Keeping Lighting Environmentally Friendly

7250 Landscaping Designs

7250 Landscaping Designs

Get Instant Access

Why bother lighting your property? Lighting uses energy and involves a lot of high-tech gadgetry. Certainly, you don't need to do any lighting at all. It's supposed to be dark at night; that's why the sun goes down. Still, a bit of lighting can be very nice at times.

Lighting used frivolously is not so good, but a fixture used to illuminate a level change and keep people from tripping is a justifiable expenditure of resources. So is lighting for security, provided that it comes on only when needed. The keys to lighting a sustainable landscape are powering up your lighting the proper way and using just enough lighting (not more than is necessary).



An earth-building primer

Making walls, benches, and even houses from soil is an ancient art going back to the dawn of civilization. It appeals to the caveman (and cavewoman) in all of us. Soil is the most available material anywhere (why do you think they call it Planet Earth?). It's right underneath your feet, is easy to form into any shape, requires no outside energy other than human labor, and is as close to a state of nature as you can get. And when it's the end of the line for your earth-made bench or toolshed, it can just melt back into the ground it came from. With some protection from the elements (this is especially important in wet climates) and the use of an organic sealer, earthen structures will outlast you.

Here are a few variations on the theme:

  • Cob is soil, straw, and water that's hand-formed into nearly any shape. It's the simplest and most versatile of earthen materials, easily made into free-form and rectilinear shapes.
  • Adobe is the same material as cob, but it's formed into large brick-shaped units and then stacked and mortared together.
  • Superadobe is a special technique that uses long flexible tubes to contain the earthen material, forming it into sausages; then the sausages are stacked to form retaining walls, buildings, and other structures.
  • Rammed earth is soil that has been firmly compacted between two temporary wooden forms. When the forms are removed, the smooth, straight walls stand on their own.
  • Straw-bale construction uses a core of baled straw covered by earthen or other plaster. Strictly speaking, it isn't an earth-building technique, but it's a close relative.

You can use any of these methods to build freestanding walls, benches, chairs, small garden buildings, and sculptures. You can find a wealth of information out there to help: books, Web sites, workshops, and demonstration projects.

From an eco-friendly point of view, the two best ways to power garden lights are using a transformer to drop voltage to a safe, energy-efficient 12 volts, and using solar lights or powering the system from your home's solar panels.

Ar Solar is the most environmentally friendly lighting method, but the solar fixtures currently on the market don't deliver much light, especially if you ■ foj 1 place them in areas that don't get much sunlight during the day. As a result, low-voltage systems make sense for most people.

In addition to a transformer, a low-voltage system consists of some type of control to turn lights on and off, underground wiring to send power to the fixtures, and the fixtures themselves (see Figure 13-1). The transformer is installed indoors or outdoors in an out-of-the-way location that's central to the fixtures it serves.

The system controller can be a manual switch in the house (call an electrician to install it), a timer on the transformer that turns the lights on and off at set times, or a photocell that turns them on at dusk and off at sunrise. If you want to automate the system, try a combination of a photocell and a timer. This hybrid approach fires up the lights at dusk no matter how long or short the days are, making seasonal reprogramming unnecessary. And the timer can be set to shut things down at bedtime, eliminating the problem of lights staying on all night. This saves energy.

You can make many permutations on basic landscape lighting themes (think uplighting trees or downlighting pools of soft light from overhead), but path lighting and safety and security lighting get the stamp of approval from the sustainability gods.

You can accomplish safety and security lighting with solar-powered motion-sensing lights mounted on the house. Just avoid placing big spotlights where they could come on during outdoor activities and spoil the ambience by creating hot spots; they can also disrupt the natural cycles of local wildlife.

Getting Know You Coloring Sheet

Junk or art? Using waste-stream materials in your garden

The most sustainable way to bring art into the garden is to turn to the waste stream. So much great material goes to the landfill every day that you'll have no shortage of ingredients for your own amazing sculpture or decorative addition to walls, paving, or other structures. Here are a few zesty art pieces made from junk that I've seen in my travels:

  • Pathway edging made from bowling balls
  • A decorative planter made out of old car headlights mortared together
  • Paving embedded with found objects
  • Elegant bonsai pots made from old truck brake drums
  • Plants growing in old work boots (size 13D, if I recall correctly)
  • Totems assembled from coffee cans, doll heads, toys, and plastic fruit

With imagination, nearly anything can become art. To find materials, try thrift stores, garage sales, or dumpster diving. There are even stores and community workshops devoted to transforming society's castoffs into masterpieces; they often teach classes and sell materials from the waste stream. Consider the creative possibilities for every piece of junk you come across. If you lack the talent to come up with your own art, press your kids into service, or look around the community for local artists doing cool stuff with junk.

The two negative environmental impacts of outdoor lighting systems are energy use and light pollution. Light pollution is the leakage of manmade light into the night sky, hiding the stars from astronomers, disrupting ecosystems, and possibly causing health problems. Fortunately, neither problem is all that difficult to solve. Here's the skinny:

  • Select low-voltage LED (light-emitting diode) fixtures, which use a fraction of the power of conventional fixtures. Try solar fixtures where you don't need strong light, because they tend to produce a feeble display. Switch lights on only when you need them, and don't keep them burning all night. Or consider a timer and photocell as described earlier in this section. Of course, if your house is solar powered, you're home free.
  • The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has developed guidelines for outdoor lighting and makes recommendations on the best fixtures; visit for details. Keep wattages down, avoid directing light upward, use shields on all fixtures to keep the light pointed downward, and turn lights off when they aren't in use.

Find out more about developing a landscape lighting system in Landscaping For Dummies, by Phillip Giroux, Bob Beckstrom, Lance Walheim, and The Editors of the National Gardening Association (Wiley).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment