Effective outdoor lighting for your home

A great lighting scheme not only protects your home by keeping shadowy nooks and crannies illuminated, which renders your home unappealing for intruders. Effective outdoor lighting is also like cinematography for your yard, showing off your beautiful flower garden, shrubbery or dramatic oak trees to their best advantage.

And just like a great cinematographer, an outdoor lighting expert can sculpt the yard, highlight its color palette, emphasize your home’s architecture and create a mood.

The American Society of Landscape Architects’ 2011 Residential Trends Survey, which polled landscape architecture professionals, reported that 96 percent said outdoor lighting is the most popular trend.

James Burks of Pinnacle Lighting Group in Cumming appraises his residential projects much like Gregg Toland, the cinematographer for “Citizen Kane,” contemplating the most flattering light for a gorgeous leading lady or dramatic scene. One important issue to factor into an outdoor lighting scheme is hue, which can dramatically alter the look of shrubbery and architecture.

The kelvin scale measures the hue of a specific light source. The higher the kelvin value, the closer the hue is to sunlight, which generally measures in the 5,500-kelvin range. Stone patios in brown and tans and architectural features generally need a warmer incandescent light in the 2,700-kelvin range.

“A red Japanese maple, you’re going to want to keep it at the lower incandescent 2,700 kelvin,” said Burks, “because that brings out the red.” But to highlight verdant landscaping, choose between 4,000 and 5,000 kelvin to bring out green tones.

While hue is critical in creating the desired effect, placement is just as important. The same uplighting that could cast ghoulish shadows on a leading lady’s face can also be overused in an outdoor lighting scheme.

“Most of the landscape lighting I see, people do too much uplighting,” Burks said. With too much uplighting, “You drive by and your eyes go from one tree that’s lit to the next tree ... that’s all that you see. You don’t notice the property itself.”

To remedy that common problem, Burks uses a balance of downlighting installed high in trees.

“We’re used to seeing light from the sun coming down. So the downlighting that we do has a more natural feel and creates a cohesion,” Burks said.

Cohesion is key. Blending a variety of warm and cool hued lighting and uplighting and downlighting enhances the beauty of a property.

“So when you drive by, you get the feeling of, wow, that was really a nice property. But you don’t really notice the lights,” Burks said. The appeal of the right outdoor lighting plan is its ability to create not just a physical but a psychological effect.

“If you light up the boundaries of the property, it gives you that secure, safe, cozy feeling,” Burks said.

Pinnacle Lighting Group achieved just that effect in the Sandy Springs home of Marc Maslanka, who works in medical research. Maslanka hired Pinnacle after an initial plan by another company left too many shadows on the property.

“It just didn’t look right,” Maslanka said. “It wasn’t the look that I wanted, so we redid it and now it’s the way I wanted it.”

For his comprehensive lighting plan, Maslanka had security lights placed at the front, rear and both sides of his home. The lights, which stay on all night, operate on their own separate timer from the landscape lights, which turn off late each evening.

In the extensive landscape lighting plan, “You see the highlighted areas of landscaping, the big oak trees are illuminated at night. You’ve got some coming up from the ground and some coming down from the top of the tree limbs. It circles the yard with outdoor lighting,” Maslanka said.

“All the trees of significance have got lights in the tops of them. In the summertime, it’s a great look.”

While many homeowners might think of the front yard as the primary spot for a lighting plan, Roswell financial consultant Kim Coggins invested his lighting dollars in a different way.

“I have very little money tied up in my front yard. Everything’s in my backyard,” Coggins said.

Like Maslanka, Coggins said he initially chose the wrong lighting company.

“I did it on the cheap and it didn’t work out right,” Coggins said. The lights were too faint and didn’t enhance the visuals of his heavily wooded lot. Coggins then worked with Pinnacle on a new lighting plan, adding his own artistic vision to his expansive, wooded backyard abutting the Chattahoochee River.

“I’ll sit back there a lot with a glass of wine and have music going and say, ‘That area there, it would be cool to have a downlight or an uplight there,’” Coggins said of the collaborative process of working with Burks.

“Jim told me once you start this, it’s an addictive process,” Coggins said.

Burks initially installed a laser light in one of Coggins’ trees.

“He goes, ‘Let me just leave this here and see how you like it.’ It was stunning,” Coggins said. “With the fog and the mist on the river, it shines through it and it’s kind of like a Pink Floyd laser light concert.”

Coggins’ home now features laser lighting, downlighting in trees 100 feet off the ground, uplighting, path lighting, dramatic LED spotlighting of a favorite tree and enough illuminating drama to transform his yard into an ideal party and musical venue. A fan of 1960s acts like Neil Young, Coggins often features musical performances by local and national musicians in his backyard.

“Everyone wants to use my backyard for a party,” Coggins said. “When they’re all on, combined with the uplighting and the downlighting and the lighting way back in the woods off the beaten trail, it’s just really kind of a magical place.”


Outdoor lighting tips from Pinnacle Lighting Group owner James Burks:

-- To add a more artistic touch, Pinnacle uses atmospheric moonlighting. Lights are placed in the tops of the tallest trees to create soft filtered light, like moonlight, shining down through the trees.

-- Burks recommends shielded lighting. Shielding lights translates to less light pollution and better visibility of your yard rather than overly bright lights that blanket the yard in an unpleasant glare.

-- With residential lighting, it is best to balance warm and cool lights. “If you have just one color, it looks more commercial,” said Burks.

-- If security is a concern, dusk-to-dawn lighting is generally your best option, Burks said. Motion-activated security lighting doesn’t fool anyone. “The bad guys know that those are motion lights,” he said. “They know that those aren’t turned on from inside the house. If you have architectural lighting and some landscape lighting that stays on all night, it looks more lived in.”

-- Swap out your 90- or 150-watt floodlights with 20- or 25-watt fluorescent lights which put out the same amount of light. To conserve electricity, have your electrician install a photo cell in the lights so they run all night, but turn off when the sun comes out.

-- If you choose LED lights for their easier maintenance and energy savings, be aware they can change color over time. Buy fixtures that use replacement LED lights, so you can swap out lights if their color changes.