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Introduction To Downlighting
Use of Down Lighting
Sometimes, it is not possible or desirable to use area or pathway lights to illuminate sidewalks, patios or pathways on the ground. In that case, down lighting is often a better choice. The purpose of this lighting would be to illuminate key garden focus points, special features and routes for walking.
Challenges of Down Lighting
- Extension Ladders Needed: Most of the time, although not always, down lights are mounted on trees. Since these lights need to be placed at least 15' to 20' up on the tree, you usually need to use longer extension ladders.
- Pruning: In order to place the lights and to clear the pathway for the lights to hit the ground, you may need to prune. Removing thick bushy areas of trees can open up the branching and allow the lights to illuminate ground areas more effectively.
- Controlling Glare: Since tree mounted fixtures usually have long glare shields, you will need to insure that the direction and angle of the beam is low. That will prevent glare from the light source from hitting eyes of people as they walk in the garden.
- Aiming the Lights: Lights that are 25' or higher can be hard to aim. One way to do it properly is to put a green laser on the body of the fixture. Green lasers are easier to see and brighter than the lights themselves in the daytime. Aim the laser down to help you align the light.
- Hiding Cables: Cables can be unsightly and trying to hide them can be difficult. Look for the backside, or least noticeable side of the tree. Run the cables down that side and fasten them with hardware that is stainless steel for the most attractive appearance.
- Limited Mounting: Sometimes there are not very many locations where you can effectively mount the down lighting and you will not be able to fully maximize the use of this technique.
Down Lighting Advantage
- More with Less: Because down lighting illuminates a broader area than path lights, it is possible to illuminate using fewer fixtures.
- Shadow Patterns: Placing the lights selectively and at higher vantage locations, down lighting illuminates through the leaves below and makes lovely shadow patterns on the ground that move in the wind and change through the seasons.
- Focal Features: When tight 15 degree beams are keyed in on the garden features like statuary, tables or birdbaths, these garden elements are highlighted and enhanced. This works best when the beam is focused solely on the feature and doesn't backsplash on neighboring features.
- Clean Look: Path lights can create ground clutter which is not as clean of a look as down lighting. With down lighting the illumination source is more easily concealed in both day and night which makes the light seem more dramatic.
- Cost Effective: Because fewer fixtures are needed, down lighting is often cheaper.
Summary of Down Lighting
The most important advantage of down lighting is that the beams shine on a broad area. That allows for fewer fixtures to be used, which is both more attractive and looks better than multiple path lights. In addition, down lighting creates unique and beautiful lighting effects in the nighttime garden. Down lighting works best when used alongside up lighting because that helps disguise the source of the light and eliminate "hot spots" in trees. Remember that down lights can be placed not only tall trees, but also on structures like gazebos or the roof line of the house.