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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Misconceptions: How to Add LED Landscape Lighting to Concrete & Hardscapes

Have a beautiful hardscape? Adding elegant lighting can heighten the enjoyment these spaces bring us. But remember, there are a lot of misunderstandings about how and where hardscape lighting should be implemented. Sometimes the way we've seen others incorporate lighting into their hardscapes isn't going to be the best way to light our own hardscape. 

Its always a good idea to consider other lighting approaches before committing to a certain type of fixture or design layout. 

Designing with Light

Hardscape lighting bears special consideration and should be designed thinking about light, not fixtures. What do I mean by this?

Don't get fixated on a specific fixture you want to use. Fixtures can be limiting in their application and hold us back from achieving a well-rounded lighting strategy. 

Instead of thinking about fixtures, let's try and focus on the light. The light is what we will actually see and experience at night. Fixtures simply facilitate and house our light source. 

While fixture selection is important, let the fixture become the afterthought. 

First and foremost, let's think about what we want to see illuminated at night. Next, we'll figure out what fixture will best help create that effect. 

Let us consider different lighting approaches before we invest ourselves in a single thought about how something should be lit. 

There are numerous ways a quality lighting design can be approached. Be sure that incorporating hardscape lighting into your project is done sensibly. 

Recent Experience

Let me try to explain what I mean with a quick story from a recent experience.

I met with a client last week for a consult at his home. He asked me a specific question about adding lighting to his hardscape.

He asked me if we could add some tread lights to the cement steps leading from the patio to his pool.

Our technicians are talented and highly skilled. Adding recessed tread lights to existing cement steps is always a challenge, but nothing we haven't done before.

The answer was yes, we could definitely add the lights where he wanted them located. We've seamlessly installed lighting in hardscapes that presented us with far greater challenges. 

However, I answered his question with another question: 'Why do you want to light these steps with tread lights?'

I agreed, for safety, that some kind of task lighting should be added to these steps. But I wanted to understand why he was looking to add tread lights specifically. 

He revealed that he'd seen lights in cement steps while researching ideas online for how to light his landscape and liked the way they looked. 

I asked if he had considered or looked at any other ways to light his steps, and quickly explained my idea. 

Since there was a large established tree extending out directly above the steps, I described how we could use this to our advantage. By casting a light down from the tree above using a technique called down lighting (Click here to learn more about down lighting), we could light these steps beautifully.

He'd never considered lighting the steps this way. After I showed him some examples of down lighting, he was excited to have his steps down lit.  



In the above photo you can see an example of how down lighting is used to illuminate this pathway. 


Why Steer My Client Away From Tread Lights?

Lighting is all in the eyes of the beholder. If he hadn't been a fan of down lighting and insisted on tread lights, then we would have happily installed tread lights for him. 

However, I brought down lighting into the conversation for a number of reasons. 

  1.  Between down lighting the steps and using tread lights, I felt that soft down lighting would render the steps in a more balanced caress. Down lighting the steps would be dramatized by the dappled shadows from the tree's leaves and branches. Look at the above photo and observe closely the patterns cast on the path by the lights up above being filtered by the tree's branches.                                                                                                                                                    
  2. At this client's home there were 14 steps connecting the pool and patio. Even if we had only lit every other step,  It would have still required 7 tread lights to illuminate the steps appropriately. In addition, the amount we'd have to charge for the time and skill required to flawlessly install each of these fixtures would have come at a high price.                                                  
  3. Down lighting the steps from the tree would only require two fixtures and far less labor. I wouldn't have to charge him nearly as much to create a task light that illuminates all the steps with a technique that adds contrast. A soft light spilling over the steps in a delicate wash is far more appealing than a single light restricted to every other step. 

A more elegant design that would cost our client less? Yes, you heard me right. We aren't in the business of trying to sell people more fixtures than they need. Above all else, we're simply interested in creating balanced lighting designs that promote the form and shape of the different elements throughout the landscape. 


When to Add Lighting In Concrete and Hardscapes

Like adding the ingredients necessary to bake a delicious confection, adding lighting to concrete and hardscapes should be done with a modest pinch of salt. If you add too much, it will overpower everything and leave the lighting design feeling heavy and overdone with too much light.   

There's been a big trend to incorporate more low voltage fixtures into hardscapes. As well there should be. Hardscapes tend to be the areas where we spend the most of our time outside in the evening. Unfortunately, this trend has also lead to a lot of over lighting in these spaces. 

When it comes to outdoor lighting, employing the old saying 'less says more' can lead to wonderful results. 

hardscape lighting should focus on defining edges, enhancing landscape elements, and rendering the scale and mood of the space with the correct visual weight. 

Bear in mind, just because there is a sitting wall around the patio doesn't mean it has to be lit with under cap lights. Or in our example, cement steps don't have to be lit with tread lights. There could be a more effective approach if take a step back and really consider your options. 

Outdoor lighting should be done with purpose. The image below is a great example of hardscape lighting that's used to achieve a specific function: defining the edges of a pathway. 


At this project depicted above, we were presented with a challenge. We wanted to light this pathway to help guide people to and from the front door of the home. The challenge was the turfed areas to either side of the cement pathway. 

As a general rule, we try to avoid placing traditional path lights in turfed areas. Having a path light in a turfed area can be challenging with lawn maintenance, snow removal, etc. When a traditional path light is placed in the lawn, it often leads to damaged fixtures and other issues. 

So, our test here was figuring out how to light this cement path without using traditional path lights in the lawn.  

We knew what we wanted to see illuminated at night, what lighting effect we needed. But we'd have to get creative to see it through.

This is a great example of how using a hardscape light with purpose can be effective, without being overdone.

These recessed marker lights in the cement allow us to cast the light where we need it, without having to compromise the lighting effect we were originally looking to achieve. 

This is what we mean when we say to design with light, not fixtures. Use hardscape lighting where its needed to achieve a desired lighting effect. But don't let the idea of using a specific fixture somewhere in your hardscape lead your design. Letting the fixture lead your design can often be counter intuitive and lead to poor results. 

If you aren't sure how to approach the lighting in your hardscape, why not give your local outdoor lighting designer a call? They will be able to assist you in figuring out a lighting strategy that will enhance and deliver the best results for your unique outdoor living space.


Landscape Lighting Makes All The Difference

At Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah, the art of outdoor illumination is a real passion we work to perfect. Designing elegantly bespoke landscape lighting systems is simply all we do. For over 15 years, our award winning team of designers and craftsmen have striven to bring the best outdoor lighting experience possible to people's homes and businesses across the Wasatch Front & beyond. 

Located in Midvale, Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah installs, maintains, and repairs lighting systems throughout Utah's residential areas, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper, Davis, and Utah Counties.

If you have an upcoming project you'd like help with, call (801)440-7647 for more information, schedule a free consultation, or feel free to simply fill out a contact form on our website, www.utahlights.com 

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