The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Landscape Lighting Design is Not a Handy Man Project

For some projects it might make sense to DIY it or hire a handy man. But when it comes to landscape lighting design, we aren't talking about just throwing some lights in your garden beds.


Lets be clear, there is nothing wrong with having work done by your handyman if they know what they are doing, if they are willing to be responsible for their work down the road, have the necessary equipment or tools, and can do it all safely.

Unfortunately, if you have a handyman do your outdoor lighting he probably won't have any of these qualities. What I'm saying is that your home will be somewhat of an experiment project for him that you get to pay for. 

Your average landscape contractor or handyman may say they do landscape lighting. However, this usually just translates to them only having some very basic experience: Yes, they've installed a handful of landscape lighting systems over the years. However, once the lights turn on and the system is finished, will never be heard from again once the check clears. 

I don't know this first hand: this is just what countless clients have told me over the years when they've brought us on to redo it all because nothing works properly.

The problem with hiring a handyman or average landscape contractor to do your lighting, is they will rarely be around to address the future problems their system will inevitably have later.

Since they never are around to fix their systems when they fail, they never learn how to install them properly so they won't fail. Landscape lighting isn't their main focus and they don't want to be responsible for it down the road when it begins having problems. 

We've discussed the short comings of landscape contractors and handymen installing lighting systems at great length in the past. You can read all about it here if you'd like to learn more.

your handy man doesn't know lighting design

But today we want to discuss the bigger issue with the systems handymen install: the design.

In a way, design is a lot like music: someone can learn to play an instrument, but that doesn't mean they'll have a knack for writing songs. Your contractor or handyman might be able to construct a lighting system, but that doesn't mean they know how to implement or orchestrate beautiful lighting effects. 


People who have an eye for design can develop and cultivate that talent, but it has to be practiced and refined: it isn't something that can be gleaned from a 15 min YouTube video or quick online search on "How to do BLANK". This can be a big hurdle for joe six-pack when he is  trying to learn how to do your lighting for you.

Sure handymen can learn certain principles about how the systems are installed or where they can place fixtures, but having a developed eye for exterior lighting design isn't just a nice to have, its a crucial part of a successful lighting system. 

When I meet with  clients, I let them know there are three key elements to any good outdoor lighting design. The first is the design itself, what we actually see and experience at night. I've just always felt that if this part isn't working, than what was the whole point of having the system put in?

successful lighting designs

As bizarre as this seems, especially to me as a lighting designer, lighting is often one of the most over looked design elements. Lighting is one of the most impactful details in any given space. Well done lighting creates the ambiance, the magical ingredient that sets the mood for the entire scene. 

We've all experienced great lighting design. Whether we walked into the soft glow of a lowly lit lounge or enjoyed a meal at an upscale restaurant, we immediately feel how lighting can ease our minds into a relaxed state.


Outdoor lighting ought to do the same thing. A good landscape lighting designer uses their extensive understanding of outdoor lighting to make sure it will contoured to the outdoor space. They pay close attention to the plant material, the layout, and how the space is used. Their goal is to decode the way it will be interpreted at night through different design elements.

For example, lighting helps us make sense of a space by guiding our eyes around it. Lighting designers might aim to create a boundless luminous plane. By focusing on key landscape elements, they create balance and composition that allows our eyes to travel freely. Their goal is to help put us at ease by using light to provide us with more visual control over our surroundings.

A quality landscape lighting design achieves this through different layers of light and by playing with various beam spreads and lumen outputs. In other words,  by placing lights at low, medium, and high lighting levels it allows the lighting to be tailored to the space the designer is trying to capture. 

There are a number of factors the designer will take into consideration:

  • task lighting for walkways and elevation changes such as steps
  • different plant materials
  • how the space is used and what aspect it will be viewed from
  • how to balance the shadows: these create contrast and drama

There are numerous facets to consider when creating a good lighting design. For example, since 90% of the time your outdoor lighting will be experienced from indoors, a good lighting designer will be paying close attention to how your outdoor space is experienced when you are inside your home.

Your normally dark window panes can be transformed into beautiful portraits if they are captured in the right light. See the photo below:

Shreeve Breakfast Nook

your installer should have lighting design experience

We've all seen bad lighting. Don't let it happen to you!

You wouldn't hire someone to do something if they had very little experience. Its the reason you wouldn't hire your plumber to work on your car's transmission just because they did it once. 

You'll probably be taking your car back into the mechanic shortly after. 

Your handy man may be great at a lot of things. But trust me, you wont be thrilled with your outdoor lighting down the road if you have him install it for you.

Understanding where to place the fixtures, what lamp to select, and how the fixtures should be aimed are all important. 

If your handy man wants you to pick out the fixtures and tell him where you want them, that is a huge red flag. Your design is not going to turn out the way you are hoping it will if he doesn't have the ability to make those decisions for you. 

Hire someone who knows what kind of fixtures you need and where they should be installed. Hire someone who will stand behind their design, their system, and the installation. An established landscape lighting specialized company will be able to deliver a quality lighting system that will be able to stand the test of time. Their installers are specialized in landscape lighting and know how to install everything at the highest industry standards.

Not to mention they will provide you with an experienced lighting designer who knows precisely how to beautifully showcase your home and make your outdoor living space really shine.

not sure who to hire?

If you're looking to hire a professional landscape lighting company but aren't sure how to go about hiring someone, download our free hiring guild by clicking the link below!



Landscape Lighting Design