When you hear the word "staycation," does a little light go off in your head...an outdoor light, perhaps?
With more Americans opting to vacation at home these days, many are looking for ways to get more enjoyment out of their own backyards. And one of the easiest, most economical ways to make the fun last longer is through quality outdoor lighting.
Over the last several years, landscape lighting has exploded into a diverse and beautiful art form. With better technology and today’s broad array of fixtures, designers are taking nightlighting to a new level and giving consumers more opportunities to enjoy their leisure time at home. If your company doesn’t already offer low-voltage outdoor landscape lighting, this might be the right time to catch the wave, the lightwave, that is.
Riding the wave
Many companies find low-voltage outdoor lighting to be a relatively easy service to add to an existing green industry practice. Training is often low cost or free, and the learning curve is quick.
“We do a lot of outdoor lighting and for very good reasons,” says Bob Giordano, owner, White Water Landscape Services, Williams, Oregon. “It’s a good add-on for contractors who are already out there doing irrigation and landscaping.
The materials and skills are very compatible, and the initial start-up costs are low.” Scott Miller, landscape designer and senior landscape associate with Tim’s Landscape Services, Griffith, Indiana, agrees. “We were a full-service landscape company and when clients started asking about irrigation, we added it. Landscape lighting was also a natural transition. It fit in easily to our company.
Our irrigation crew does the lighting too, and this has worked out really well for us.” With a relatively low cost to the consumer and a big return in terms of enjoyment, many see low-voltage outdoor lighting as a recession proof service. The growing outdoor living trend is spurring demand, according Joshua Beadle, general manager at FX Luminaire, San Diego, California, which was recently acquired by Hunter Industries.
“Thirty years ago, automatic irrigation was considered optional,” says Beadle. “Now it has become a basic component for most residential projects. Outdoor lighting is evolving the same way. Backyard environments are seen as an extension of the interior home and there are more and more products designed in this direction, including outdoor kitchens, entertaining areas and even exterior home theatre systems. Today’s consumer is looking for much more than a simple backyard barbecue.”
Miller says the outdoor living trend has been great for their business. “The new housing market has really slowed down and we used to live on that. Now, instead of spending money going to Disney World or Hawaii, people are spending it on an outdoor living room.” People want to use their outdoor spaces well into the evening hours and to do this they need lighting.
“The current economy is actually focusing more attention on outdoor lighting,” says Cruz Perez, vice president of marketing, Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting, Simi Valley, California. “Irrigation may be slowing down due to watering restrictions, but lighting is a service you can continue to bring to your customer.”
A new niche
Giordano, a certified designer through NILLA (National Institute of Landscape Lighting Associates), points out that lighting gives companies another niche and another price point to offer customers in this fluctuating economy. “Some customers who in previous years may have spent a lot more on a new landscape are scaling back. We can come in with a much lower price and make it something really spectacular with lighting. There are also opportunities to sell lighting in yards that are already established.”
For customers at the other end of the spectrum who are doing a complete landscape installation, it’s an easy sell, he says. “I ask them how much they’re spending on the landscape and what their lifestyle is like.” Like many homeowners, some of Giordano’s customers are working ten hours a day and don’t have a chance to appreciate their landscape during daylight hours. He suggests they take five percent of their budget and direct it toward lighting. “Now I’ve created a whole new level of enjoyment for them.” Some like to start small but they usually want more, he says. “They might do one side of the yard first.
Then when they see how it looks, they’re filled with ideas for the rest of the property.” You don’t have to be fully immersed in installation to get involved with landscape lighting. Exterior Worlds, a Houston, Texas-based company specializing in high-end residential properties, subcontracts most lighting installations but takes a very active role in the process. “We focus on designing the lighting and then help execute it so that it goes in seamlessly,” says Jeff Halper, president. By designing the lighting package and guiding the process instead of leaving it up to the customer and a lighting company, Exterior Worlds has control over the final look and can use lighting as a tool in the overall landscape.
“We know what works and what doesn’t,” says Halper. “The client doesn’t have that experience and doesn’t usually speak the language. We do.” He says that his company’s involvement also ensures that appropriate steps are taken to protect existing trees and landscape.
For their efforts, the company gets a percentage of the profits and the ability to offer the customer a one-stop-shopping experience. Halper points out that lighting can bring in other landscaping work as well.
The future looks bright
So what are today’s customers looking for in their nightlighting? Here are a few trends:
Sustainability is in when it comes to landscape lighting and LED technology is leading the way. “The reason everyone is talking about LED products,” says Beadle, “is that with LED you can get the same light output using 60 to 80 percent less energy while having a very long lamp life—which classifies it as a sustainable product.
Products that save resources are where future consumers will be motivated to make a purchase.”
Cooler bulbs are another advantage, Perez points out. “It’s more desirable from a safety standpoint because a child is not going to be burned by an LED.” Matt Bohn, vice president of operations, Blue Water Irrigation & Landscape Lighting, Annapolis, Maryland, says he has renewed confidence in LED. “We’re really excited about the LED technology coming out. There are tremendous energy savings there. We’ve worked with LED in the past and weren’t happy with it, but we’re getting into it again. The technology has caught up and the quality is now what it should be.” Giordano says more of his customers are specifically asking for LED. “In our part of the country, sustainable landscaping is a mainstay. When customers ask for LED, it’s a great pre-qualifier. They know what they’re talking about.
They’ve done their research.” He favors going one step further by powering the system with a solar collector. It’s important to educate customers on the difference between a system like this and the low-cost solar fixtures that are sold at big box stores, he says. “People are often led to believe they’re doing the right thing when they purchase those,” he says, “but when they buy fixtures that produce only a candle-like glow and then end up in a landfill in a couple of years, that’s not green at all. Instead, we can use a solar collector, couple that with LED bulbs and good solid fixtures, and we have a system that will last 15 to 25 years.
Now you have a truly sustainable type of lighting.”
Customization and artistry...
Another trend in outdoor lighting is full customization. People aren’t just looking for a blazing security light coupled with a few accent lights here and there. They want a complete package tailored to their own lifestyle. They want lighting to offer beauty, utility, and security and they want to be able to dial it up or down as needed.
“The demands today are a lot higher,” says Halper. “People want a good design. They don’t want someone to come out and put fixtures in all the trees.”
The interest in custom design stems in part from the plethora of fixture options available today.
With path and spread lights, spotlights, step lights, deck lights, accent lights, and a wide array of specialty lights, designers can paint a unique nighttime masterpiece in every yard. “You don’t have to look at the artistic side of it combining a creative design that is a custom fit for the home, “says Bohn. “This means getting to know the different products and manufacturers and finding the right fixture for the right location.
We also like to bring in our horticultural knowledge, to know what the different material is and how it should be lit properly.”
Halper says architectural lighting has also become very popular among his customers. “That’s something we didn’t do in the past but it seems to be a pretty big trend now.” It’s also important to pay attention to the view from inside the house, says Giordano. “Go inside and look at what the homeowner will be looking at out the window.
Lighting draws your eye out into the landscape. You can actually take a small home and, with the right outdoor lighting, make it seem much bigger from the inside.”
He says that for most lights it’s important to focus on the quality of the fixture and the effect of the light versus the style or look. “You’re going to see pathway lights, but for the rest of your fixtures, look at what the light does, not what the fixture looks like.” “Don’t forget underwater lighting,” he continues.
“There are a lot of people putting that in. When you mix water and light, you’re taking it to a whole new level.”
Different lights for different tasks...
Outdoor lighting is also becoming more task oriented, says Bohn. “With the advent of the outdoor kitchen, we’re lighting more kitchen islands and grills than we have in the past. With our location on the water, we’re also lighting more docks and piers.”
Security lighting has also evolved. “We’re doing a lot more lighting of patios and walkways, as more people are looking at it from a safety and security standpoint,” says Bohn. “In the past, people typically wanted one large motion-sensor activated light off the side of the house. Now they want their property to have general illumination to give them peace of mind.”
With living rooms, kitchens, and dining rooms moving outdoors, consumers want the same level of control with their outdoor lighting as they have indoors. “They want to have flexible control, not just all on or all off,” says Beadle. “There can be very different uses for their outdoor spaces at different times. It might be two couples having wine and cheese one night, and a big children’s party the next.” By providing separate zone switching for each space, you give customers the opportunity to set the right mood.
There’s a big difference between offering outdoor lighting and offering quality outdoor lighting. That difference comes from training and experience.
Many manufacturers’ seminars are free and cover technical issues, design tips, effective marketing and all of the other aspects of operating a successful outdoor lighting service.
“Since there are many schools of thought concerning products, methods and marketing, it is best to attend many different training seminars,” advises Beadle. “Keep your mind open and listen to several messages to learn the best approach.”
There’s one more reason to get involved in landscape lighting. It’s fun. “There’s no limit to the different effects you can achieve,” says Giordano. “It’s a very artistic type of thing and landscapers are usually artistic types.”
Bohn says it’s also a great change of pace from irrigation. “I could talk about lighting for hours. Irrigation is all math and calculation; there’s no artistic value or creativity. This is a lot more fun.”