The right outdoor lighting can redefine a property, adding not only safety and security but expanding the use of the yard and beautifying the space. Whether starting from scratch or retrofitting an existing yard, the most important trend today is installing LED lights.

LED lights (light-emitting diodes) are energy-efficient, versatile and will reduce maintenance. Although installing LEDs is a bigger investment upfront, the savings will come with a reduced electrical bill and longer-lasting bulbs. LED light will last 50,000 hours compared with 2,000 to 4,000 hours for halogen lights, said Mike Geier, owner of Lightscape Designs. Replacing traditional outdoor lights with LEDs can net up to 85 percent in energy savings.

Technology is also transforming the way outdoor lights function. Settings can be changed from a smart phone or computer. “There are affordable ways to install an integrated system,” Geier said.

Most lighting turns on and off in zones, but new technology is adding even more control. The FX Luminaire Luxor ZDC Outdoor Lighting System allows for zoned lighting as well as dimming and multitude of colors.

Most homeowners prefer a soft, warm white light, Geier said, but other color choices are available. “There’s cool technology out there for control over color combinations,” he said. It’s a fun option for people who love to decorate for the holidays: red and green for Christmas, orange for Halloween and red, white and blue for the Fourth of July.

Outdoor lighting has three basic tasks: safety, security and enhancing the outdoor space. “Everyone has different security concerns,” Geier said. Some homeowners want lights all around the home, while others prefer just a light above a door. Lighting is essential in areas where people could trip, such as stairs. For beautification, he said, people want a “resort-like property.”

To get that effect, Geier said he looks at all the focal points, such as trees, fountains, pathways and even architectural features. The results should be dramatic, but the lights themselves should be discreet. That is one reason why hard-wired lights are still the preferred choice. Solar, he said, does not have the same reliability, quality, output or look.

“You want to try and hide the source of the light, so it’s often in a shady area,” he said. That will hinder powering the lamp with solar energy unless the panel is separate, which makes the unit more cumbersome.

LED strips are becoming increasingly popular in new landscaping. They can illuminate stair risers for safety or wrap around the bottom of cabinets or the grill in an outdoor kitchen for ambiance. Geier said he does not recommend wrapping trees because of the ongoing maintenance involved rewrapping as the tree grows. “It’s a really cool look, but go in with your eyes wide open,” he said.

Thanks to Costco, market or string lights have become very popular. “It’s a huge trend,” Geier said. These lights are great for small patios and pool decks.

“Lighting can really transform your outdoor experience,” he said. “Even if you’re inside the house, lighting can bring the landscaping indoors.”

By Pat Setter, The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS)