Lighting Can Create Nightly Wonderland

Magic: It Seems To Occur Nightly, About The Time The Outdoor Lights Come On.

November 16, 2003|Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Chuck and Mary Kay Nabit embarked on a 12-month renovation of their historic mansion last year, a big part of the work included an outdoor lighting design to showcase their home and its landscaping.

More than 100 lights shine on trees, walkways and gardens around the Nabits' 3-acre property in Blythewood. Lighting set in the ground also was used to highlight the front facade of the home. The $28,000 low-voltage lighting system is designed so the couple can enjoy their outdoor landscaping at night.

"It makes the house and grounds in the evening as attractive and interesting as they are in the daylight," said Chuck Nabit, the owner of a Baltimore investment company.

The outdoor lighting business has grown with the recent real estate boom, as homeowners are spending more money than ever to spruce up their homes. The trend is being fueled by elaborate landscaping designs and a desire for homeowners to extend their inside living space to the outdoors. And exterior lighting, real estate appraisers said, can improve the curb appeal of a home for sale.

Whether it's being able to view their landscaped yards through windows at night, entertain outdoors or highlight a pool or pond, many homeowners are discovering the aesthetic advantages of illuminating the exterior of their homes. Security and safety also have played a large role in the growth as homeowners use exterior lighting to make steps, walkways and driveways visible at night.

The cost of outdoor lighting coincides directly with how much space the homeowner chooses to highlight, but a professionally installed lighting system can start as low as $800 to highlight a few trees to about $10,000 for an elaborate lighting scheme on a 1-acre property.

A starter package for the front of a home, professionally installed, will run about $1,500 to $2,000. There also is the do-it-your-self route that can cost as little as $25 for a lighting kit that includes 10 pathway lights to brass fixtures that run more than $100 each.

Electricity costs for such systems varies depending on the lighting design's size. The American Lighting Association estimates that average energy costs to light a small garden would total about $36 a year.

"The trend is driven by the fact that people are spending more money on home improvement in general. And when you invest a fair amount of your money on landscaping, it's kind of sad that you can only enjoy it half the time," said Thomas Fenig, president of Charlotte-based Outdoor Lighting Perspectives. "Outdoor lighting, when it's done properly, can literally double your enjoyment."

While outdoor lighting does add to your home's value, appraiser Tom Pirritano who owns Ellicott City-based Pirritano and Associates, says it's difficult to assign a dollar figure to the increased value.

"It does add value, but it's an inherent value. It creates curb appeal for the property," Pirritano said. "We do not assign a value in an appraisal to landscaping because if the new homeowners don't take care of it or take it out the collateral would be gone."

Real estate experts insist that most potential buyers decide within the first few minutes of arriving at a home whether or not they like it. They typically spend the remaining time during the home visit strengthening their feelings about the house. That's why so many of them talk about curb appeal and how a house looks at first glance.

The key to successful outdoor lighting, experts in the business agree, is to remember that less is more.

"The biggest problem I see is people tend to overlight their property," said Bob Carr, owner of TLC Inc. in Gambrills.

Carr started TLC as an irrigation business in 1981. By the early 1990s, he saw interest in outdoor lighting beginning to mushroom. Now he estimates that about 40 percent of his revenue is from installing outdoor lighting.

"People come home - especially at this time of year - and it's dark outside," Carr said. "With lights, you can create all different illusions."

Susan Nelson, who owns the Baltimore area franchise of Outdoor Lighting Perspectives with her husband, Ed, said the company installs about 25 lighting systems each month.

"Outdoor lighting has really come to the forefront in the last eight to 10 years," Susan Nelson said. One of the most popular trends, she said, is architectural and landscape lighting. It's used to showcase the home and grounds well after the sun goes down.

The American Lighting Association said lighting an area correctly requires homeowners to key in on architectural features. The group suggests uplighting an arbor, archway or facade, illuminating water in a pool or pond with submersible lights or silhouetting a tree or bush by placing lights below or behind them.

The group also suggests concealing the light source behind shrubs, tree branches or other foliage, unless the fixture is a decorative element. The lighting should be soft and mimic moonlight on the property.

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