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CHOICES ABOUND FOR HOMEOWNERS LOOKING TO BRIGHTEN EXTERIORS.

Byline: Suzanne Sproul Staff Writer

Landscape lighting used to be pretty basic - a few recessed fixtures lining the front path and a couple of lights tucked in the trees. Not anymore.

With more and more homeowners and their families spending time outside, everyone apparently has seen the light.

``Think of the whole process as painting with light at night,'' said Phil May, landscape architect in Upland.

Most of May's design work deals with transforming dull yards and landscapes into beautiful spaces, and proper lighting has become an integral part of the entire process.

``People are spending thousands of dollars to transform their yards and their outdoor environs. They want to spend time out there, to live there - and to do that, they need light,'' he said. ``Yes, floodlights do the trick, but they aren't especially pleasing on the eye. And you have to take that into consideration. Everything revolves around aesthetics. You want the lighting, whatever you choose, to be easy on the eyes. Soft lighting is ideal. You wouldn't put a floodlight in your living room, would you? But you also don't want to turn your yard into Disneyland. You have to design and plan ahead.''

And for those who do plan ahead, the rewards are abundant. The outdoor lighting industry has expanded. Now, homeowners can have lighting with all kinds of bells and whistles attached.

``The options are all over the place. There's neon lights, fiberglass lighting for pools, portable lights that look as if they'd be in your family room but are made for the outdoors and dimmer switches available. Another neat feature is that all this can be put on remote controls, and all it takes is a touch of a switch,'' May said.

Beauty aside, outdoor lighting also should be functional.

``When it's dark, some light can go a long way,'' he said.

It can cost you, though. Depending on your needs, you can buy rechargeable solar yard lights at your favorite home improvement center or have a system installed that can cost several thousand dollars.

``But after you've spent so much on your yard with maybe a pool, a patio, a built-in barbecue and all the other popular items,'' May said, ``you shouldn't scrimp on lighting.''

Consider night-lighting as a creative way to spotlight your home and property after dark. If they're properly placed, lights can dramatize trees, showcase favorite shrubs and accent statues, fountains and flower beds. It's just a matter of how far you want to go. One key consideration, however, is that soft, natural light should mimic moonlight in your yard.

``The challenge with landscape lighting is that most people don't immediately see all the possibilities. Outdoor lighting can be both functional and aesthetic. It's an art to understand how much light to place on a house or determine where the focal points are,'' Joe Rey-Barreau, American Lighting Association consulting director of education and director of the Lighting and Design Center at the University of Kentucky, noted on the association's Web site.

Be creative. Don't just aim a light at a tree and turn the switch on. Look for architectural features. Consider lighting an arbor, archway or facade from the ground up. It will be dramatic. Wash the side of a house with a splash of light. Focus a beam on a textured fence or wall for effect. Use low-voltage lights under handrails, stairs and bench seating on decks to help lighten things up for outdoor entertaining.

Aesthetics aside, a well-lit home also is safer and more secure. Lighted steps, paths and driveways help prevent accidents. Motion detectors light up obscure places on your property where people can hide. Photocells automatically turn on fixtures at dusk and off at dawn, providing protection even when you're not home.

When installing outdoor lights, remember the fixtures aren't what you want to see. Tuck them behind shrubs, tree branches or plants, unless the whole idea is to use them as a decorative element such as strings of white lights.

Technology has improved. Outdoor lighting is more weather-resistant and tough. Bulbs, too, have improved. Newer 65- and 120-watt incandescent bulbs provide up to 25 percent more light. Compact fluorescent bulbs produce soft lighting, the highest energy savings, and last up to 10,000 hours.

Before you get started

The American Lighting Association offers the following advice:

-- Ask for professional help, especially if you're going to spend a lot of money. Do the job right from the start.

-- Determine what light strategy you want. Determine focal points in your yard to highlight.

-- If you're building a house, include the outdoor lighting plan. Preplanning helps with the placement of transformers, pipes and wires.

-- Opt for a large enough transformer that will handle all your outdoor lighting needs now and possibly in the future.

-- Work with a licensed electrician.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Outdoor lighting has come a long way. At this home in La Verne, fiber optics technology lights up the hot tub and pool.

(2 -- 3 -- color) Above: The intricate lighting design covers not only the pool itself, but also the archways along the side, accenting the sculpture and pottery within. In the pool's barbecue area, inset, misters provide relief from hot summer nights and a dramatic, foglike effect when paired with rows of tightly focused lights.

Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer

Box:

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 18, 2005
Words:898
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