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With a flick of a switch and some strategically placed outdoor house lights, you can roll back the darkness and put it all on display? Done right, landscape lighting makes the best of what you've got by highlighting your home's architectural features and drawing attention to prized plantings and trees. And though low-voltage lights receive one-tenth the power, thanks to a step-down transformer, there's no limit to the effects they can achieve, from ethereal moonlight beamed down from a tree canopy to a subtle glow that washes over a low garden wall.

Bulb: Determines a light's brightness, color, and beam width, as well as electricity usage.

Fixture Housing: Protects bulb from elements and helps shape light beam. Underlit trees and accent lights aimed at the facade create an inviting post-sunset atmosphere around this home.

For the most stunning effects, go with a landscape lighting specialist familiar with the various fixtures and ways to arrange them. Replace burned-out bulbs immediately so that others on the circuit aren't subject to life-shortening voltage overloads.

But homeowners willing to invest a little of their own time and energy can save a bundle by following the advice of Mark Piantedosi, owner of Commonwealth Landscape Lighting in Acton, Massachusetts. When illuminating foliage from above, place two 20-watt downlights as high in a tree as possible and point them so that their beams do not cross.

Position fixtures close to the base so that the beams bring textures into sharp relief. Highlight an element that deserves attention—such as a fountain, a tree swing, or an arbor—by aiming two or more lights at it.

The crossing beams reduce the harsh shadows that form when only one shines on an object. For more outdoor-lighting design ideas, visit FX Luminaire's "Learning Center" or consult the classic guide The Landscape Lighting Book, by Janet Lennox Moyer. Throws out a soft, diffuse light ideal for brightening flat facades, privacy fences, and garden walls.

These versatile, compact fixtures are often fitted with bulbs that project a narrow beam—good for precisely lighting house features, tree trunks, and garden structures.

The bulb hides inside a waterproof housing buried in the ground, so you get light without seeing a fixture. Use well lights to illuminate the underside of plant foliage or graze the base of a facade or wall.

These fixtures, often located high on trunks and branches, can be aimed at lawns, paths, or the tree's own foliage to create a moonlit effect. Choose durable copper and brass housings with LEDs—you don't want to be climbing to make repairs or replacements.

Typically casts a wider beam than a bullet—40 degrees or more—and is brighter than a wash light.

But LEDs have their drawbacks, chiefly their high initial cost—about $40 per bulb, compared with about $5 for a similar halogen.

Look instead for a warm-color temperature, about 3,000 K. And don't forget to look at light output, in lumens, to make sure you're getting enough brightness. But if you don't have a 20-amp GFCI-protected outdoor receptacle to plug the transformer into, hire a licensed electrician to install one.

To determine the watt-capacity of your transformer, add up the total wattage of all the lights you plan to install and multiply by 1.25. Timers are the most reliable automatic switches; the best ones adjust for seasonal changes in day length. Wireless keypads and fobs are convenient ways to manually control your lights and, unlike hardwired switches, don't require an electrician to install them. Attaching fixtures to one cable in a daisy chain can overpower the lights closest to the transformer and leave the last few power-starved and dim.

Upward-facing bullet lights placed about a foot from the foundation focus attention on a house's most appealing architectural elements. Similar to shown: Bullet accent lights with 20-watt halogens, about $62; Focus Industries

Here, tree-mounted downlights and upward-pointing well lights show off this tree's branch structure and invite people to come out and enjoy the swing. Shown: PortaleEnfer well light with 11-watt LED array, about $135 each, and TrellisSolare downlight with 20-watt bulb, about $65 each; FX Luminaire

To properly illuminate a bed, garden fixtures must be taller than the plantings, such as these succulents, that you want to showcase. Similar to shown: Terralight Tudor Series LVW6319 with 18-watt bulb; about $120 each; Hanover Lantern


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