Serving Toronto, Oakville, Mississauga, Newmarket, and the greater 905 area
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Jul 24 2016

What outdoor lighting does a luxury realtor prefer?

When a realtor from one of Ontario’s leading luxury real estate companies needs landscape lighting for their own home, whom do they select? The answer will not surprise you.

Chip Barkel luxury real estate broker in Toronto
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Chip Barkel is a realtor with Chestnut Park Real Estate Limited Brokerage, a distinct and highly-respected leading luxury full-service brokerage in the fast-paced Toronto real estate market. Chestnut Park is an exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, the only real estate network dedicated specifically to the marketing of luxury properties.

Needless to say, Chip could have selected any outdoor lighting provider. That’s why we’re very proud he choose Outdoor Lighting Perspectives when it came to high quality landscape lighting for his own property.

Chip even wrote in his own newsletter about his experience with Outdoor Lighting Perspectives, and the importance of outdoor and landscape lighting: http://www.chipbarkel.com/blog/light-property-life/

Here’s an excerpt from what Chip wrote about his own experience with our service:

“When we booked an appointment, we expected a visit with photos in brochures of what we were buying. Not so. Outdoor Lighting Perspectives arrived in time to setup a live demonstration before dusk. We got to preview what our landscape lighting would look like before we bought. I had no idea our property could look so amazing. Wow.”

We are also proud to have been welcomed into Chip’s “Circle Of Trust Referral Network”, which he uses to refer his clients and friends to service providers with whom he has built a relationship and trust.

Thanks, Chip! The feeling is mutual.

You can see Chip’s contact info, testimonials, and current listings at http://www.chipbarkel.com

Jul 21 2016

How long do outdoor light bulbs last?

Outdoor landscape light bulbs generally come in two kinds: LED and halogen. A quality LED outdoor bulb can have a “rated life” many thousands of hours longer than a halogen bulb, but what does that mean for real-world expectations?

Upgrade outdoor lights to LEDOne factor that affects the life of your landscape light bulbs is whether you run them from dusk to dawn or just from dusk until a fixed time (e.g. dusk to midnight).

Here are some rule-of-thumb rough numbers for LED outdoor lightbulb life expectations for landscape lighting in the Greater Toronto Area, based on rated bulb life, average dusk/dawn times here in the GTA, and our years of experience:

LED bulbs, Dusk to Dawn = 5-10 years

LED bulbs, Dusk to Midnight = 8-15 years

LED bulb packages often claim even longer lifespans than that, but many LED bulbs are using technologies that haven’t even been around as long as their lifespan claims, so everybody is just estimating at this stage. For instance, the LED bulbs we currently use claim an expected lifespan of 60,000 hours (25+ years if operated from dusk to midnight), but only time will tell.

One thing I’ve noticed is that LED bulb life claims keep going up and up, even when the bulbs themselves are unchanged; the only difference is the number of hours printed on the box, which makes me a little dubious. Also, even with longer and longer claimed lifespans, the warranties seem to stay at 5 years. Hmmm.

Turning to traditional long-life halogen bulbs (which claim anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 hours expected life), here are our expectations for their real-world working lifespans, again based on our years of experience:

Halogen bulbs, Dusk to Dawn = 1-2 years

Halogen bulbs, Dusk to Midnight = 2-3 years

Encapsulated and non-encapsulated LED bulbs
Encapsulated LED bulbs (left) last longer

Those of you with halogen bulbs are probably probably thinking “I’ve had my bulbs for many years and they still all work great!” But one factor to keep in mind is the way in which halogen bulbs fail. LED bulbs usually fail in one step (basically they work one day and fully stop working the next). On the other hand, halogen bulbs usually fail slowly over time. Sometimes they suddenly stop working if they are damaged or completely burn out, but more often they just slowly become dimmer and more yellow over time. It’s so slow you might not even notice, until you change the bulb and suddenly WOW it’s so much brighter.

So you might think your current halogen bulbs are working great, but you may be surprised at how much dimmer and more yellow they are compared to that first night.

That’s why we recommend changing halogen bulbs even when they are still technically lighting up at night. You should change halogen bulbs every year (for dusk to dawn systems) or at most every two years (for dusk to midnight systems). That way your outdoor lights will always look fresh and new.

Jul 19 2016

Outdoor lighting for stone paths

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking certain fixtures are only for certain applications. Deck lights go on decks, pond lights go in ponds, garden lights go in gardens, and so on. But of course, most fixtures can be placed in a huge variety of locations for an equally huge variety of effects.

One lovely example of such an effect is placing a solid copper path/garden light into a rock bed. The combination of natural elements (stone and copper) is truly lovely during the day, and it lends an organic “softness” to an otherwise hard area.

Darkened copper path light mounted in rock gardenThese photos are from two Greater Toronto Area area properties (one in Richmond Hill, the other in Kleinburg) where we recently designed and installed outdoor lighting. In both cases, copper path lights were used to great effect by mounting them among the rocks and stones adjacent to pathways.

At the first property (pictured above right, click for larger version) in Kleinburg, the nearby garden wasn’t a suitable light location due to a tricky corner and tight spacing of the hedge against the hardscape. But a BB07 with ts wide-effect lighting was the perfect solution when mounted directly into the rock bed itself. Not only does it illuminate the nearby pathway nicely, but it also highlights the fantastic texture of the stones, a perfect pairing in this great mix of hardscape and landscape.

Also, as you can see from the photo, we installed the pre-darkened version of this solid copper fixture. While copper will naturally develop a dark patina, in this case the bright shiny copper would stand out too much during the time before it darkened. That’s why we also offer any copper fixture in a pre-darkened finish. It’s still an unpainted fixture so there’s no worry about fading or peeling paint; just natural copper that has been darkened so there isn’t that initial period of bright shiny copper where it would be too distracting on the landscape.

Copper path light mounted in rocks to light path along the side of the houseAnother recent property where the same fixture was used to great effect in a rock bed (pictured right, click for larger version) was a home in Richmond Hill with a long hardscape-and-stone pathway down the side of the house leading to the back yard. There was no suitable option for lights attached to the house, and in this case both neighbours got to share the same lighting solution placed in the “river of rocks” running between the houses.

The result was a truly lovely effect combining safety, beauty, and the efficiency of lighting two paths at the same time.

Great lighting designs often incorporate an element of small surprise to delight the eye, and find a creative solution to lighting challenges.

Jul 18 2016

The amazing half-path/half-flood outdoor light

Recently the lighting designs for two different properties called for one of my favourite fixtures: the half-path/half-flood light.

A half-path/half-flood light looks like a normal pathway fixture during the day, but at night it’s something else entirely. With a standard path light, the effect shines the same in all directions. That’s great for gardens, walkways, and many other places. But a half-path gives off a semi-circle of light on one side, with flood effect on the other side. It’s the perfect way to highlight a plant, stone, statue, or other small feature adjacent to a path.

The “BB07F” is a solid copper half-path/half-flood light, and it’s amazingly versatile due to an adjustable-effect top made from solid spun copper. It’s available in many heights, and is hand crafted in the USA exclusively for Outdoor Lighting Perspectives.

I often use the flood aspect to highlight rocks and gardens along paths. But recently, I used the flood side of the half-path fixture to create shadow shapes and a burst of extra illumination on fences at a pair of lovely properties in the Greater Toronto Area.

Poolside lighting in Richmond Hill with half-path/half-flood outdoor lightsFor the first property, the BB07F half-path lights were used to line a pool as part of a back yard lighting design in Richmond Hill. (See picture to right; click for larger version.) Fence mounted lights were not suitable due to a tricky eye-line problem with some seating areas. However, there was enough space in a rock garden surrounding the pool that I could place half-path lights there without creating any trip hazard.

This resulted in a beautiful effect of lights surrounding the pool and also reflected in it, with lots of light cast down onto the walking area around the pool. A great combination of beauty and function. Also, the half-path lights make a lovely shadow pattern along the fence to add visual interest.

Guests seated on the other side of the pool are treated to a pretty light show with unique shadow shapes, ripples of light reflected in the pool, and no glare.

Garden and fence lighting in Toronto with a half-path/half-flood fixtureA second property, in downtown Toronto, had a small garden near a pathway but still some distance from any other suitable fixture location. It was important to down-light the path since it was close by the main entrance to the yard and also near some concrete steps and a pool. Safety first!

A standard path light might have made the area safe to walk, but not quite comfortable due to the “looming” darkness surrounding it. Once again the half-path saves the day! (See picture to right; click for larger version.) The path effect from the half-path light illuminated the gardens and pathway perfect, and the flood effect side not only gave a burst of extra light for the garden but also washed a large area of the fence with inviting light. A single fixture was perfect to light the garden, the path, the fence, and to mark the edges of both the stairs and pool. What an incredible combo, all from one fixture.

Now the path is comfortable to walk, and the garden and fence make a beautiful highlight to enjoy from both the pool and inside the home.

Technical note: in both of these cases, the fixture used was the BB07F-24, a solid copper half-path/half-flood light with a 6.5″ spun copper top and a 24″ copper shaft. Many other sizes including custom heights are available. Contact us today for a free on-site lighting consultation and estimate to see how this or any other fixtures can help you see your own home in a new light.

Jul 14 2016

The up-side to up-lighting

Up-lighting your home has many advantages over installing “pot lights”. Not only do you avoid having holes drilled into your house, but there are many aesthetic advantages too.

Soffit lights, usually called pot lights, were popularized back when homes had large, deep soffits. That let the light source be located far from the wall, for a wide “wash” of light. But modern homes usually have slender, narrow soffits, which means the pot light bulb is too close to the wall resulting in a “hot spot” high up.

LED Outdoor Up-LightingPot lights also draw attention to themselves. The bright dots of light say “look at me!” instead of “look at this lovely home.” In the industry, we call that “lighting with ego.” Outdoor lights are supposed to highlight something other than themselves. Up-lighting hides the source of the light, so all you see is beautiful architecture.

Up-lighting also lets you vary the distance of the fixture from the home. They can be placed close for tall dramatic shadows, or farther away for subtle textures, or a mix of distances to create texture and variety. They can be either evenly or organically spaced, depending on what suits the home. Up-lighting lets you have a true lighting design, not just evenly spaced dots of light.

Another huge advantage is bulb changes. All bulbs eventually fail, even long life LEDs. Would you rather change an easy to reach bulb on the ground, or one that is 20+ feet up? And what if the bulb fails in snowy February? It’s amazing how many homes with pot lights have one or two lights out, spoiling the design, all because it’s too hard to reach the bulbs.

Up-lighting lets your eye focus on unique details, such as this sloped roof and stone chimney.Sometimes pot lights are the only option, due to hardscaping or other factors that prohibit up-lighting. If so, you may have to settle for pot lights, in which case your front yard landscape lighting can mitigate some of the “big white dots” aspect of pot lights and draw the eye downward to interesting landscaping features.

But in most cases up-lighting is both more practical and preferred. I strongly recommend you consider up-lighting instead of pot lights for a more convenient, more versatile, and more lovely lighting design for your home.

Jul 11 2016

Be picky when picking a transformer

Since LED bulbs use so much less electricity than traditional halogen bulbs, the overall electrical draw of typical outdoor lighting systems has gone down a lot. That makes very small cheap transformers tempting to use. After all, why install a 300W transformer if you need less than 50W total for your lights?

Well, here’s why:

There’s a lot more to a low voltage transformer than just it’s total power rating. And cheap, low-wattage transformers are cheap for reasons beyond just lower quality materials. They also skimp on important features.

Let’s compare 3 popular styles of low voltage transformer, and see if I can talk you out of considering 2 of them.

Outdoor Lighting Transformers With Manual Dial TimerOne style of low cost transformer is the “egg timer” style such as the one pictured above. These typically are black painted metal, which means they eventually fade, peel, and rust is a concern. I can’t even estimate how many rusted, broken versions of this kind of transformer we have removed and replaced from properties (none of them were originally installed by us).

A more immediate concern is their integrated manual timer. These plastic rotating timers have a lot of downsides: they don’t change for daylight saving time, they aren’t smart enough to know when dusk/dawn are, and they get out of synch whenever there is a power outage however brief. Also, if you rotate them the wrong way the plastic “gears” inside will break, effectively ruining your transformer.

They often put out “noisy” current, bouncing over and under 12V, and usually have just a single tap (connector for your wires) which is not just awkward for installing but also means you can’t “amp out” or balance the electrical load among your various lights and zones.

Basically, that style of transformer is a perfect example of paying very little and getting what you pay for.

Outdoor Lighting Transformers With Digital TimerAnother common style of low voltage transformer is the “digital integrated” style, like the one shown above. These are also typically made of black painted metal to keep costs down (with all the downsides as above).

This style avoids the plastic egg timer problem by including a basic digital timer, but again it’s an integrated timer which can be a point of failure that ruins your complete transformer. This kind of timer is also highly limited, with only “stay on for X hours” settings rather than specific time control, which is inconvenient especially in Canada where our dusk times vary hugely from Summer to Winter. Most people want their lights to come on at dusk and go off at a fixed time, for instance midnight, but if that’s what you want these transformers can’t provide it.

Speaking of dusk, these transformers usually include an “electronic eye” to turn on when it gets dark, but that means the transformer has to be placed somewhere in sunlight and cannot be hidden away inside sheds, garages, or under decks where they’d be out of sight. Also, these electronic eyes can be fooled by leaves falling on them, or car lights shining on them. They are prone to fail, and even when they work they are inconveniently unpredictable.

In short, this is a low cost style of transformer were you get (barely) what you pay for, with lots of inconveniences.

Both of the above styles share another big downside: they only have 12V connectors, and usually just one of them. You might think that’s okay, since outdoor lights are typically 12V. However, the longer the wire the more resistance, which drops the voltage. It’s important to be able to start the voltage higher at the transformer so that by the time it reaches the actual fixture it’s at 12V. That means you often need multiple lines starting at different voltages, so that across your landscape each fixture receives the correct final voltage.

Stainless Steel Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting TransformerA third style improves on the above in all ways. These are stainless steel, so no worries about paint fading or rust. They have multiple taps from 12V up to 15V or more, so each fixture gets the right final voltage. Plus they have have low voltage circuit breakers for safety and to protect the transformer from electrical shorts.

And instead of an integrated timer they have a place to plug in a range of smart timers. That means you can select the right kind for you, including low cost digital timers that understand dusk, dawn, times, self-change for daylight saving, include a 7+ day battery backup, and more. Plus because they use an internal, removable timer, then if the timer fails you haven’t lost your whole transformer. Also, such smart timers know when dusk and dawn are without the need for an electronic eye, so you can have “on at dusk” settings but still tuck your transformer into a shed, garage, or under a deck. You can also seamlessly add these transformers to a complete home automation system. And you can upgrade the timer as your needs change.

This style of stainless steel professional transformers cost a little more than the cheap black ones from big box stores, but their long-life, safety, expandability, and convenience are more than worth it.

Those are some of the many reasons why you should not settle for a low quality black painted transformer. And remember, even if a transformer is rated at 300W or more, it’ll only draw the actual electrical needs of your lighting system. So it is not wasteful to have a transformer with a higher capacity than you currently need — and a lot less wasteful than disposing of or recycling a whole transformer because of a broken plastic egg timer!

It certainly pays to be picky when picking your transformer.

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting Transformers

 

 

Jul 08 2016

Lumens lies

There’s a sneaky secret in outdoor lighting that the bulb manufacturers don’t want you to know: the way “lumens” is used for light bulbs is effectively a meaningless term.

To explain that, let’s talk about candy bars for a moment. If one candy bar weighs 300 grams, and another one weighs only 200 grams, then we can be sure the 300 gram one is heavier. Labels can’t lie about the weight, and “grams” has a specific real-world meaning.

This is because a “gram” is one of the International System of Units, which also includes things like “second” for time and “ampere” for electrical current. This way, we can all agree how long a second is, and that there are 60 of them in an hour, etc. No funny business.

But imagine if “grams” wasn’t a standard. One candy maker could say their candy bars were 600 grams, but you wouldn’t really know what that means. Would a 600 gram “Chocolate Monkey Bar” be more or less than a 400 gram “Bubblelicious Yummy Snack”? You couldn’t tell, and it wouldn’t be fair.

Money LightbulbWell when it comes to light bulb packaging, “lumens” might as well be a made up word too. One brand’s “300 lumens” might be less bright than another brand’s “200 lumens”, and both depend on the shape of the bulb, the nature of the lens, and even the fixture it the bulb gets put into.

Lumens does have a fixed specific meaning (in fact it’s a “derived SI term”), but in real world use there’s no way to know how bright a fixture of a certain amount of lumens will actually appear in practice. So it may as well be a made up word.

For outdoor lights in particular it’s a tricky thing, since what we really care about is how bright a given surface or area ends up appearing to a viewer, not how much light is sent out in all directions from a bulb. A directional lamp (such as a spot light) will appear much brighter to your eye than one that casts a general area effect (such as a post light).

Even things like lux (lumens per meter) and foot candles (lumens per foot) can be slippery characters when it comes to package claims too. These terms should be a much more accurate way of expressing how bright a light will appear to you. But alas the reality is the output from most bulbs is not “measured” but just “calculated” (which really means “guessed at”).

All these words can still often be useful when comparing the brightness of one bulb to the next, but really only when comparing two bulbs of the same kind, from the same manufacturer, in the same light fixture, shining on the same surface. And even then, it’s not like you can count on anything other than “higher means brighter”. You can’t assume that 200 lumens will appear twice as bright as 100 lumens, only that 200 will look brighter than 100. Probably.

So the next time you are shopping for light bulbs, be skeptical of brightness claims. That no-name bulb with “500 estimated lumens” might not be such a bright idea after all.

Jul 06 2016

Add shadow effects with “attraction lights”

One way to add visual interest at night to a garden or pathway is through the use of an “attraction light”, which gets its name from the fact that it attracts the eye.

Custom designed path and garden lights
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Most outdoor lighting effects are cast in areas and shapes: circles around path lights, arcs of light across walls, cones of light up into a tree, etc. But an attraction light creates a shadow play, introducing new shapes and lines at night for a stunning effect.

Attraction lights come in many sizes and shapes, from as small as 13″ up to towering pillars that can form structural shapes or archways.

All of them work in the same basic way: a bulb mounting inside the fixture at the top shines downward, illuminating the cutouts on the fixture itself as well as casting shadows outward in all directions.

The shapes cut out of the fixture dictate the shadows you get, and everything from organic vine designs to angular geometric shapes are available. Another great effect is to have the street number or the name of your property cut into the attraction light, which gives you both a beautiful and functional driveway marker.

Jul 04 2016

Why are outdoor lights made of copper?

Copper is one of the traditional metals used to make high quality outdoor lights. But why? Is there any advantage to copper lights over aluminum ones, or over other metals?

There certainly is! The biggest one is rust.

Copper path lightContrary to what you might have heard, aluminum rusts. So does steel and the rest of the “base metals”. The only truly rust-free metals are what are called the “nobel metals”, which resist corrosion and oxidation in moist air. The nobel metals include things like gold, silver, and platinum, but as you can imagine those are too costly to make sense for outdoor light fixtures.

Luckily, there’s another choice that’s perfect: copper.

Copper is a nobel metal, so it won’t corrode, and it’s also soft enough to be crafted into an amazing variety of forms to direct and shape the light effect.

And while copper won’t corrode it will take on a lovely dark patina, ideal for vanishing into your landscape. Invisible during the day, beautiful lighting at night. But unlike rust, the patina on copper can be instantly wiped away back to a bright shine with any copper polish (or even just citrus and a bit of elbow grease!).

The best part is, unlike with painted aluminum or plastic lights, with copper fixtures you get a naturally dark fixture with no paint to peel, fade, or discolour over time, and no worry that the fixture will corrode to let water in causing the light to fail.

That’s why copper is often the metal of choice for an outdoor light that you can install once and enjoy for the life of your home.