Have you ever walked by a neighbors’ house who thinks they’re all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips because they bought a couple of solar path lights from Menards? Overlooking the fact that solar fixtures from hardware stores are poorly constructed to begin with, the lighting effect created by solely using path lights is very flat and one-dimensional. Sure, it may provide enough light to see the edges of a pathway at night, but since they are the only source of outdoor lighting the attention shifts completely from the beautiful house and landscape to the cheap solar fixtures. This is why for all projects, no matter how big or small, it is crucial to design a landscape lighting system with lighting layers.
Lighting layers are used to create visual depth in a lighting design and to prevent the appearance of over-lighting. The three main types of lighting layers are Ambient Lighting, Task Lighting, and Accent Lighting. Each of these layers are usually created by different types of light fixtures and are used for different purposes.
Ambient lighting is thought of as “general” lighting that floods a large area with a soft glow. This is typically accomplished with overhead fixtures, such as moonlights, to avoid exposing the light source at ground level and shining right into the homeowners’ eyes. Ambient lighting is often utilized for safety purposes, like illuminating a dark turn along a driveway, due to their wide spread of soft light.
The goal of task lighting is similar to that of ambient lighting, but it provides strong illumination for a specific function. Instead of a moonlight spreading a soft glow across a whole patio, a couple of path lights will spread task lighting across stone steps that branch off the patio. Since task lighting fixtures give off more concentrated light than ambient lighting fixtures they’re great for lighting small details, like a sudden landing in a stairway. The consequence of this is that multiple task lighting fixtures are usually needed to work properly. One path light at the bottom step still leaves a homeowner at risk of not seeing the beginning of the top steps, but 4-5 path lights spaced out along that whole set of stairs allows the fixtures’ beam spreads to get closer together and provide a continuous path of light.
On the other hand, accent lighting serves a completely different purpose than the other lighting layers: visual aesthetics. This is the type of lighting that’s used to uplight a huge oak tree, to wash an intricate stone wall with light, or to put a beautiful sculpture on display. The purpose of accent lighting is pretty obvious when you see it, but the means by which it’s created is less clear. Oftentimes the type of fixture used for accent lighting is determined by the type of object it’s accenting. A broad, flat stone wall needs the wide, soft spread of a flood light rather than the narrow, hard light of a bullet uplight. However, if the object was a tall, slender art sculpture then almost all of the wide beam spread of a flood light would miss the sculpture entirely, hence the need for bullet uplights.
When all of these lighting layers are implemented in a design it adds visual depth to the project as a whole. It allows certain architectural objects or landscape elements to immediately jump out to the viewer, it provides a smooth backdrop of light for those objects to be viewed from, and it easily allows the homeowner to move around the site and perform daily functions. There’s much more involved in designing a lighting system than many would believe, which is why it’s necessary to hire a company like Erickson Outdoor Lighting that has professional landscape lighting designers on staff to create the best lighting design for your home.
Call us at 952-474-4536 to schedule a design consultation, or a service appointment of your existing outdoor lighting system!