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The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

The 6 Biggest Mistakes Landscape Lighting Do It Yourselfers Make

People who are new to Landscape Lighting typically make 6 mistakes: 

  • Designing with fixtures instead of light
  • Not having a realistic budget
  • Using low quality wire connections
  • Installing undersized wire
  • Placing fixtures in poor locations
  • Not taking into account the possibility of light glare

Envision Light, Not Fixtures

Designing landscape lighting requires vision.  A mistake many make is focusing on the lighting fixture, rather than the effect that fixture will produce.  Often, people will select a fixture out of a pretty catalog or off the shelf of a big box store with out any knowledge of the fixture's light output and beam spread.  Not taking the light output and beam spread into account can greatly hinder the effect one may have been aiming to create.  When people design landscape lighting with fixtures, rather than with light in mind, it will often result in an undesirable effect.  

What you need to keep in mind, when aiming to highlight your landscape with light, is to first and foremost visualize what kind of effect you want to create.  After visualizing the effect desired, you need to figure out which lamp (bulb) in combination with the correct fixture will best achieve what you've envisioned.  Ultimately, you need to design with the lighting effect at the forefront of your mind when approaching lighting.  You should figure out the correct fixture only after you have the correct light.  


Unrealistic Budget

Though your design process should be focused on the lighting effect, the lamp more than the fixture, this does not mean choosing a quality fixture isn't important.  Going into your design with a realistic budget for your fixtures and materials is of the utmost importance.  While many fixtures can achieve the same effect, not all fixtures are up to the challenge.  There are plenty of cheaply made fixtures on the market that can temporarily create the lighting effect you want. The problem with cheaply made aluminum and composite (plastic) fixtures, typically found in big box stores, however is that these fixtures won't stand up to the wear/stress placed on them by the outdoor environment.  The naturally harsh weather occurring outside your home, such as rain, snow, and ice, will quickly erode and break down cheaply made fixtures.  An unrealistic budget leads the products you've invested in to fail.

We recommend only quality brass & copper fixtures be used.  Brass and copper fixtures are made from material that effectively stands up to the elements that can lead to failed lighting systems.  Composite & low grade aluminum have proven again and again to unsuccessfully last for a long period of time.  Brass and copper fixtures are built to more effectively protect and house the internal components of the fixture, such as sockets and LED lamps.  These internal components must remain sealed from moisture, insects, etc. to have long term success, which is why we associate well -built, high quality , brass and copper fixtures with lighting systems that will last for years.


Wire Connections

heat-shrink-wire-connection-landscape-lighting-pro-of-utahWire connections are the number one failure in most lighting systems.  Think of an improper wire connection as the weakness in any given lighting system.  The wire connections are the places in your lighting system that are the most susceptible to moisture getting in.  When moisture enters an insulated wire, it becomes trapped and can't escape.  This trapped moisture will begin to erode and brake down the connections, and electrical current in your wiring.  Even taping your wire nuts or quick connection snap on connectors won't guarantee that the regular irrigation and moisture your landscape experiences everyday won't get in.  Moisture is the enemy and will lead to problems in your light system.  It's important to avoid moisture entering the system from the beginning, because moisture will directly impact your lighting system and become an endless ongoing problem.  For a wire connection that will effectively protect your lighting system from unwanted moisture we strongly recommend using a heat shrink, water tight connectors.  This unique connection will keep moisture out where other connections wouldn't.  


Undersized Wire

Using the incorrect wire diameter, or wire gauge, is a mistake that will lead to systems being under voltage, tripping and failing.  There are of course reasons to use smaller diameter wire. Using a smaller diameter wire where appropriate is ideal, because smaller diameter wire costs less than larger diameter wire, and will save you money.  Often you will hear that with LED technology smaller wire can be used to further save on the expenses.  And this would be true in a perfect world, however, our experience has proven that 12 gauge burial wire is the smallest gauged wire that should be used if you want to build a lighting system that will last.  In addition, we recommend burying wire at least 6-8 inches underground.  Burying your wire not only hides it, leaving a cleaner looking system, it also helps keep the wire and wire connections from being damaged or compromised.


Fixture Location

Even the most durable built fixture will fail when the wrong application is applied.  For example, path lighting should never be installed in turf areas.  When path lights are in turf areas, the likely hood of your fixtures becoming damaged is increased.  A lawn is a place where mowers, hedgers, and other dangers exist that can damage your lighting system.  Flower beds are best for path lights and other above ground fixtures, because lawn mowers and trimmers are pathway-stair-lighting-landscape-salt-lake-city-utah.jpgguaranteed to wreak havoc on the investment you've made.  You should always consider two things when figuring out fixture location: where the fixture should be placed to best create the effect you want, and whether or not that location will potentially damage the fixture.  When a fixture is damaged or ruined because of poor planning, it ultimately fails to perform as intended, leaving you with an investment rendered useless and in need of repair.


Light Glare

Often, those who install their own landscape lighting don't take into consideration glare.  No one enjoys looking into glaring lights.  The goal of lighting your landscape is to enjoy the effect that the light creates and not the light source itself.  Many up lights have eyelids, or shrouds, that encompass half the opening where the light is projected from.  Eyelids should always be utilized to block the glare from the view point.  The view point, essentially, is the place where the landscape will be viewed and appreciated the most.  For example, if you are lighting the landscape around the front of your home, then the view point, the best visual aspect, the focal point if you will, that will best capture and highlight your home's landscape may typically be in the middle of the street, directly in front of your home.  Standing in this location, the goal is to not see the bright glare coming from the fixtures or lamps.

To clarify, when we use the term glare, we mean being able to see the light coming directly from the lamp inside the fixture.  This light is bright and distracts the eye from the overall effect that you are attempting to create.  The light illuminating the object being lit is the only light that you should see.

Rotating the eyelid we mentioned earlier can help block the glare.  You can rotate the eyelid atop the fixture so that it is fully facing the focal point, where you are standing in the street. Using the eyelid to block light is an effective way to minimize the glare that might be seen. 

Utilizing the eyelid is an effective strategy, however, fixture placement plays a role too in eliminating glare.  To place fixtures in the most ideal location for eliminating glare, imagine an invisible line between each target being lit and the center point where you are standing in the street, or the best visual location.  Each fixture should be as in line with the point where you are standing in the street, or the best visual location.  Each fixture  should be as in line with the point where you are standing and the target being lit as possible, in most cases.  Doing so will eliminate the most glare and create a beautiful effect.  Remember, if there was a line between the target being lit and yourself when you are standing in the view point, the fixture should fall into that line when it lights the object it's targeting.  

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