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Outdoor Lighting Can Add Drama to Home

February 27, 1992|DIRK SUTRO

A few well-placed lights can transform the outside of your home from a black hole into an inviting place for nighttime comings and goings.

That should give cheer to the many North County dwellers who work long days and see their homes (and families) most often at night.

Outdoor lighting may seem simple, a matter of placing a few fixtures, but for maximum impact you may want to consult a lighting designer or landscape architect; they specialize in knowing how to go about casting subtle patterns of light and shadow. Even if you plan to install lighting yourself, you can consult with a professional by the hour. Lighting consultants, listed in phone directories, charge $45 to $75 an hour for their services.

Like so many things in life, you can spend a lot or a little on lighting.

A do-it-yourself, economical Malibu lighting kit, including six walkway lights and six "up" lights to highlight plants or architectural features, goes for less than $100, including wiring and a transformer. More sophisticated low-voltage lighting systems cost about $100 per light, installed.

Low-voltage halogen lights are state-of-the-art. These give you a broad selection of both intensity and beam widths, and they put out a lot of light while using very little electricity.

The total cost of good exterior lighting will amount to roughly 10 percent of the cost of your landscape, advises Josh Beadle, president of FX Luminaire, a lighting manufacturer and design business in Sorrento Valley.

A landscape surrounding a $200,000 to $300,000 North County home might be worth $20,000 or $30,000; figure on spending $2,000 or more for good lighting.

Beadle creates a residential lighting scheme around three essential functions: safety, security and drama.

Safety means providing light on steps, pathways and changes in terrain so that visitors won't stumble.

An entry walk, for example, might receive moderate levels of broad, diffuse light from path lights. Path lights, often mounted on stakes that can be placed in planted areas, come in both conventional and low-voltage varieties, in a variety of styles. Materials range from wood to brass, aluminum and copper (steel is available, but not recommended; it corrodes).

For security, light any dark or concealed areas that might appeal to potential intruders.

Creating drama is the fun part. Moods come from the contrast between light and shadows, and between zones within your landscape, lit with varying degrees of intensity.

Some lighting designers define a landscape with soft, broad-beamed perimeter lighting. Uplights, downlights or path lights are used to highlight walls, hedges and borders.

Trees, boulders and landscape contours can be highlighted with more focused beams. Some lights might be of the stake-mounted variety, placed in beds. Others types can be mounted overhead, on walls or in trees.

Lights can also be recessed underground, but Beadle recommends against this. Unless fixtures are guaranteed watertight, internal components will be destroyed by standing, underground rain and irrigation water. Electrical connections should also be made watertight, using silicon-sealing splice kits.

With minor help from an electrician, homeowners can install a basic low-voltage system, which requires transformers to convert 120-volt household current to 12 volts. Each circuit of a dozen or 15 lights will need its own transformer; these cost about $125 each. A 2,000-square-foot North County home on a lot of 7,000 or 8,000 square feet might use two transformers to power exterior lighting--one in back, one in front.

Transformers need only a small amount of power, so you probably won't need to install new electrical circuits, Beadle says.

An electrician can punch through a wall, tap an indoor outlet and mount a transformer on the wall outside, charging about $100 for the service.

Finally, on sophisticated lighting installations, each circuit is controlled by an electronic timer. These have programmable circuits that can be set to control zones within a landscape, and they cost about $50 apiece. Some include remote controls that let you turn on your lights when you arrive home in the dark.

Lighting equipment can be purchased at irrigation and landscape supply stores and building materials stores throughout North County.

The Home Depot outlets in Escondido (1352 W. Valley Parkway) and Oceanside (3838 Vista Way) carry a full selection of affordable Malibu lighting kits. Ewing Irrigation Products in San Marcos (861 Rancheros Drive) and Carlsbad (6104 Avenida Encinias) offer a variety of higher-end lighting equipment by FX Luminaire and other companies.

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