Let there be light
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 6:53 p.m.
Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your landscape.
The use of low-voltage lighting outdoors can extend the hours you spend enjoying the citrusy fragrance of Osmanthus, which blooms all winter, or waiting for the full moon to rise over the trees in mid-December.
Lights can highlight architectural features such as walls and fountains, and create interesting patterns when pointed up into the foliage of trees. Lighting features can also increase the safety of your walkways and provide security in dark areas around the home.
Another good thing: Since the lamps run on a 12-volt current, landscape lighting can be easily installed by the homeowner without having to resort to a licensed electrician or meeting strict building codes. (Outdoor lighting differs from indoor lighting because it is water-resistant and protected from the elements.)
Better yet, there is a large variety of solarpowered lights available now, which require no wiring whatsoever. All they need is a full day’s worth of sun to charge the special batteries, which provide light for up to 15 hours at night.
Understanding the different kinds of lights will help you create the most pleasing lightscape:
WHERE TO PLACE THEM
Walk around your yard at night and note where you could use some light to navigate without tripping. Sit on a deck or back porch to see where your eyes travel, and what could be made into a centerpiece with a bit of illumination.
To prevent any possible electrical shock, Malibu, one of the largest manufacturers of lighting and other garden gadgets, recommends electrical lights not be placed within 10 feet of a pool, spa or fountain to prevent accidental shock.
YOU DON’T NEED A LOT OF ELECTRICAL KNOWLEDGE
You can buy complete sets of lights or individual pieces to mix and match yourself. The transformer you choose will need to supply enough wattage so you don’t lose power toward the end of the line. You will usually need more than one transformer, which — in easy terms — “dilutes” the 120 volts coming from the main line to that which the lights can handle.
To determine the total wattage necessary to power your lights, multiply the number of fixtures by the watts for each fixture. You can use different wattage bulbs in the system, as long as the total wattage does not exceed the output of the transformer.
To determine the number of transformers necessary to power your lighting plan, divide the total wattage of the system by the wattage of each individual transformer. (Transformers are strung along the system.)
Low-voltage lights will barely affect your utility bill. Running them costs pennies a night, similar to running a child’s toy train. Using timers and mixing solar lights in with the electrical ones will give you even more economy.
Solar lighting is the safest and easiest kind of outdoor lighting to install. Each light fixture contains a scientifically designed solar collector panel that converts sunlight into electrical energy. This energy is stored in highly efficient rechargeable batteries used to light the fixture at night.
Each solar light operates independently from others without the need for a transformer and wiring. This makes solar lighting especially suitable for use in remote areas and locations near water.
Their downside is that all solar lights require unobstructed sunlight during the day to recharge their batteries. With fully charged batteries, these lights will stay illuminated for up to 15 hours.
They are also not as bright as hard-wired lights.
While the photo-voltaic panels can last up to 25 years, the nickel cadmium batteries only last about three years before they need to be replaced. Dispose of these batteries properly by discharging them and taking them to a recycling center. To find one closest to you, visit the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation at www.rbrc.org or call 1-800-8-BATTERY (228-8379).
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