How to Get the Best Lighting System (Part 3)

In examining the way to get the best lighting system for your home we are addressing a series of questions we need to ask before we place a shovel in the ground. Part 1 examined the purpose of our lighting system, and Part 2 dealt with elements of the property that should be lit. Now that we have high level understanding of the "Why" and "Where" of your lighting system, the next question should address

"When" should you start your project to get the optimum value?

Initially, you may be a little confused about this question but we're not referring to a calendar event. As a homeowner, you are either building a house, living in an existing home or both. If you're building a new house or planning to build one in the near future, now is the time to start planning your lighting system along with how many bays you need in your garage and what kind of finish you want on your kitchen cabinets. 

A lighting system's basic infrastructure plan should be complete at the electrical rough-in phase. As you may know, the electrical rough in occurs generally immediately after the project has been "dried in." Installing wall switches, raceways and support for control devices can be easily installed at this point without damage to finished walls, floors and ceilings. Access into attic and crawl areas is also much easier than after insulation and sealing processes have been completed. This is also a time to make sure electrical power circuits and receptacles are installed in equipment rooms or exterior walls in the proper location. A well placed receptacle in an outside wall can save money on the amount of wire required to support your system and may even reduce the number of transformers required to power it.

Another major advantage of implementing your lighting design during construction of your new home is the ability to place fixtures in areas that won't be accessible after construction has been completed. As an example, many new homes are being built with terraces on the front of the house. Since this structure has no roof, the deck, most likely, cannot be lit from above. The best technique is to recess the fixtures into the terrace decking. This approach provides adequate illumination to the facades while concealing the hardware used to create the effect. The next best option is to mount the fixtures at the edge of the terrace and direct the illumination back toward the front facades. This less desirable approach interferes with foot traffic, especially when exiting the front door, as the light is prominent in the pedestrian's line of sight. Wiring raceways are also more visible since the wiring must cross visible surfaces.

As you might guess, being able to install your lighting system during construction has many benefits and provides the designer with greater options to plan the most esthetic system. Labor savings can also be realized since conduit and wire can be installed without having to trench through finished shrub beds, bore under walkways and driveways, and damaging existing irrigation systems or other underground utilities.

One last benefit that can be realized during construction is the "special effects" that really provide that personal touch. Outdoor porches, kitchens, cabanas and other hardscape elements can really be very special with the right touch of lighting. Backlighting stand-off text in a great room, linear lighting in the tray of an indoor screened-in porch, adequate task lighting for a grille or a gentle wash on the deck below a seat wall can only be done during the construction phase so don't miss the opportunity to make your leisure area very special.

If you are not building a house, don't worry, you still can get an excellent design and installation from a good lighting contractor. Although your lighting designer may not have quite as many options as with a house being constructed, a good designer/installer will have some "tricks" that will give you a quality look. In the event you are renovating the outdoor landscape in your existing home, just apply the same strategy to the lighting system. Develop your lighting plan with your exterior project or have the landscape designer work with the lighting designer to make sure the plants don't block the light and the light doesn't burn the plants.

Another distinct advantage of having a lighting plan in-hand during construction is that you can roll out your lighting plan in phases. Install the main infrastructure during construction, knowing that you will add the "finishing touches" sometime after you have moved into your new home, will save money and have that continuity that accompanies a quality lighting job.