Bright ideas for night light

We spend significant money beautifying our landscapes with just the right trees, shrubs, flowers and hardscaping, but when night falls, all of that effort “goes dark.” 

As warm weather approaches and we tend to be outdoors more often later into the evenings, wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy our homes and streetscapes even as the darkness deepens?

Landscape lighting is the answer. And, besides aesthetics, mood and atmosphere, there are at least two other good reasons to brighten things up a bit: safety and security.

Like anything else, outdoor lighting can be incorporated into your landscape design along a spectrum from minimalism to maxed out. Here are some “bright” ideas for designing a landscape-lighting plan that is just right for your context.

1. Be clear about your goals, be they illuminating walkways, driveways and steps; creating an ambiance for outdoor entertaining; highlighting your home’s architectural and landscape features; or even deterring intruders.

2. Respect your neighbors and those coming and going from your home by choosing and positioning fixtures to avoid outdoor light pollution, which comes in many forms. Those intrusions include shining a light into a neighbor’s window or your guests’ eyes, washing out the night sky, or creating glare. Shields, collars and guards are among the considerations that can help.

3. Invest in LEDs. Though they cost a bit more than halogen, LEDs offer vastly longer life, are more energy-efficient and withstand shock, vibrations and inclement weather. LEDs offer nearly unlimited flexibility for dimming, brightening and creating a design plan with layers of subtlety.

4. Choose your look. Gentle, dramatic, elegant? Regardless of the look you desire, landscape lighting can provide it through a strategically placed mix of down-lighting, up-lighting and cross-lighting. Down-lighting, referred to as moon lighting, creates a romantic glow by mounting downward facing fixtures in trees. Up-lighting is positioned at ground level and creates more drama by aiming light directly at elements you wish to feature. Cross-lighting will grace the landscape with more depth by illuminating water features, specimen trees, swings and arbors from both sides while helping to eliminate shadows.

5. High wattage bulbs are too much of a good thing. They lend harshness to the landscape when a very different effect was the goal. You may be surprised at how much sophistication even 20 watts can deliver. Consider, as well, volts. Most landscape lighting today is low voltage which is safer to work with and less costly to install than 120-volt systems. A step-down transformer delivers one-tenth of the power, but the effects are, nonetheless, virtually limitless.

6. Think of the big picture. Types of outdoor lighting to consider, as with indoor lighting, include task, accent and overall achieved through fixtures like bullets (narrower beams), floods (wider beams), garden (on short posts), wash (softer and more diffuse) and well (buried in the ground). Incorporating all of these types of lighting will result in a fuller look and feel to your landscape. Timers ensure convenience and energy savings.

Through a combination of artistry, engineering and electrical know-how, you can look forward to a bit more brightness in your (night) life.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to