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Pathway Lighting Buyer's Guide

posted Jun 27, 2010, 10:00 AM by Bob Wallace   [ updated Jun 27, 2010, 10:21 AM ]
A short tutorial on selecting outdoor lighting. I have added my comments to the pros and cons section of each type of light

Dome Path and  Spread LightWhen choosing the right pathway lighting, it is important to consider the overall style of your home and garden, as well as the amount of light produced by fixtures.  Fixtures that give off too little light can lose function, where an excessive amount of light can be too obtrusive, taking away from the overall curb appeal of your home.  It is important to accent or complement your home with the fixture you choose, not deter from its appearance or value.  Highlighting your walkway and outdoor pathways with evenly spaced path lighting is an excellent way to bring elegance, as well as safety to your home and garden.  When properly lit, your walkway can add a sense of security and safety by ridding yourself of dark areas and can be invaluable in icy or wet conditions providing a safe passage for you and your guests. Regularly spaced path lighting provides an even amount of light that helps ensure the eye is not adapting too frequently to different lighting intensities, enabling a person to walk along the path without having to think too consciously about it.

Terralight Sherwood  Leaf Path LightLet's See What You're Made Of...

  • Copper path lights will typically start out with a bright, shiny finish but over time will weather to a muted brown, then eventually to a verdigris patina which blends well with the outdoor surroundings of brickwork, mulch, and foliage. Weathered copper path lighting is the most popular because its weathered appearance looks more natural in a garden much than other metals or painted finishes.
  • Brass path lights with a textured or semi-matte appearance typically weather to an ochre color which goes well with decking and stone. Polished brass tends to weather less predictably to a darker finish and is not widely used in garden lighting. Brass can be a wise option in a higher traffic home where the disturbance of landscape lights is a possibility.  Path lights made of brass are going to be heavy enough not to be disturbed easily and are durable.
  • Aluminum is a sturdy material which is generally the lowest cost option for pathway lighting.  Aluminum outdoor lighting is usually powder-coated rather than painted as this is more durable to the elements and more cost effective to manufacturer. While black is the traditional color for much cast aluminum lighting, you will also see natural colors such as bronze and green.
  • Steel is often the finish of choice for modern gardens.  Stainless steel doesn’t come without any maintenance though - you will need to clean your path lighting periodically to remove typical exterior tarnish and debris.  There are stainless steel cleaners available to protect from brown spotting.  Phosphatized Steel is also an option for Steel outdoor path lighting.  Posphatizing is a method used to protect a steel surface from corrosion and wear by applying an electrochemical phosphate conversion coating, improving the iron phosphating process.

Cast Brass Garden  Path LightWhat's Your Style?
Using path lighting not only lights your course, but also adds value, enhancing the appeal of your home and landscape.  If subtle is what you are going for, create an understated passageway with the traditional fixture that blends in with the surrounding scenery.  Accenting your pathway with a simple path light will create the mood and illumination you need without overpowering its environment.  Inconspicuous pathway lighting can be used to make a statement as well when a more modern approach is taken.  Stainless steel or LED fixtures are a great way to update the façade of your home.  Another option is to make a statement with your choice of path lighting.  Using a decorative or whimsical fixture is sure to add that visual impact you are looking for.  Develop your home's exterior to its fullest potential with proper outdoor lighting that accents or enhances your overall taste and style.

120-Volt vs. 12-Volt

·   Doesn’t require a transformer.
·   120V has no voltage drop between fixtures, which can occur in some landscape systems with long wire runs.

- Bulbs are usually easier to purchase and install

- Less troubleshooting to repair

- The fixtures are usually less expensive

- Can be added to low voltage systems, using 12 or 24 volt bulbs

- Different types of bulbs can be used, like LED, Compact Florescent, Halogen, of regular incandescent

·   Costs more to install because high voltage lighting is dangerous to work with and may require a licensed contractor and permits to install.
·   High voltage wire must be buried a certain depth underground or be run through a protective conduit which makes installation more labor intensive and also makes it tough to move.
·   All fixtures, wire connections and other components of the system must be completely water proof because of the risk of electric shock.

- Fixtures are more common or utilitarian looking

·   Use smaller bulbs so fixture can be small and unobtrusive and offers light which is usually crisper due to the halogen bulbs they utilize.
·   Low voltage systems are safe, easy to install, and do not require the assistance of an electrician. (FALSE- Not easier to install!)
·   Easy to install and move due to low voltage wire not having to be buried or put in conduit.
·   No risk of electric shock in wet or damp locations. (FALSE-You can get hurt from a 12 volt charge just as much as a 120 volt charge)
·   LED lamps consume 80-95% less energy than comparable high voltage lamps.

·   Requires transformer
·   Voltage drop can occur after 10 feet or more (However, that disadvantage is no longer a concern with the use of highly efficient LED lamps)

- Fixtures tend to be VERY expensive, for all but the simplest styles

- Fixtures tend to be more delicate, and prone to being damaged by landscapers and snow removal

- Much more difficult to install than simple "plug and play"- They should be connected in the same manner as 120 volt fixtures. The soil in NY is very acidic, and will eat away at almost all metal in contact with it. An electrical current will facilitate this.