Volume 8, Number 06, Web Edition Wednesday, September 24, 2003

"Just when you thought you've seen everything....."
By Constantine Pergantis

Outdoor landscape lighting has been around for many years. It has evolved from an incandescent car headlight in a steel tin can painted black to fixtures made of aluminum, stainless steel, copper, brass and high temperature composites with Xenon 10,000 hour lamps and more colors than the Henry Ford could ever have imagined.

New options in deck lighting make outdoor entertaining more inviting. Photo courtesy: Nite Lites.

It is an exciting time to say the least to be a designer or a contractor. If you missed the opening act, it is still not too late to catch on.

I remember when I began, there were three main manufactures, now there are 50-plus at last count. Most seem to have their volumes increasing year by year, and I don't know of any over the years that have gone out of business. Not too many industries can make that claim.

Like most things in this world, knowledge is king and the sky is the limit if you become the expert in your area. Many, if not most, manufacturers provide free training around the country or at their factories. Knowing what to use, how to use it, and how to deliver the voltage to the fixture will set your designs/installs apart from the average job. Keep in mind, you are providing a professional service and selling a "system," not fixtures. Installing UL- or CTL-listed equipment is a must.

Keys to a good job are as follows:

Know your area/environment. If you are in the desert, any of the metals are good. If you work with highly corrosive soils or coastal locations you should utilize brass or high-temp composites (they even come in three colors).

Transformers up to 1200 watts, which are the heart of the system, are loaded with options. Multi-voltage, timer with battery back up, remote photo cells, dimmers, remote controls and even 24V relays that are wired to existing irrigation controllers are all examples of ways to make the system less troublesome.

Using a high-capacity, loaded-with-options transformer is not the only important component. If the transformer is the heart of the system, then the cable can be thought of as the arteries that carry the blood to the fixtures. Spend a little more on a larger cable. If available, use 10 gauge instead of 12. The cost is not significant compared to the added benefit you will derive.

More time is being spent in the backyard than ever before. Decks, gazebos, irrigation systems, swimming pools, hot tubs all seem to be standard equipment in many homes. Would you ever have thought $3,000-$5,000 barbecues would be commonplace? Keep in mind, the finishing touch to all those accoutrements is the lighting

The harsh "floodlights" mounted on the back of the house is yielding to longer-lasting, higher-quality florescent floodlights that mimic the moonlight. A more difficult install (compared to landscape lighting) but produces dramatic effects is "deck area" lighting utilizing the following:

  • small fixtures mounted on the 4 x 4's for downlighting;
  • fixtures under the benches/seating areas to give the effect of floating;
  • wall-mounted miniature sconces that shine up or down (no glare);
  • rope lighting under the railing or outlining steps;
  • "brick" sized fixtures mounted into the risers or on the sides of steps;
  • outdoor track lighting and/or
  • barbecue fixtures in 12V or 120V that can be mounted on the barbecue unit with a C-clamp or on the wall near the cooking area with an integral on/off switch.

    Quantum leaps in lamps (not light bulbs) have progressed from 600-hour headlights and car tail lights to halogen and now Xenon. The first introduction of Xenon was single contact 10- and 20-watt lamps. Unlike halogen, you can touch the glass and they last 10,000 hours. MR-16's now also come in Xenon. In the near future PAR lamps will be added. This is great news for the homeowner and the contractor. The money is made by having happy customers and doing new installations, not service calls.

    Constantine G. Pergantis is the owner of Nite Litesr located in North Potomac, MD and has been in the lighting industry since 1985. For more information, visit http://www.nitelites.com/.

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