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Having guests over for a party this summer?  Certainly a growing trend is to move the party outdoors.  There’s something about hanging out poolside with friends that makes for a fun evening.   This trend is growing and makes outdoor living spaces; decks, patios, pools, outdoor kitchens, one of the hottest segments of the remodeling business.

We meet people all the time that have spent a lot of money in their back yard. One area you don’t want to forget about, or push off till the end of the project, is outdoor lighting. Without good quality lighting that matches the new environment created in the yard, the whole project will just fall flat. Imagine a cool new patio deck and pool lit only by a couple of cheap porch lights hanging by the back door. Ugh!

There are now tons of creative and interesting lighting fixtures and techniques that you can deploy to really “finish” the back yard and make your parties hum. A good start is always consulting with a designer to help you sort through some of the options. Consultations are usually free.

Outdoor string lighting

Outdoor string lighting

Always start with some good landscape lighting for areas like trees, paths, and stairs, to set the mood with some soft lighting.  Around the living spaces there are some very creative fixtures available now that you can find by searching some of the home style websites.  Use your designer to bring both areas together in terms of lighting color, intensity, and effect.

One of the more popular ideas we’re seeing more and more is string lighting.  Much like a lot of restaurant patios, string lighting can provide an ambiance for the back yard that’s unmatched with other lighting fixtures.  We suggest using a commercial grade product for a long lasting quality installation.  Another consideration is the bulb.  Some like the old style “edison” incandescent bulb.  Others go with energy efficient LED bulbs.   Here’s a sample of string lighting under a pavilion canopy using LED bulbs on a dimmer.  Imagine what this kind of lighting in your back yard might look like, eh?


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We constantly run into installations of outdoor lighting in Austin that have gross mis-application of both fixture and light output resulting in poor design. Sometimes the consumer installed, sometimes a contractor did, but the end result is just bad lighting.

Understanding outdoor lighting is not an easy subject to grasp. Showing off a fixture (either real or by picture) or even showing photo metrics that measure the amount of light output from a particular fixture won’t do it for most people. They can’t grasp how that fixture you are showing them will translate into a well lit patio, backyard, or other section of the home.

So what is the best way to show the value of a quality lighting design? How about a big price tag with a whole bunch of light fixtures – throw more lights into the mix and of course you’ll end up with “good” lighting design in the end, right?  Looking at lighting this way, you lose the value of what lighting design is all about. It’s important to have an understanding that good design creates a nice visual display but also provides energy efficiency in lighting only what needs to be lit, or should be lit. Using the wrong bulb on a particular application can lead to disaster. Wasting money on extra fixtures and the energy they consume needs to be understood so resources (either cost or energy) are not wasted.

The methods to project this of course depends on the type of lighting and project under discussion. A real world display (night time demo) works well to solidify concept design. Referencing other sites with similar lighting to show effect is useful. Another method is before and after photos to educate on the basics. And finally there is computer rendering that works, but doesn’t always show realistic representation, when it might just be easier to show a picture.

Outdoor lighting can be a beautiful thing if done correctly. Do some homework and get some basic education before jumping into any lighting project. If you are unsure, find a design company that understands these and other pertinent concepts and can demonstrate more to you than just “let’s throw a lot of lights out there”.  

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This past weekend, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Austin was proud to participate in the Center for Child Protection of Austin’s annual “Play Bingo” fundraiser.  We donated an entire outdoor landscape lighting system, complete with installation, for the silent auction. 

The Center for Child Protection is the only nonprofit in Travis County involved in the investigation of crimes against children.  They provide services such as forensic interviews, therapy, and parenting education at no cost to families.  The center’s mission is to reduce the trauma to children during the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.

We’re happy to announce that the winning bidder contributed over $1,200 for our lighting system, making us very proud to be part of the total money raised at Saturday’s auction.  These funds will help provide needed funding for The Center for the upcoming year. 

Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Austin provides complete design, consultation, installation, and service on all lighting systems.  We cover the entire Travis County area.

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Lighting the Unusual

As outdoor lighting specialists, we proudly talk about our capabilities.  Yes, we can install landscape lighting for the front of the home or back patio.  But it is the unusual architectural feature or ornate artwork that captures our attention and always something we want to blend into the design.  These particular pieces, whether they be artwork, statues, fountains, or something else are usually very personal to the homeowner.  Lit correctly will greatly enhance the outdoor living space for the client

LED strip lightingIn this example, the entire entry walkway has a number of custom art pieces attached to the wall.  This art, all produced by the homeowner, is made entirely of colored glass and tile in three dimensional shapes.  She wanted to highlight this wall at night so guests could view her work on the way to her front door.  We installed a warm white LED strip light behind the fascia board of the roof so the light source is completely hidden yet washes the entire wall in a soft light.  Because of the down lighting effect, the light actually produces some interesting shadows on the 3D artwork.

LED Lighting

This homeowner wanted to increase the visibility of his house numbers so we installed a set of backlit LED numbers in an electric blue color.  With the primarily white house and warm white landscape lighting, these numbers really do provide a pop of color that is clearly visible from the street.

back lit wall hanging

This estate homeowner had mounted a piece of artwork outside his fence at one corner of his property.  He loved the art but felt that it was lost in the dark at night.  We built a small light using a low voltage socket and LED 3w bulb and then mounted it centered on the art.  The artwork is raised out far enough that the light comes shining through in all directions.

These are just a few examples of why landscape lighting is more than just throwing in a few uplights against the house and trees.  Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Austin provides complete design, consultation, installation, and service on all lighting systems.  We cover the entire Travis County area.

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Texas is unique in many respects.  Among other things, I think we are the leader in “moonglow” outdoor lighting systems.  If you are not familiar, moonglow lighting is popular in our big oak trees – either uplighting from the ground, or downlighting from way up high.  These high voltage lights produce a bluish-green color that shines down through the branches of the tree.  It’s a great look for outdoor landscape lighting.  I see these installations all over Austin and this clearly was the method of choice for installing outdoor lighting 10 to 20 years ago.  The problem is that the unique color of this light is achieved with a mercury vapor bulb and ballast.  It’s called a high intensity discharge (HID) lamp and it is one of the oldest lighting technologies.   Mercury vapor, at least for commercial applications, has been outlawed by federal regulation because it is also one of the most inefficient forms of lighting available.  So what to do when a mercury vapor fixture quits working?

We’ll answer that question in a moment, but first let’s look at an actual case study.  We were recently called out to a large home in West Austin that had 20 mercury vapor lights installed.  What prompted this call was that the back yard lights were not working at all.  While at the home, we looked at the system and did some quick calculations on the customer’s energy consumption.  With 20 lights, each burning 175w mercury vapor bulbs, she was consuming about 4 kilowatts of electricity per hour of usage.  She ran the lights an average of 6 hours per day.  If you do the math, that’s 8,760 kw per year of electricity, and that translates to an approximate $875 electricity bill per year (based on a $.10 / kwh cost) just for landscape lighting!!!  It’s this kind of case that caused the government to legislate the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which, among other things, specifically targets mercury vapor for its inefficiency and limited the sale or import of certain mercury vapor bulbs and ballasts after 2008. 

Back to the question about what to do when the lights quit working.  One solution is to hunt for a supplier with inventory.  Not easy to do since most are phasing out of this product line.  If you want to stay with the same fixtures, it is possible to retrofit the lighting to a metal halide or sodium lamp solution.  Replace the ballast and bulb at each fixture and you have solved the problem.  Unfortunately, since this solution is also high voltage, you will still be consuming a lot of electricity to power these lights.  Another option?  Take a look at a low voltage system powered with LED bulbs.  LED technology can produce the same output as a 175w metal halide bulb and uses about 10% of the power.  In our above case study, we estimated a low voltage conversion would reduce her electric bill to less than $100 per year providing her with a direct savings of close to $800 annually. 

Another benefit of LED is a reduction in maintenance.  Manufacturers rate LED bulbs at 50,000 hours of usage.  By comparison, mercury vapor and metal halide are rated at about 20,000 hours of use, even less if you consider the gas degradation inside the bulb.  The truth is no one really knows how long LED lasts because 50,000 hours is somewhere between 10 to 15 years of use and the technology has not been available that long. Not really sure if you count this as a benefit until time determines the effective life of LED technology.  But the energy savings is real and something to consider for those with an eye towards conservation.    

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This video was taken to highlight the stunning effect of outdoor lighting around the house.  Click the link below to see this beautiful west Austin home with magnificent tree lighting, path and architectural lighting in the front yard to highlight the dramatic entry.  In back, there are many outdoor patio areas, pergolas, trees,and pool lighting to enhance the outdoor living space in back and the beautiful view of Lake Austin.  Overall, this is a beautiful house that clearly shows the enhancement that effective outdoor lighting can make to the overall appeal.


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One of the benefits of this job is you get to see a lot of different landscape techniques.  How people try to enhance their outdoor living spaces with pools, patios, hardscapes, greenery, etc.  It’s all fascinating to me because I love the design elements that go into these spaces.  Some yards are good and some yards, well, not so much.  Every once in a while you come across a yard that has cracked the code with basic elegance.

The house pictured here is a recent client addition for us out in the Lake Travis area.  This is not a big estate home with hundreds of thousands of dollars thrown into the yard.  Their front entry is simple, clean, and very cool.  Notice the use of the stone steps, a small wood boardwalk under a series of three clay pots, gravel, small grasses, all leading up to a beautiful front gate.

Of course, I have to mention the enhancement that our outdoor lighting provides to the whole scene.  We used just two path lights to highlight the steps by placing them on opposite sides of the walkway for balance.  We also automated the courtyard wall lights with our LCA technology utilizing some dimming capability to blend in with the landscape lighting.   All the outdoor lights come on simultaneously at sunset providing a welcome and inviting entry for their guests.

We contributed a small piece with the lighting but kudos to the homeowners for an overall great design!

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