Aug. 18 2011 12:34 AM

After the sun goes down, you can bring a landscape to life with lighting, extending the enjoyment of the outside environment of your client’s home. Landscape lighting is a soft, subtle way to make every part of the landscape canvas more dramatic. Lights, strategically placed, showcase your landscape artistry not only to your clients, but to their neighbors and visitors as well.

With more homeowners choosing to add outdoor living spaces and create vacation-like spots in their own back yards, the landscape lighting market has taken off like a rocket. With improved technology, professional training and the increased popularity of energy-saving light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, if your company isn’t offering landscape lighting, now may be the best time for you to climb aboard.

“My father started the business in 1997,” says Chris Mitchell, CLVLT, president of NiteLiters, Owensboro, Kentucky. “What I’ve noticed is that streets which were totally dark just a few years ago are now professionally lit, because more people are investing in the homes they live in, rather than looking to move.”

Much more than simply illuminating the dark, landscape lights can set the stage for a party or create a romantic mood for a special occasion.

Lights in the front yard welcome you home, while lights in the back yard provide an escape from the chaos of daily life. This gives the contractor the opportunity to get creative with lighting.

“I can’t tell you how many times a contractor has told me, ‘I just don’t have the creativity for lighting’,” says Cruz Perez, vice president of marketing for Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting, Simi Valley, California. “But once you have the basics down, all you really need to do is take a few design courses and you’ll be an artist in no time.”

“Landscape lighting creates a multi-dimensional experience that the homeowner participates in,” says Steve Parrot, media and marketing director with Cast Lighting, Hawthorne, New Jersey. “It’s about finding ways to evoke an emotional response from the homeowner. You do that by putting yourself in the perspective of the homeowner and the guests—the people who will be on the property. First, you want to ask yourself, how do I want these people to feel, what do I want their experience to be when they enter the property, or look out their kitchen window, or walk outside into the backyard? Then you go into your bag of lighting tricks and craft the perfect ambience for the homeowner.”

There are many different moods you can create with lights. For instance, in order to achieve a romantic atmosphere, you want to have subdued lighting. You want to installing lighting ten years ago as a way to add to the beauty of his designs and give his clients extended enjoyment of their outdoor living space.

“Our motto is ‘Living beyond the walls’,” says Gotowala. “Your interior living space has functional lights in the kitchen, lights for the kids to do their homework, dimmers in the bedroom, so it just makes sense to extend your living space to the outdoors. By using the landscape as part of the design, the possibilities of creating the perfect environment are endless.”

A specimen tree becomes a focal point at night with the proper lighting.

Photo courtesy: Viewpoint Lighting

Outdoor lighting isn’t just about buying a fixture and sticking a bulb in it, it’s about creating an artistic painting with lights. While artistic expression might sound a bit daunting at first, Perez says there are really only a few basic techniques you need to know in order to have a good understanding of landscape lighting. These include:

Depth—directing the visual experience of the viewer and adding visual interest both near and far;

Perspective—treating the landscape as a three-dimensional canvas to create visual interest from all possible viewpoints;

Focal Points—establishing visual ‘destinations’ or resting places in the gazing experience;

Quality and Direction — ‘painting’ your landscape using various lighting qualities and directions to achieve the desired moods and experiences;

Symmetry and Balance— highlighting structures and forms that have intrinsic beauty.

After you’ve mastered the fundamentals, there are other details that you will also need to address when you’re taking on a landscape lighting job. Not only do you have to pay special attention to safety and security, you’ll also need to learn some of the special techniques of landscape lighting. Fortunately, there are many training programs available to you at little or no cost to help with these special requirements.

Lighting manufacturers love well-trained contractors who will showcase their products in—forgive the pun—the best light.

Toward that goal, many landscape lighting companies provide free lighting design training in a variety of formats, including hands-on in-the-field training and seminars held at industry conferences and trade shows.

“Education is a key component in helping the low-voltage landscape lighting industry,” says Don Leyn, vice president of marketing and product development, Universal Lighting, Englewood, Colorado.

“When it comes to providing accurate and up-to-date information to our distributors in the area of new technologies like LEDs, the more training and knowledge they have, the better profit they’ll make down the road.”

In addition to offering classes and seminars, lighting manufacturers also offer online training.

James L. Helms, product manager with FX Luminaire, a division of Hunter Industries, San Marcos, California, teaches online courses on a range of topics. These include low-voltage lighting installation, professional lighting installation techniques, and lighting design and troubleshooting.

Although there are no four-year college degrees offered for landscape lighting, there are credentialed design programs for contractors who want to expand their abilities, or who are passionate about the field and its possibilities. The Association of Lighting Professionals (AOLP) offers the Certified Low Voltage Lighting Technician (CLVLT) and the Certified Outdoor Lighting Designer (COLD) designations.

“We want to be sure that everyone who installs landscape lighting is well-trained,” says Stacy Henninger, communications director for AOLP, based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “The CLVLT is an exam that measures the knowledge and capabilities of the applicants, and is specifically geared for 12volt systems; the test consists of a written exam and seven half-hour labs. The COLD program is an advanced level of specialized training in landscape lighting design.”

Mitchell, who serves as vice president of AOLP, says the association also provides accreditation programs to become a certified technician or certified landscape lighting designer.

“We want to be sure that contractors aren’t just selling light bulbs and fixtures, they’re selling visual art and creating an emotional response to the landscape that can’t be purchased in a box.”

As Mitchell said, landscape lighting is a visual and emotional experience. Training in the classroom or showing potential clients fancy brochures of strangers’ homes won’t be nearly as effective as seeing how professional lighting looks on their own property. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an onsite lighting demonstration can be worth thousands of dollars.

“Our company offers a complete demo kit to any landscape contractor who wants to sell landscape lighting,” says Louise Gardner, marketing manager with Unique Lighting in Escondido, California. “The demo package consists of a quick set-up transformer with about 15 different fixtures on it. The contractor sets it up at the client’s home in about 15 or 20 minutes.”

“Just by placing a few fixtures in strategic locations, the homeowners walk outside and are amazed at the way their home looks—with only a few lights.”

Using lighting demos isn’t only a great way to sell a project to just one client at a time. Visual demonstrations will also attract the surrounding residents, who will come out of their houses to get a look at their neighbor’s beautiful home. Perez calls it the ‘Jones Factor’ and it offers you an excellent opportunity to schedule additional appointments.

Landscape lighting is contagious.

One well-lit home can soon lead to another, and another and another. Sometimes you can start the ball rolling even before the house is built. By getting your foot in the door at an early stage, spreading the light to other homes will be fairly easy.

“If you know of a new development in your area, especially if it’s a cul-de-sac, try to work out a deal to get one or two houses lit before the development is completed. Once the neighbors see how beautiful that one house is, they’re going to want their house to look as good, if not better,” says Perez.

With the training and the tools that are available today, it’s time to add landscape lighting to your menu. The next question is, “How do you go about finding clients?” As in any other part of the landscape industry, referrals and word-of-mouth are excellent ways to increase your client base.

“We get most of our work from referrals,” says Andy Thomas, CLVLT, president of Viewpoint Lighting, Sacramento, California. “About 90 percent of the projects I work on are existing landscapes. I’m either adding lights because the homeowner didn’t have the budget originally, or I’m doing remodels. It may sound funny, but the fact is that the more jobs we do, the more jobs we get.”

One of the best selling points of outdoor lighting in recent years is the increased popularity of LEDs. With longer life, less energy output and lower electric costs, landscape lighting allows your clients to enjoy their landscape well into the evening hours while conserving energy.

“Outdoor lighting installation is definitely on the rise,” says Helms. “We’ve seen a big jump in LEDs over the past six months alone. Technology and the economy helped things get better, so we’re seeing a nice upward trend.”

Landscape lighting is no longer just an afterthought add-on, it’s an art form. Lighting is the icing on the landscape cake.

It is, literally, as different as day and night.