Brightening Up Suburban Landscapes Let There Be Light

Brightening Up Suburban Landscapes

In a suburban community, outdoor lighting is an important part of any good overall security plan. A well-planned lighting scheme may deter intruders and also prevent falls and accidents by tenants and visitors. Outdoor lighting can also beautify and greatly enhance the community's landscape.

When designing a new outdoor lighting plan, whether for new construction or to replace existing out-of-date or worn-out lighting systems, there should be three basic considerations: aesthetics, security, and price. The actual lighting system design will also be influenced by several additional factors, including the homeowner association's architectural design, the surrounding landscape and topography, and the actual needs and function of the lighting.

Curb Appeal

"Lighting is probably geared more toward safety than anything else," says James Rademacher, chief executive officer of Rezkom Enterprises in Ocean Township. "However, lighting can also accent trees, light a walkway or a path, or accent things like flags."

According to a recent study by the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA) on the values of landscaping and lighting, not only do homes with attractive landscaping sell four to five percentage points higher than those without, but homes with lackluster landscaping in neighborhoods where attractive landscaping is the norm can sell for eight to 10 percent less than their neighbors. Outdoor lighting plays a big role in the overall impact of a community's landscaping scheme, and contributes to the bottom line when it comes time to buy and sell.

When it comes to choosing the lighting fixtures to accent your HOA's landscaping, "aesthetics matter," says Rademacher definitively. "The lights by the front doors should be more decorative, but you can get more commercial-looking with spotlights." Rademacher also says it's also important for architectural or groundskeeping committees to consider choosing fixtures that match the community's overall architectural design.

There is also a variety of lighting techniques to soften or highlight certain areas to increase curb appeal. For example, pathway lights serve as architectural accents during the day and create a charming ambience at night. Up-lighting can be used to highlight certain features of the property—perhaps the association's trees or the building's architectural highlights. Accent lighting is controlled beams of light that can be focused on particular features, like groups of attractive flowers or shrubs. Spotlighting is much stronger and can focus on a particular statue or flag to create a dramatic nighttime statement.

Safe and Sound

After aesthetics, safety should be the most important concern when it comes to lighting your association's grounds. "Exterior lighting is very important," says Chris E. McGoey, a security consultant based on the West Coast, "And it becomes critical if you must park in a common area parking lot or underground garage and need to walk to your front door."

"The purpose of good lighting is to allow you to see if a threat or suspicious person is lurking in your path," McGoey continues. "If you can see a potential threat in advance, then you at least have the choice and chance to avoid it. Exterior lighting needs to bright enough for you to see 100 feet, and it helps if you can identify colors. Good lighting is definitely a deterrent to criminals because they don't want to be seen or identified."

Problems and injuries can arise from poorly-lit stairs or walkways, and tragedies can occur in an unlit pool area, elevated deck, or parking lot. For the safety and protection of residents and visitors, there should be adequate, but not glaring, lighting to illuminate stairs and walkways and clearly mark a safe path to residents' doors. Outdoor lights, including motion detectors and lights on timers, may also reduce the chances of prowlers.

Infrared motion detectors (IMDs) turn on outdoor lights; they are programmed to react to a person's deliberate movements, and when any motion is detected in a monitored area, they will turn on. Some infrared motion detectors can sense motion up to 70 feet away.

A Matter of Cost

Depending on the selected fixtures and various other costs, including installation, a landscape lighting design can range in price from a few dollars per fixture to several hundred per fixture. For example, most outdoor fixtures are made of bronze, cast aluminum, copper, or plastic, but there are some decorative ones made of wood, stone or even concrete. Size varies, depending on the material and whether the fixture is for low or standard voltage.

According to David Beausoleil, president of Cast Lighting in Hawthorne, for the most part the outdoor lighting used to be 120-volt floodlights that would do nothing but throw a harsh glare over wherever they were put.

"Now, the industry is moving in the direction of low-voltage landscape lighting for several reasons," says Beausoleil. "First, a watt is a watt, whether it's low or high, but the beauty of low-volt is that you are better able to match the design requirements of the house using low voltage instead of high. Low volts come in beams that are narrow, medium, wide or extra wide, so there is a tremendous amount of flexibility."

Outdoor lighting can be powered by standard 120-volt current or by low voltage systems.

"Another reason is that the low-volt fixtures are one-third the size, so you can tuck or hide them in the property. And the wire installation takes about one-fifth the labor to install a low voltage over a high voltage—and any contractor will tell you it's a labor business." Beausoleil continues. "More importantly, low voltage is not a hazard as far as shocking someone; 120-volt current could kill you."

If your association currently includes a high voltage lighting system, Beausoleil suggests decommissioning the system and installing a completely new system. "By the time an older, high voltage system gets upgraded, it's going to get pretty expensive," he says. "It makes more financial sense to just start new."

The concept of energy efficiency has become so popular that The Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) has joined forces with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), U.S. EPA's Energy Star program and the Lighting Research Center to hold an energy-efficient lighting conference the end of May in Albany.

Leave the Light On

Whatever lighting system your association eventually chooses, a good maintenance plan will include a periodic inspection to make sure that all lighting fixtures are operational and that the grounds are well-lit and safe.

"Make sure the installation is done property, and get on a yearly maintenance program," says Beausoleil. "If they don't offer one, don't contract with that installation company. Typically, a good contract will give the first year at no charge."

Some common maintenance issues include burned-out bulbs, broken fixtures and a reset of the timers, especially at daylight savings times. Typically, maintenance checks will also include re-lamping the fixtures every year to 18 months.

"What we try to do is a routine maintenance inspection of the lighting," says Beausoleil. "Most of the lighting is on a timer or a photo cell that senses daylight. We change the bulbs as needed, whether that's weekly, twice a month, or monthly, so there aren't any walkways or front entrances that aren't lit up."

To determine how often the community needs outdoor lighting maintenance, "we review a twelve month work order history," says Rademacher. "We ask our clients, 'How many calls did you get for lighting problems in one month?' That will tell us how often you need us to come out and check things.

The cost of general maintenance contracts varies, but usually averages $35 to $45 per hour, and depends on the number of hours needed to see to your HOA's lighting fixtures and infrastructure.

Remember, well-lit properties may reduce the changes of burglary, and prevent trips and falls caused by dark pathways. Outdoor lighting can also beautify a home, thus increasing its value and a proper maintenance plan is important to keep the system functioning properly.

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Related Articles

Colorful private flower garden with lots of blooming and blossoming flowers and bushes

Does Curb Appeal Really Matter?

Maximizing Aesthetics, Morale, & Value

Laundry lint from the dryer on white

Liability, Responsibility…and Lint

Who's in Charge of Your Laundry Room?

Jersey City, NJ, USA - February 15, 2023: modern buildings at morning in Jersey City, United States

Dealing With Major Façade Projects

In Condos & Co-ops, the “F” Word is “Façade”