Properly installed landscaping lighting can enhance the architectural features on your home and illuminate your yard subtly and safely without blinding glare.
Watch this video to see how the professionals at Pinnacle Lighting Group installed landscape lighting on Danny Lipford’s house, from planning and choosing the right lights to installation and fine tuning the results.
- Landscape Lighting Design Tips (article)
- How to Install Low-Voltage Landscape Lighting (video)
- Checking Landscape Lighting Layout (video)
- Repairing Landscape Lighting (video)
Danny Lipford: this week on Today’s Homeowner we’re tackling a project close to home as we light up the landscape at my house.
Sharon Lipford: You can make all the decisions on those landscape lights that you want to.
Danny Lipford: OK, I got it on tape.
Landscape lighting is a topic that frustrates many homeowners, and I’m no different, even though I’m a professional contractor. My wife Sharon and I built our home 23 years ago, and we’ve never been happy with the way it looked after dark.
Sharon Lipford: Probably the biggest problem I see with the lighting out front is that we do have those steps, and there’s never been enough light on that area.
Danny Lipford: We had to have some kind of lights out there. So we went, like so many people, bought some inexpensive lights, put them in there. They’ve been there 20 years. I’ve replaced the bulbs dozens and dozens of times, and it never did look good.
It could be safe, could be secure, but also it could be dramatic in the different offsets in the house. Being a brick house, large overhangs, it just has an opportunity to really look unique. But as it is, it just doesn’t quite fit in like it should.
And we’ve been waiting all these years to get some decent looking things, and to have someone work with us that really knew how to light up a home without it looking like a runway.
Sharon Lipford: And that’s what we have, really, is runway lights right now.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, exactly.
So I called my friends, Jim and Nick Burks, a father and son team who designed the outdoor lighting for a renovation we did a few years back called the Kuppersmith Project. These guys have a great talent for knowing exactly how much light to use and where to put it.
What I’m curious about is how do you guys get started on this? I mean, what do you think about when you’re evaluating something because every project that you guys do is a little different. How do you get started on it?
Jim Burks: The first thing is to get your input, to find out what your thoughts were. How do you want it to look? How do you want the front of the house to look? How do you want the steps?
Sharon Lipford: I want an elegant look to the front of the house. You know, there are so many nice features that you see in the daytime that you don’t see at night.
Jim Burks: What are your thoughts on the small lights that you have now on the step area?
Danny Lipford: She’s pretty sentimentally attached to those.
Sharon Lipford: They are terrible. No attachment at all.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, yeah, no attachment.
Jim Burks: Well, we’ll see what we can do. We can see if we can light the steps with moon lighting. That’s our first preference. We try not to use the lights that are on the ground, and one of the reasons is maintenance.
Danny Lipford: Because that’s one of the problems, that floodlight up there.
Jim Burks: Right.
Danny Lipford: I mean, it’s right in your eyes when you’re coming up. It’s like you’re in the police lineup or something.
After getting our input, these guys went right to work, even recording video from a bird’s eye view to help them develop a lighting plan for our home.
I wasn’t too surprised by that, but what did surprise me was Sharon’s reaction to my turning this job over to someone else.
Sharon Lipford: I think it’s wonderful. I don’t think the landscaping and that type of thing has ever been his strong point. And so I think it’s good that he’s turning that over to someone else who deals just with that all the time.
Danny Lipford: And since I’m so easy to work with, there won’t be any problems with being able to convey the information and working together as a team.
Sharon Lipford: You’re very easy to work with…to someone else.
Danny Lipford: I’ve heard that after you get into a project like this and you’re doing these things, you might have second thoughts. Are you sure you’re OK with me making all the decisions?
Sharon Lipford: You can make all the decisions on those landscape lights that you want to.
Danny Lipford: OK, I it got it on tape.
And before long, we had a plan, too. Jim dropped by to show us what they had come up with and how it would work.
OK, well take us through it here, because got a lot of little circles and arrows.
Jim Burks: I know we talked about the architectural lighting on the front of the house and the facade.
Danny Lipford: Yeah.
Jim Burks: These lights here and across the front of the house will be in the 3,000 Kelvin range, which will be like the old incandescent lamps that we used to use in the house—more of a yellow.
The yellow light brings red out, like your red brick. That’ll make, you know, the red stand out. And then on the maple tree, the red maple, it makes the red redder.
Sharon Lipford: Now, will this supply enough light for these stairs?
Jim Burks: Yes. So this light here is actually going to come over the steps. And this light here is going to catch all these steps, you know, so that you’re getting the front of the steps and the top.
Danny Lipford: He also showed us some of the fixtures that would be used to complete the project.
Jim Burks: This is the LED that’s going to go up in the trees. But that lens right there is what gives us the nice, soft moonlight.
Danny Lipford: So you’re going to have two up in this tree here.
Jim Burks: Yeah, two up in that tree. Yeah.
Danny Lipford: I see. Now, your son, Nick, tells me that you insist on installing those yourself.
Jim Burks: Yeah, but we always carry an extra belt in case you guys want to—
Danny Lipford: Oh, for homeowners.
Jim Burks: Yeah, in case you want to do it yourself.
Sharon Lipford: I would like to check their insurance.
Jim Burks: Yeah, Yeah.
Danny Lipford: Now finally the crew has arrived, and this project I’ve been waiting on for 20 years is about to take off.
Joe Truini: I was at the home center store recently, and I noticed that they sell 15-inch-long section of plastic downspout. These are used to extend the longer downspouts that carry the water away from your house.
I was looking at it and I thought this would be able to solve a problem I have in the workshop. And that is how to neatly store all the wooden dowels, small sections of wooden molding, small diameter pipes that I have in the shop. I don’t want to just lay them on the floor, because I’ll trip over them and they’ll be hard to find.
So I thought I’d take this and screw it to the wall and use it to store the dowels. First thing I did is drill the half-inch-diameter hole near the bottom, and that’s just to allow access for my screw driving bit.
Then I’m going to mount it to the wall, right here on the front of this wall stud, about 18 inches up off the floor. That’s a perfect height for most moldings and wooden dowel rods.
Put one screw in the bottom. These are just one-inch drywall screws at the top. I don’t need a hole— I’m just going to drive it in at an angle through the top edge. Right into the stud. There. Perfect.
Now, you can see, I just take the small diameter pipes, wooden molding, stand them right up there. We’re neatly organized. You can see them, so you can tell what you have. And if you need one to take to a project, just pull it out and off you go.
Danny Lipford: This week, we’re lighting up the landscape, but this time, I’m the anxious homeowner. Jim and Nick Burks are outdoor lighting experts with the Pinnacle Lighting Group. And they’re helping my wife Sharon and I tackle a project we’ve been wanting to get done for over 20 years.
With all of the details in the architectural features of the home, it just looks bland. And the right kind of lighting could make all of that come out.
They’ve created a great plan for us, and now they’re on site, getting their crews set up to make it all happen.
Jim Burks: One of the down lights, we got to catch the grass, but we also need to catch the steps coming down.
Danny Lipford: One of the most difficult chores is getting lights up in the trees, so these guys are starting right at the top.
So, Nick, it looks like this is one of the first things you guys do, and this has got to be the toughest part of the whole thing.
Nick Burks: It’s the funnest part of it, that’s for sure.
Danny Lipford: Now, I’m curious why you aren’t up on the ladder. I know you’re a hands-on guy. Why not climb the ladder?
Nick Burks: I don’t have the training or the expertise that my guys do, that’s for sure.
Danny Lipford: Once Juan is set in the first tree, the guys move the ladder to the next tree while he begins installing that stainless steel mount. Then he dials it into the proper location with some help from a spotter on the ground.
Jim Burks: All right, right there. Yeah, that’s good.
Danny Lipford: So you took his ladder away. How’s he going to get down?
Nick Burks: Just like Spiderman.
Danny Lipford: A little at a time?
OK, they may not be superheroes, but these guys are amazingly quick and smooth working so high above the ground.
Once each light is mounted and aimed, they also have to prune any nearby branches that might interfere with the path of its beam. They then secure the cable powering it to the tree as they work their way down. It’s an interesting job description— part mountain climber, part tree surgeon, part electrician.
Did you have any idea it was going to be that high?
Sharon Lipford: No. I mean, I thought it would be in one of the large branches down here.
Danny Lipford: I thought so, too.
Once the trees are rigged, the crew starts working on the soffit lights, and compared to the tree work, this barely seems like they’ve left the ground. Meanwhile, I have a little trimming to do.
I’m glad you dropped by to help us out on some of this tree trimming in here.
Chelsea Lipford Wolf: Yeah, I guess it’s time for some payback.
Danny Lipford: The bushes and shrubs around the house have to be trimmed back so that they don’t interfere with the lights that will wash these walls from below. Of course, all this activity gets my wheels turning for even more projects.
It’d be nice to have a lot more grass and get that grass growing back up in there.
Sharon Lipford: Oh, yeah.
Danny Lipford: And then get this grass over there growing up more. Get rid of some of that erosion if we’re going to have all this thing illuminated just right.
Speaking of illumination, we don’t need these things anymore. And I’ll bet they’re rooted down in there.
Chelsea Lipford Wolf: It’s like pulling a weed.
Sharon Lipford: Yeah.
Chelsea Lipford Wolf: Hey, can I have these for my house?
Danny Lipford: Nope, because then I’d have to go and repair them all the time.
Since we’re working from the top down, the last step in the process is the ground lights. Once everything is in position, the guys begin wiring it temporarily. And, one by one, the lights start to come on so that we can see the effect as the sun starts going down.
And as it does, the three moon lights mounted in the two different trees begin to create a soft glow over the whole yard.
Do you see what they’re talking about as far as washing that wall?
Sharon Lipford: Oh, yeah. It gives it the elegant look I wanted. It looks really nice.
Danny Lipford: And the lights on the corners. You have those set to where if you’re out here, you’re not seeing any bulbs. There’s no bulbs I’m seeing at all.
Jim Burks: A little different than the way it was before, right?
Danny Lipford: Oh, yeah, definitely. Because you felt like, you know, deer in the headlight there with all the lights shining right at you. Like I said, kind of offended you, almost. So, and that’s, I guess, kind of safe, too, for anybody driving by.
Nick Burks: Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Danny Lipford: I assume because you’ve set all of these up right now, there’s some tweaking. What tweaking are you going to do?
Jim Burks: Adjust the fixtures maybe up a little bit so we can get all the light out as far as we can without seeing any light source. If you move them in so that the shadows are there, it makes those architectural features maybe double the distance because the shadows help accent the—
Danny Lipford: Oh, I got you.
Jim Burks: So we’ll be making those adjustments.
Danny Lipford: Well, it’s already a big change not having those runway lights we had up there. So it already looks a lot better.
While they’re fine-tuning the angle and the placement of these fixtures, let’s check in with Jodi for the Best New Product.
Jodi Marks: I love a smart house, and I love products that make my house even smarter. Take a look at this right here by Nest.
This is another addition to their family, this is the drop cam. This thing is awesome because it is so easy to install. When you open it up, you have the camera here, but you also have the cable that hooks into your computer, so that you’re allowed to program it through your computer.
It hooks up to your Wi-Fi. Then that cable doubles as the power cord. So, you plug it in, after you’ve programmed it. Now you can put it anywhere. You can put it on a table. You’ve got a wall mount on the back, so you can mount it on the wall if you need to. And of course, it swivels, so you can get it at the right angle that you like.
The features that I like about this is on the back here is a two-way speaker. So, if you’re monitoring your kids while you’re at work, you can talk to them. Or if you see your pet getting into the trash can, you can tell him no. Or if you have an intruder in your house, you can tell them to get out. But that’s a great, little feature.
Another thing is its got night vision, so you can see in the dark. And also, it has a zoom-in quality on the camera, so you can get in tight on someone’s face if you need that.
All in all, I think this is a great addition to your house to make it that much smarter.
Danny Lipford: After 23 years, my wife Sharon and I are finally getting some serious outdoor lighting for the landscape in front of our home. The fixtures went in yesterday, and we tested them last night. After a few tweaks, everything is just right. And now the guys are busy hiding the cables and making permanent connections.
You know, last night Sharon and I had a chance to come out in the front yard when it was completely dark and look at all of the lighting. And, boy, it’s just exactly what we want. Very elegant, very understated, but still sufficient enough to provide that safe walkway up the stairs and highlight a lot of the architectural features of the house.
While yesterday was all about climbing trees for these guys, today brings a lot of digging. They’re using a flat spade-like tool to pry open the sod several inches deep so that they can bury the hundreds of feet of cable that’s now stretched out all over the yard.
By doing this instead of digging out a trench, they’ve minimized the impact on the lawn. When you can barely tell that anyone has been there, it’s a good sign that the installation was a professional one.
While the old lighting in our front yard was anything but professional, the backyard is in a lot better shape. It just needs a little maintenance.
You still liking your little tool kit you got for Christmas there?
Sharon Lipford: Well, sure, if I can keep the tools in it. Some contractor I know keeps taking them.
Danny Lipford: I have no interest in those little kid-sized tools like that.
Sharon Lipford: Right, right.
Danny Lipford: All right, we should have come out here last night and looked at all of these lights. There’s so many lights in this backyard, and I can’t remember—I know one of them is out in this gazebo, this dirty gazebo out here. I tell you what, you got some of that black tape?
Sharon Lipford: I do.
Danny Lipford: Let me borrow your tape. And I’ll take a piece and put it on that photo cell up there to trick it into thinking it’s dark. There’s one out at least, right?
Sharon Lipford: Yeah, this one’s out. The rest did come on, though.
Danny Lipford: OK, all right, good, good. All right, let’s see what we got here. All right, this is low voltage, so we don’t have to worry about turning it off to work on it. Hey, look at that. Look at the water in there.
Sharon Lipford: Oh, that’s not good.
Danny Lipford: No wonder. We might not, we might be replacing this fixture. Look at that. You need to clean that off.
Sharon Lipford: OK.
Danny Lipford: All right, let’s see about this bulb. I bet this is going to be a mess. They both broke off.
Sharon Lipford: Oh, that’s not good either.
Danny Lipford: this is 12-volt, this low-voltage stuff. You don’t really have to worry about turning it off when you’re working on it. If this was, you know, 110, 120, you’d actually want to cut it off completely.
I think I’m going to need a toothpick. No, I don’t have food caught in my teeth. I need to clean these out.
Sharon Lipford: I don’t have toothpicks in my little girly tool box.
Danny Lipford: Could you head into the kitchen and get some toothpicks?
Sharon Lipford: Sure.
Danny Lipford: OK, good. You know one of the tricks that Nick was sharing with me about keeping the lenses clean on a lot of the landscape lighting is to use a real fine steel wool. And just kind of in a circular motion, just clean them up really well both inside and out.
And just use a paper towel to finish cleaning. It makes it a lot brighter, also. Makes it look a lot cleaner and newer.
Meanwhile, the guys out front are still busy making connections. While low-voltage cable can be buried directly in the ground, the line voltage will go through conduit, which is laid out and connected in the trenches before the wire is pulled through.
Now, this is a bit of a chore, but it’s the right way to do it. My toothpick may not be the right tool for cleaning the contacts on this fixture, but it works, and in no time, we’re ready for a brand-new bulb.
Yep. That’s it.
Sharon Lipford: Looks good, doesn’t it?
Danny Lipford: Cool, all right. And I’ve always heard never touch a bulb like this because of the oil in your hands and such. So I always make fun of you with those little gloves.
Sharon Lipford: So now you like my gloves, huh.
Danny Lipford: But maybe this’ll be a good time to try your little surgical gloves.
After a failed attempt or two to fit my hand into a lady-size glove…
I don’t like this.
…we finally make it work, and the bulb goes in without incident, and it works.
There we go. All right, we can look around and see what other lights that we need to fix now.
Sharon Lipford: Did I ever tell you about this nest up here?
Danny Lipford: That’s a bird’s nest, huh?
Sharon Lipford: Yeah, well, that’s what I thought. Last spring, I climbed up on this ledge and I got my face about this close, thinking I was going to see some eggs. And there were two eyes looking back at me, and it was not a bird. It was a squirrel. I was so scared that squirrel was going to jump on my head, I almost fell off the wall.
Danny Lipford: Well why don’t you get up there and peek in it again?
Sharon Lipford: Oh, no.
Danny Lipford: While we continue work in the wildlife sanctuary of our backyard, Nick’s crew is wrapping things up out front, and soon we’ll get to see the final results.
Danny Lipford: Recently, someone asked me, “Do you think I can build a retaining wall in my yard, even though I have never done it before?”
Well, that’s a great question and a very popular project to do out in your yard. You know, masonry is typically needed for laying brick or cinder block and stone. It can be learned by do-it-yourselfers, but it’s a fairly precise and demanding skill.
Using landscape blocks designed for dry stacking is a much simpler method for homeowners to master. And it’s ideal for simple projects like retaining walls and maybe raised planting areas.
Blocks designed for these walls often have a lip on one edge that helps position them. This design is great for retaining walls because it allows the wall to lean into the weight of the soil on the uphill side.
To prevent the block from moving from side to side, you simply add a little landscape adhesive—a type of construction adhesive designed specifically for this application—between the courses of block.
Unlike mortar in masonry, the adhesive doesn’t affect the level or height of each course, so it requires less skill to apply.
Danny Lipford: After 23 years, my wife Sharon and I decided to finally do something with the lighting in our front yard. Our last attempt was decades ago and it didn’t work out really well.
So we called in Jim and Nick from Pinnacle Lighting Group to plan and install a truly professional system. They did just that. And though I’m usually a fan of doing it yourself, in this case I was glad to watch an expert do it and learn through the process.
The lights they’ve added high up in the trees really do create the illusion of moonlight that washes the whole yard in light.
The ground lights that shine up onto the front of the house do just what Jim said they would. They add dimension and texture to every architectural detail. So none of that character that we love about our house is lost just because the sun went down.
Plus, the new lighting sets off the beautiful trees in the yard and provides the security we wanted without blinding our guests as they walk up to our door. Plus, all of this progress has motivated Sharon to get started sprucing up the yard early this spring.
That is going to take a lot of work to get all of that cleared out.
Sharon Lipford: Yeah, go get your gloves. I could use some help.
Danny Lipford: All right, looks like I got some work to do here. And that’s the way it is around your home. Whether it’s inside or out, there’s always work to be done.
We actually have a fair amount of work here to do in planting some grass sod as well as clearing out all of these beds. But I could tell you one thing, this place looks awesome at night.
I’m Danny Lipford. We’ll see you next week right here on Today’s Homeowner.
Don’t pet me like a puppy.
Sharon Lipford: This is what he does to me, I love you!