Path Lighting and Landscape Design
March 7, 2012 - 4:49pm
Our resident lighting expert, Randall Whitehead, shares his problems with path lights.

Q: Randall, during the 18 years I have been an interior designer, I have attended dozens of your presentations—absolutely the best in humor and information. You are just a genius, and your accomplishments so impressive. I have all of your books—well-worn.

I know pagoda-style path lights are not your favorite form of exterior lighting, but the ones at my new house have been mowed down by the landscape maintenance people, and I wanted to replace them with a light with a photo-sensitive cell on top. Do you have a source for these you could recommend?

A: That’s right, butter me up, and then slip in a question about a type of lighting that I really feel is anti-design. Path lights, especially the pagoda-style, do really nothing but draw attention to themselves. They visually overpower everything else in the yard and make the walkway look like a landing strip. But if you insist on using them, I can’t stop you. It’s like falling in love with the wrong person. Your friends may tell you that it’s a bad idea, but sometimes you need to learn from your mistakes. On a related note, I think that the landscape maintenance people were just making a design statement when they mowed them down.

Okay, on top of this request, you want path lights with a “photo-sensitive cell.” I think what you mean is a solar cell that transforms sunlight into power to run the lights. A photo cell normally just turns a light or group of lights on when the sun goes down and off when the sun rises. There are fixtures out there on the market that have little solar panels. Many aren’t great. The diminutive size of the panels doesn’t allow them to store up much power during the daylight hours, so the amount of time they are on at night is relatively short. Often they use LED sources that tend to be too blue/white in color.

I would much rather you place directional low voltage fixtures in the branches of trees to create a more natural type of path lighting; plus, it puts them out of the way of your lawn guys. 

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