If you’re thinking about adding commercial landscape lighting to your property, you may not realize just how many details are considered when designing and installing it. To help you choose the right outdoor lighting options for your commercial property, this article describes
- the different types of lighting options,
- lighting design considerations, and
- the importance of getting light levels just right.
Benefits of Good Commercial Landscape Lighting Design
When designed correctly, exterior lighting in the landscape provides several benefits, including:
- Night-time safety for tenants and guests as they enter or exit the building and walk to or from vehicles
- Clearly visible entrances, exits, and pathways
- Improved ambiance, or a better “feel” to a property
- Enhancement of landscape features and curb appeal
- Accentuation of architectural features and signage
To accomplish these things, commercial landscape lighting uses several types of light fixtures, each tailored to its location and purpose. Lighting designers calculate light levels based on safety requirements and the level of light provided by each fixture to ensure that there are sufficient light levels throughout the property. At the same time, a good lighting plan also ensures that there are no dark areas or over-lit, glare-filled spots that can disorient pedestrians or drivers.
Types of Commercial Landscape Light Fixtures
Outdoor lighting for your commercial property includes so much more than just large LED or halogen parking lot lights or bright lights on the building entrance. With recent advances in lighting technology, lights can now be used for accenting landscaping and special features, softly washing a building façade, and more.
Each type of light has a function and should be used appropriately. For example, when we work at a desk, a task light provides the kind of clear, sharp light that a distant ceiling fixture cannot. The same principle applies to commercial landscape lighting, with different purposes requiring different types of lighting. For example, the level of light at building entrances will be much higher than the lighting that accentuates the branches of a specimen tree.
Low Voltage Landscape Lighting
Low voltage landscape lighting, especially commercial LED landscape lights, will save you money compared to the old halogen lights previously used on commercial properties. These energy-efficient lights are softer and more appealing, eliminating harsh lights in your eyes while still lighting up key areas. They can both provide wayfinding and highlight the plants and trees that surround you, using a range of fixture types.
Path lights are generally downward facing and are designed to eliminate glare while illuminating the path. They make pools of gentle light on paving and on foliage and flowers.
Path lights can (and should) be staggered in a pattern along a walkway to avoid an airport runway appearance that draws your eye to the end of the walkway. Instead, well-placed pathway lighting will illuminate the surface you’re walking on while also giving you glimpses of the surrounding landscape. Path lights that alternate sides of a walkway create a rhythm and an atmosphere that is enhanced when some fixtures are partially screened by foliage, their light emerging as you approach them.
Uplights are used to accentuate features in the landscape and to provide an additional layer of atmospheric light. Generally positioned just above the soil surface, these lights often have a socket joint that allows you to position their light streams just where you want it.
For example, a few well-positioned uplights can accentuate the natural features of a windswept, gnarled, or beautifully pruned tree. Large shrubs will stand out in planting areas when their form and the texture of their foliage is enhanced with gentle uplighting. Uplights into trees can also extend the landscape, provide interest to the property after hours, and enhance your property’s curb appeal in the darker hours.
If you’d prefer not to use uplights, trees can be accentuated with downlights suspended from the branches. These little LED light fixtures do not get hot while they’re on, so they are neither a fire danger nor will they scorch the foliage.
Downlights are especially effective when placed in trees with broad, spreading canopies or when strategically positioned to create inviting glimpses of light through branches. In winter, when many tree and shrub species are dormant, these twinkling lights also provide festive warmth to the long, dark nights.
Wall-washing lights provide the same type of enhancement that path lights and uplights do, but these lights focus on accentuating a building’s architectural features, as well as its signage. Well-placed wall-washing lights can highlight a building’s entrance without making it feel institutional and help to make the building stand out amongst other commercial properties. They’re also a good choice to accentuate at night the same features that sunlight does during the day, such as arches or columns, windowsills, and overhangs.
Down Light or Step Light
Another type of wall light is the downlight or step light that is attached to or embedded in a wall. Small and efficient, these lights both enhance architectural materials and ensure that stair steps and changes in surface materials and heights are illuminated. They serve a similar purpose that path lights do, but in a setting where there are no open planting areas.
Pole lights are, as their name suggests, light fixtures on poles. These overhead lights illuminate much larger areas than path lights or up lights. They’re used in parking lots, at building entrances, and along pedestrian and bike paths to provide a regular, continuous level of light and create a sense of safety through visibility. LED pole lights achieve this without the glare and color distortion of halide or sodium lights and require less maintenance, too. Be careful to place the lights on poles that are tall enough to avoid interference with people, vehicles, and awnings and overhangs.
Why Commercial Landscape Lighting Design is Important
Well-designed landscape lighting has many benefits, including enhanced safety, curb appeal, and improved usability of the property after sunset. Plus, today’s LED fixtures are far more energy-efficient and long-lasting than older halogen or incandescent lights.
But to be sure your investment in exterior lighting is worthwhile (and saves you money), it’s important that the lighting be planned and installed by a commercial landscape lighting designer.
These designers understand:
- where to place lights for optimal effect,
- which fixtures to use in specific settings,
- what light levels are required for different areas,
- how to avoid glare and light spill,
- ways to enhance the appearance and appeal of your property,
- and much more.
For example, both pole lights and wall lights that provide sufficiently high light levels at building entrances and parking lots are an important safety feature for commercial properties. However, exterior lighting levels can be excessively high if not installed and designed correctly. As with many other things, more is not always better!
When light fixtures aren’t properly matched to their function, it often results in glare and light spill. Glare happens when surfaces reflect light and intensify it. It’s also caused when fixtures are positioned so that their light is at a height or angle that negatively impacts pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. Light spill happens when light levels are too high and a light fixture casts a light beyond the boundaries of a property, onto neighboring properties, sidewalks, roadways, or open spaces.
Well-Lit vs Too Much Light
Too much light at night affects us all, including nocturnal animals and birds. Humans need dark rooms to sleep well, and we all know how the light from our phones and laptops keeps us awake when it’s bedtime. Similarly, animals’ natural habits are interrupted when there is too much light. This makes them more visible to predators, unable to forage for food, to find a mate, or hide.
Nocturnal animals are beneficial in ways we may never notice: when they’re around we have fewer slugs and snails on our plants, and fewer unwanted insects, but more pollinated vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Migratory birds (who also eat up pesky insects all day long) become disoriented when night skies are too bright, and lose their way along established migratory routes. This can be fatal, as disoriented birds will collide with buildings and use up their energy stores meant for migration while trying to find a way out of bright areas.
Another reason to ensure night light levels are not overly bright is the night sky. The beauty of stars and constellations and the subtle beauty of moonlight should be enjoyed by everyone, not just campers or rural dwellers.
Protect the Night Sky with the Right Lights
An easy way to help our animal friends and star-gazers, as well as prevent nighttime light pollution, is to specify fully-shielded or full-cutoff light fixtures. These fixtures are not automatically more expensive, they’re just better designed. Full cutoff light fixtures provide all the light needed for their purpose, but they’re designed so that there is no wasted light (meaning light that shines out or is reflected beyond 90 degrees from the fixture). Light bulbs are positioned in these fixtures so their light shines downwards and outwards, but not up into the sky or into our eyes. Since we’re walking, biking, and driving around at ground level, this is where we want the light to be anyway!
Need a Hand?
If you’re thinking about landscape lighting for your commercial property, a little knowledge about lighting will go a long way. Even better, hire a designer to help you. It’s the best way to get the most energy-efficient, money-saving, and thoughtful lighting system, and one that contributes to the attractiveness of your neighborhood (without disturbing your neighbors).
Give us a call to learn more about our services and our experience in enhancing landscape designs and building facades through lighting. We’re available to evaluate your property’s needs and provide you with pricing and lighting system details that work with your ideas and your budget.
Give us a call at 410-648-2820 or use our contact form. We'd love to talk with you about any of your landscape needs!