Find out how to set up exterior lighting to show off your landscaping after dark. Get tips on assessing your property to figure out which features to highlight. Learn about different lighting techniques and find out whether this is a DIY project, or one for the pros.
LESLIE: Well, if you spent many hours landscaping your home to make your lawn and garden picture-perfect, why leave it in the dark after the sun sets?
TOM: Well, there’s no need to do that when you can use landscape lighting or what we like to call “lightscaping” to show off your home’s dramatic beauty at night, as well as help make it more safe and secure. Here to tell us more about this fun project is Roger Cook , the landscape contractor on TV’s This Old House .
ROGER: Glad to be here.
TOM: So, Roger, to make the most of your outdoor-lighting design , you really need to do sort of an assessment of what you’re starting with, correct?
ROGER: Right. The first thing I think of are the things that – you need light to get in and out of the house, like a doorway or a walkway or a garage and then maybe something for security’s sake, where you want to make sure there’s light there.
TOM: So those are the basics: the safety and the security. And then we can get more into the beauty aspects of lighting after that, right?
ROGER: Right. Where we take an individual tree and we light that up so you can see it at night.
LESLIE: But I think it’s important when you’re thinking about lighting what you’ve landscaped or different beds or different areas of your property, you need to sort of consider what naturally happens with light and trying to replicate that, yes?
ROGER: Right. It’s a great thing when you can hide the fixture and all you see is the light, the glow, like a moonlight rather than have a beam and a fixture just shining down so they look like a ray coming out of the sky. You want it to look natural, you want to look soft, you want it to look like it’s been done naturally.
TOM: And there’s a couple of techniques to do that. The first is called “downlighting,” right, where you bring – I guess from the top down, kind of like moonlight?
ROGER: I really like downlighting, because you can use it to highlight specific things. But think about it: in the wintertime, when you have 2 or 3 feet of snow, an uplight doesn’t do you much good until it melts through; a downlight will always usually be there.
TOM: Mm-hmm. Yep. And then, of course, you’ve got uplighting when you do light it from below. And that could probably make things look taller, I would imagine, right?
ROGER: Yeah. A lot of that, we use on a building to bathe the side of the building, to give it a glow and then highlight plants that are against the building. It’s a neat way to put it in the middle of a mass of plants and just have the whole thing light up.
TOM: And then a real cool technique that you use is called “backlighting,” where you just sort of light behind the landscape, correct?
ROGER: Right. And it’s just enough to give the plants a shadow, a visibility, that it really works out well.
LESLIE: It seems like you’ve got to have the right combination of all of these elements, to make it look beautiful and make it look authentic or natural. So, is this something that a homeowner should be thinking, “Oh, I’ll pick up this light kit at the home center and do it myself,” or really go ahead and hire a pro?
ROGER: It’s how comfortable you feel. It’s not something that you would just go get a kit, because everyone’s house is different.
ROGER: They can’t customize it to your house. A better bet would be to buy a transformer if you’re doing low voltage. Get individual lights and set them up in different areas in your house and see how they work. And then you can figure out which ones you need and how many and how to run it off the transformer you have.
TOM: And that’s a nice thing about those kits: they’re very, very modular, so you can start with just a few lights and kind of build it out from there.
ROGER: Right. And that’s an important thing because as we said, not everyone’s house is going to be the same. They don’t need 10 uplights and 2 downlights. It just doesn’t work that way.
LESLIE: And because it’s a low-voltage system, that really makes it easier to work with as a homeowner.
ROGER: Low-voltage system is very, very simple, that anyone can install.
TOM: What do you think about solar lights ? They’ve kind of come a long way but they don’t really help you if there’s snow on the ground or it’s a cloudy day, right?
ROGER: They don’t use any energy and when they work, they’re great, especially along a pathway in the summer. It’s just a really nice highlight. And if you have to, you go and brush the snow off them and they’ll still work.
TOM: Good advice. Roger Cook, the landscape contractor from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit and helping us sort of show off all the hard work that we put into making our yards and lawns beautiful.
ROGER: Yeah. I think we lit up that …
Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by State Farm Insurance. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.