by Rebecca Larsen Arizona residents pride themselves on the fact that their yards become a second great room for much of the year.

Answers to questions you might have about outdoor lights

Arizona residents pride themselves on the fact that their yards become a second great room for much of the year – a place where they can cook, dine, relax and entertain. But most of them don’t realize how much more comfortable and livable that outdoor space could be if they invested in better landscape lighting.

You may have lots of questions about outdoor lighting: Where would you put the lights, how many would there be, and would you have to dig up the entire yard? Could you set up the lights yourself?

Maybe you’ve even moved to an older home that has lights on trees and paths, but the cost of keeping those lights turned on is beginning to affect your utility bill. So, what would those bills look like if you added even more lights?

Following are answers to some of those questions and more.

Should you light up the front yard or the backyard or both? Because Arizonans love to use their backyards, that’s often done first. But lighting front yards can improve security, particularly if you leave lights on from dusk to dawn. Out front, you want your address lighted for visitors, deliveries and service people, but also so that someone can find your house in case of an emergency. Walkways can be lighted for guests. Doorways can be turned into a grand entranceway. The front of your house can become a spectacular focal point.

Are there specific plants or areas you should provide lighting for? You can have the major trees and plants lighted. You can also light up the fireplace or fire pit in order to draw guests to seating around those areas. Lighting can bring your water features and fountains to life. Many homeowners want special lights in and around swimming pools.

What will happen to your power bill? Mike Johnson of Arizona Outdoor Landscape Lighting in Phoenix told us that today’s landscape lighting is primarily done with LED (light emitting diode) bulbs that have extremely low-voltage and that burn fewer watts than halogen bulbs. Because of that, the size and resulting cost of a transformer can be less and power bills can be much less expensive. LED systems also use simpler wiring methods. Installing a new LED system might also provide great savings for older homes that have less up-to-date lighting on site. LEDs do not attract mosquitoes, moths and other bugs the way that some other lighting systems do.

Does a professional designer need to draw up the plan for your system? That might have been true in the past, but generally, today’s lighting systems can be done using a basic sketch that marks where fixtures will go. You can simply walk through a yard and put in flags where you want lights installed. The average yard, back and front, will probably need about 20 lights, Johnson says.

Can I use solar fixtures instead of LEDs? If you’ve ever driven through a neighborhood at night and seen homes with very pale, weak-looking lights, they’re probably solar fixtures. Unfortunately, solar landscape lighting has yet to achieve the same kind of performance that electric-powered lights can give.

Will my yard be torn up in the process of doing the landscape lighting? You’ll need to have a transformer mounted on a wall near an outlet. You might also want a weatherproof outlet box to keep rain out. A 6-inch trench will be needed to run wiring to all fixtures. Fixtures will be installed in their locations using connectors and tape. Some fixtures will be staked into the ground; some will be hung on walls or even underwater. Fixtures will be attached to the transformer using wires. After testing, the wires will be buried.

Can I install a lighting system myself? Do-it-yourself kits that you can buy at big box stores do not have lights and wiring with the same quality and will not perform as well as those installed by a qualified lighting professional.

Although landscape lighting might not be on your list of must-do improvements for your home, it probably should be. It’s a moderate cost upgrade that can enhance the value of your house and make your home a standout in your neighborhood.

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