ACCENT LIGHTING BASICS
ACCENT LIGHTING BASICS
Accent lights are the workhorses of a landscape lighting system. Generally placed out of view, they light the trees, shrubs and architecture to create a beautiful, dramatic nightscape.
WHAT IS AN ACCENT LIGHT?
Accent lights shine light onto trees, shrubs or architectural features, often grazing the surfaces to create textures with light and shadow. When mounted on the ground and pointed upward, they’re called up lights. When mounted on trees or the architecture and directed downward, they’re called down lights.
WHAT KINDS OF ACCENT LIGHTS ARE THERE?
There are several different kinds of accent lights that are chosen based on the needs of the application. They’re most commonly mounted on stakes that secure them to the ground. If there is danger that a fixture mounted above the ground could be damaged, you can choose a well light that is designed to be buried and comes with a glass cover and optional rock guard. Tree mount and wall mount accent lights are also available.
Once you’ve determined the mounting type, you’ll need to choose a brightness and beam spread. Brightness is the quantity of light emitted from the fixture, measured in lumens. The beam spread is the angle of the light cone that shines out from the fixture, which is measured in degrees. Some manufacturers offer accent lights with integrated LEDs, so each fixture has a different brightness and beam spread; others offer generic accent light fixtures, which are fitted with lamps of the appropriate brightness and beam spread.
HOW DO I USE ACCENT LIGHTS?
To light trees and shrubs, the lights are placed fairly close to the trunk of the tree or the base of a tall shrub, and pointed up. This way, the light grazes the trunk or lower portion of the shrub, using the texture of the plant material to create dramatic effects in light and shadow. In the case of the tree, the beam expands as it reaches the taller branches, illuminating the tracery of the branches and creating backlit effects with lower hanging foliage.
Use “wall-washes” to brighten up the walls of a house. Place an accent light with a wider beam spread along a wall, pointing up. This is especially effective on highly textured surfaces like stone or brick. Accent lights can also be used to illuminate columns, gables, and other interesting architectural features.
Sculptures, water features or other focal points can also be illuminated by accent lights, and lights placed in trees can cast light down onto a sidewalk or driveway to provide illumination. If aimed through branches, these can create a lovely “moonlight” effect on the ground.
HOW DO I CHOOSE THE RIGHT ACCENT LIGHT FOR THE SITUATION
Plan to use two fixtures for most trees, and three for very large trees, with 35 degree 230 lumen lamps for small ornamental trees, 15 degree 350 lumen lamps for medium sized trees and 15 degree 450 lumen lamps for large trees. Bushes and shrubs usually do well with 35 degree 230 lumen lamps for up to 6 foot shrubs. Use 35 or 60 degree 350 lumen lamps for wall washes.
If you’re unsure about what accent light to choose for a specific situation, you can also consult the photometric chart for the lamp. The chart will tell you how much illumination the lamp casts on objects at various distances.
HOW DO I PLACE ACCENT LIGHTS?
When placing accent lights in the landscape, you don’t want the light source to be visible to a viewer from the street, sidewalk, outdoor living space or inside the house. Use cowls or honeycomb louvers, fixture placement, and other plant material to “hide” your accent lights so that there isn’t any glare from the fixture.
You’ll also want to consider the shadows created by the light. Shadows can be used to create expressive effects, so when you’re placing your accent lights, consider where the shadow will be cast. Finally, be sure to place the accent lights where they won’t be damaged by routine maintenance like lawn mowing or where they’re likely to be damaged by cars or pedestrians. For high-traffic areas, consider using well lights.
HOW DO I ORDER ACCENT LIGHT?
Accent lights fixtures are usually numbered, with options for different finishes to blend into the landscape or architectural features they’re placed in. Depending on whether the fixtures have integrated LEDs or separate lamps, you will need to ensure that you specify the correct brightness and beam spread for each application.