CEDIA: Making Light Work of Outdoor Schemes
Good external lighting can crown a new build project. It can make the house more welcoming, more secure or, simply, more impressive and beautiful. Yet, external lighting throws up its own very particular challenges.
The best advice is to plan ahead to make sure that your external lighting scheme goes smoothly and integrates well with other technology in the project.
Consider the rhythm of a typical large building project. Building a house can be more draining than people think. It’s easy enough to picture the Grand Designs-style tour of the property at the end of the build; it’s not so inspiring to recall all the disasters and heartaches that might have beset the build along the way. So, it’s not uncommon for the external landscaping to be parked for a time while the homeowners stare at the moonscape outside their new house and take a deep breath.
We want to make our customers lives as hassle free as possible at this point, so working our way backwards let’s look at what we can do to make the external lighting a triumphant finale to the project.
Typically, plans for the external areas of a property remain incomplete when the build is on-going. If you’re fortunate, then there may well be plans for electric gates and some form of access control, potentially, also for patios and terrace areas near the house. But early on, take the opportunity to make sure you have plenty of access routes specified for cable. It’s important to have plenty of provision for wiring to areas for which there is not yet a plan, so that you can keep your external lighting solution as flexible as possible.
Flexibility might mean running additional Twin and Earth to locations that might require lighting but it shouldn’t be scattergun. No-one wants to be trying to retrofit lighting into hard landscaping so get involved in the discussions around those areas and plan them as you would plan the lighting in the cinema; how is the space going to be used, what fittings are going to be used and how are they going to be fixed, where is the control gear (drivers) going to be located?
Treat hard landscaped areas as external rooms and use soft planting areas as your hubs for flexible expansion.
It’s preferable to find internal locations for control gear but as you get further from the buildings that might not be an option. Soft planting areas offer opportunities to locate and conceal suitably IP rated boxes for drivers and to radiate out from those boxes to fitting locations. We’d suggest becoming as detail-focused about your external connections as you are about your 4K video distribution. An IP68-rated LED fitting is still going to fail very quickly if the connection between the fitting and the driver is not adequately protected.
Familiarity with the fittings being used is essential. Talk to manufacturers and distributors about the best way to install their fittings and quiz them on their other characteristics.
External installations can challenge our notions of scale so if a client wants a 5m palm tree lighting, make sure you’ve got sufficient output to do the job and, to be doubly sure, test as much as you can.
Understand your finishes and how the fittings are going to react over time in the particular environment they are in.
Understand your finishes and how the fittings are going to react over time in the particular environment they are in. If a fitting is going to develop a particular patina over time, then it’s best the client understands that. It’s also a much easier conversation to have at the specification stage.
There will be other people involved in the external work, the client, the construction team, maybe a garden designer or, perhaps, a specialist lighting designer. Design and specification of fittings might not be within the installer’s scope of works. Lighting control, however, may well be and will significantly benefit external lighting schemes.
Lighting control offers a way of managing the external lighting from different areas of the property without complicated multi-way switching arrangements. It brings the internal and external schemes together into a single interface and offers the reassurance and comfort benefits of integrating with access control, security systems, timeclocks and light level sensors.
Demonstrating the benefits of controlling external lighting can convince the most technophobe of homeowners. They might not want to control everything from their phone but they do want to come home to a secure and welcoming house. External lighting control can play a huge role in achieving these end goals.
Iain Shaw is Partner at Brilliant Lighting and a CEDIA Member.