in a tree or off the architecture of a home. This fixture then casts light down onto the desired target to through a soft light over the scene to soften all the edges.
    The waterfall in the fixture below used only two fixtures: an underwater light at the base of the water fall, and a down light in a tree up above casting light down over the fall, rocks and pathway. 

    Shreeve-218-HDR-120

  • LED is magical
    LED lights have completely changed the face of the lighting industry. By now, you probably already know that LEDs save money on power and last decades longer than their halogen predecessors. But one of the neatest things about LEDs are the different lighting effects they allow lighting designers to use. With such a large variety of beam spreads, lumen outputs, and Kelvin temperatures, LEDs help lighting designers get everything looking just right. 

lighting is worth the effort

It can be tempting to settle for something that just does the job, but getting the most out of your pond lighting is really worth the extra time and effort. Whether its work or the normal hustle and bustle of life, we all spend our days busy running around. The evening is the only time we actually get a moment to unwind, relax, and enjoy our ponds. So be sure your lighting is going to make that time, that experience, as enjoyable as it should be. 

I hope the information in this blog will help you make good decisions for your pond lighting project. If you are looking to hire someone to do your pond lighting for you, I also hope this information will help you access whether or not the company you are hiring knows the basic fundamental of pond lighting. 

In fact, if you are looking to hire someone to do your lighting for you, but aren't sure where to start, you're in luck!

Please feel free to download our free hiring guide below! 

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