12 February 2012
Let There Be Light
Just installed some new low voltage landscape lighting this past weekend to ease our way through the front yard. Frankly, it's actually pretty bright on many nights here in the city, particularly when there are clouds reflecting all the city lights. But still, our front stairs can be treacherous in the dark, and it was a safety imperative. We don't want our East Side Pies pizza delivery folks to hurt themselves, now do we? That pizza belongs in my belly, not strewn across the pea gravel.
The set up
We opted for 3 simple lights along the main path; one to light the stairs and two others to light the corners.
We also buried an up-light to shine on our custom steel house numbers on the limestone wall. It was way too bright with a 20 watt bulb, so we hunted down a lower wattage 10W halogen at the Light Bulb Shop up on Burnet. (We don't need planes landing in our front yard...just a little visibility.)
John also rigged up this old Japanese lantern that we purchased long ago at a Wimberley Market Day with a landscape light that he took apart and re-purposed. It's still a little bright, in my opinion, but we'll work on that.
Why didn't I use solar?
For several years, we tried to use solar lights to light the paths. It seemed like the right thing to do, but they consumed battery power fast and never really stayed charged in our shady yard. My brother - who owns a successful solar installation business in Seattle called A&R Solar (if you're in those parts) - and I talked at length about whether solar lights were more or less eco-friendly than hardwired low voltage lights. Though our power mix in Austin is largely coal, which is dirty, he said that the hardwired, low-voltage, longer-lasting lights were probably the best way to go in this case. They don't use much power, and batteries and throw-away solar lights might not be as eco-friendly as we think.
What about wildlife?
Garden lighting can also be very bad for wildlife, and I am really conscious of that. Artificial lights throw animals off their life and mating cycles. I love moths, and everyone knows how they are drawn to their deaths by lights. But it effects frogs, night mammals, owls, sleeping birds, and even plants. Here's a neat presentation on that by Travis Longcore with LA's Urban Wildlands Group.
So, we opted for as few lights as we thought we could (no glamorous uplit trees for me, thank you) and wired them up so that we can turn them off and on with a switch. The idea is that we will only turn them on when we need them - like when we know people are coming over - not daily. We'll see. It's always a balance.