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Landscape Lighting
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

The annual flurry of holiday lights begins in early November with decorating jobs booked until the deadline date two weeks in December, according to Paul Lentz at Lentz Landscape Lighting. Still, it?s not too late to make a call to schedule your landscape for a weekend session, Lentz said, although the best time to schedule is in July. Cost is based on a number of factors, such as purchasing (about $6 for a 50-foot strand of lights) or renting the equipment, or just the sheer size of the project, even when the homeowner owns the decorations.

?We have people who consume more power in the holiday season than they would ever consume in the other eleven and a half months in the year,? said Rex Hood, owner of Dallas Landscape Lighting. ?But I have to say at the same time it?s fun money. It?s something you want to do because it makes you feel good and draws attention to your home. And in most cases it makes a lot of other people happy.?

In addition to holiday lighting, the most exciting trend in landscape illumination is the phenomenal growth of year-round lighting. John Watson, a landscape illuminator in Dallas for 50 years, pioneered the idea of artificial looking moonlight in the early 1960?s. First described in Time, Readers Digest, and House and Garden in 1963, moonlighting has since reached international proportions. Today, many landscape illuminators employ this concept.

?We?re looking at what?s natural and re-creating that naturalness in the evening,? Hood said. If people simply look at their home with a full moon, if they look at what the sun does to a tree in the daytime?look at the beautiful image of the sun coming through a tree onto the ground and surrounding buildings. ?If you like the effects, both of these can be emulated with creative moon light.?

?The secret is hanging it (the bulb) high enough in the tree?the highest possible sturdy core of the tree,? said Yancey Bayne, I.E.S., A.S.I.D. IIDA. ?The light filters through the branches and creates the shadows on the lawn, which we then call lawn painting.?

?Mercury vapor will paint the most realistic moon lighting that you encounter,? Bayne said. And mercury vapor bulbs give a wide spread of light, which covers almost the entire yard with just a few fixtures, according to Lentz.

?If we?re around water, certainly we will incorporate up lighting because you see the tree, itself, as it?s up-lighted,? Hood said. ?But it?s also reflected?the Greeks use that word many, many times?a reflecting pool.? And so the viewer gets the benefit of seeing the image twice?lighted and reflected.

?What we do as professionals is determine what kind of power is needed to do what the customer wants to achieve, and determine if we need up lighting or down lighting or both,? Hood said. ?We have found, sometimes, people have been married for years and can?t agree on what?s prettier?up-lighting or down-lighting. There?s no real answer because both are quite nice, and both are attractive to the home and enhance the home. And I really believe it increases the home?s value.?

?People need to plan their wiring correctly,? Watson said. Landscape lighting is a function of design?like the interior, the interior lighting, the architecture, and the landscaping. Since you can go to a nursery and buy plants, why have a landscape architect except for the design to come off the way it should. So, think of outside lighting in the same way. Unfortunately, people use a landscape architect for lighting design. But a landscape illuminator doesn?t cost any more than the landscape architect and sometimes can be less expensive because the illuminator knows what to do.

?My philosophy is using a minimum number of lights to keep the initial costs down and to keep operating costs down and to keep maintenance costs down. All three are important,? Watson said. ?Even though we?re international (19 offices total; 2 international, 14 in US, 3 in Texas), we are tremendously competitive with all the local electricians, who are copying us to hang lights in trees. We don?t skimp on quality of equipment. Many of our projects are in salt environments?Caribbean. So, our equipment is designed and made with baked on composite that will withstand salt environment. And we use the same (equipment) here in Dallas. So, it just lasts forever.?

?We buy lamps, and we buy transformers,? Watson goes on. ?But we have our own bowls and fixtures. And we put them all together because we want to be responsible for any problems that exist.?

?But our business is not just hanging lights in trees,? Watson said. ?We design a lighting system. Then we decide what lights need to go where in the lighting system.? And when home properties don?t have trees, Watson designs the systems to come off architectural structures like second story windows and eaves.

?Light is the greatest deterrent of crime,? Watson said. ?But at the same time, your security light can be beautiful, if it?s designed correctly. A lot of our systems are geared to the point that the aesthetic lights, which are the 24,000 hour light lamps, actually operate all night long as a security system. And they look beautiful.?

?Security lighting works best when it?s not on all the time,? Bayne said. ?When it comes on unexpectedly, by an intruder, that?s when it?s the most effective.?

?That is part of the total package,? Watson said. ?If a person comes in the drive way or garage, or if you come home at night late, the lights are triggered. But it can?t be the sole element.?

?A vast majority of people are using lantern lighting to tell people where to come to their front door,? Bayne said. And the gaslight offers a romantic flicker of light that dances and dances.

?The advantage of the gas flame,? Watson said. ?It?s the only light that has motion. All the other light sources are static. And the gas flame is so beautiful in the overall composition because it?s the contrast of what we do of warm to cool?that?s our design concept?cooler outside to contrast the warmth inside or the warm on the fountain or the warm on the architectural elements. All are part of the design. So, what you see (or don?t see) or what you?re designing architecturally, comes off at the best advantage.?

?Gas lanterns are very popular, especially if they?re flamed,? Watson said. ?But talk about expensive, just figure out the cost factor of high cost energy (gas) 24 hours a day compared to a 25 watt incandescent lamp that can be on an electric eye that comes on for 10 hours at night,? Watson said. A lot of systems are equipped with 24,000 hour light lamps that work all night long?burning six to eight years before changing lamps. These low wattage bulbs ?100 or 175 watt, can provide security lighting all around the landscape for 1000 watts, sometimes 800 watts, which is comparable to the wattage in three 150-watt lamps inside the home.

?When I first started out in lighting,? Watson said. ?I used incandescent color corrected to moonlight color using filters.? The cost got so prohibitively expensive to pull the power out for incandescent light, that Watson began using mercury vapor to consume far less energy. One of the first projects using mercury vapor was Niagara Falls Park.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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