Choosing the right exterior lighting is an integral part of making the most of year-round al fresco living after dark. Rick Benedict, owner of Beachside Lighting in Kailua, discussed how to choose the best lighting for aesthetics, safety, energy-savings, and our ocean side climate.
According to Benedict, the most important rule in regard to outdoor lighting aesthetics is ensuring the fixtures are as unobtrusive as possible. Beachside Lighting achieves that look by using smaller size luminaires and minimizing glare.
Benedict describes Beachside Lighting’s technique as the “opposite of putting a powerful floodlight on the corner of your garage and then blasting your yard.”
“Focusing on small scale fixtures allows the landscape architect or contractor to highlight certain areas of the landscape for functionality, safety and aesthetics,” Benedict said. “We want them to blend into the landscape so that they don’t stick out like a sore thumb during the day but still do their job at night.”
This includes strategic placement, so one is able to navigate on a path or steps but is not in danger of tripping.
In regard to style, some clients prefer a flat light with a more modern appearance, and some prefer a more rounded style that does protrude slightly from the ground, creating a more tropical look, according to Alika Peterson of A & K Landscaping in Kailua and Hawaii Kai. Path lights are usually above the ground on 16-inch stems so that they clear the ground cover, he said.
Beachside Lighting exclusively uses LED lighting, Benedict said. There are many advantages to LED lights. LED lights are brighter and don’t get hot enough to burn plants as halogen lights can, Peterson said. Most importantly, LED lights use much less energy.
“It is very valuable to use LED in a place like Hawaii where we have very high electricity rates,” Benedict said. “On the mainland in a place like the Midwest, energy might be 10 cents a kilowatt hour but here it is 30 cents a kilowatt hour, so the energy efficiency made available by LEDs makes a bigger impact.”
Switching from incandescent sources to LEDs is enabling clients to pay one fifth to one sixth as much money as they did previously, he said.
“Pretty soon, no one is going to be talking about the old days and halogen,” Benedict added.
Here in Hawaii, landscape lighting must be made of heavy-duty materials that can withstand our region’s salt air.
Beachside Lighting uses fixtures made of unfinished brass with stainless steel fasteners. Brass develops a patina over time, but does not rust.
“The copper within the brass alloy will change color and age it as it reacts with the elements,” Benedict said. Here, it starts off with a more reddish color and then takes on a greenish hue.
The look of a natural, aged brass is particularly suitable in a tropical garden.
Clients that prefer a more contemporary look sometimes choose a silver or power-coated black finish, but those are subject to fading in the sun, Peterson said.
Limited Budget, Big impact
If you were to choose one impactful lighting element to add some drama to your garden, Benedict suggests adding a fixture to a tree that shines down to the ground, so you are creating illumination without seeing its origin.
Contractors can or strap this type of fixture to a tree, depending on the type of tree.
“By having it in a tree instead of along a path, you basically eliminate the likelihood that it’s going to get kicked around or damaged,” Benedict said.
Three techniques allow proper glare reduction with downlighting. The first is placing the light perpendicular - rather than parallel - to the ground to reduce glare. The second is to add a glare shield or snoot to the fixture to help shield light from the side. The third technique is use of a hexcell louver (also nicknamed “honeycomb” louver underneath the fixture’s glass), which creates several vertical sections, typically 1/8” thick, which the light has to exit through.
“With glare reduction or elimination, you have to guess where the light source is located, and that is a good thing!” Benedict said.
So, once you get your tropical landscaping projects completed (Tropical Gardening Blog Post), be sure to add beautiful exterior lighting.
Photos courtesy of Beachside Lighting
Photo 1: A switch controls a tree-mounted downlight to illuminate the BBQ when cooking, while well lights provide continuous backlighting of the foliage.
Photo 2: A tree mounted downlight.