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How Do I Create an Inviting Night-Time Entrance?

by Maureen Gilmer

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Q: Our new home has an awful, bright security light out in front. I'd like to create a more appealing entry after dark. Where do I start?

A: The curbside entry to any home is equally important, day or night, if visitors are to feel welcome. Unfortunately security lights sap both color and ambiance, making your yard feel more like a parking lot than a residence.

Entry lighting serves three main roles. First it illuminates your landscape. The same features that are points of interest in daylight should be highlighted at night. This is done using specific techniques. For example, a spotlighted Japanese maple appears flat. If lighted from directly underneath it becomes a three dimensional, glowing lacy canopy.

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Second, lighting indicates where your front door is located. If you've ever walked up to a dark house at night you know how uneasy you feel. Knowing your destination in the dark highlights the most important goal of any visitor—your warm inviting porch.

Third is safety, particularly important for the elderly and disabled. Proper lighting shows where to walk and points out locations of steps or turns. Light fixtures must cast enough light in the proper direction and intervals to call out these points with clarity. Inadequate lighting can lead to accidents and possible litigation.

A licensed landscape contractor will be well versed in installation of low voltage (12 volt) lighting, photo-cells and time clocks. He or she can do a fine job designing a strategy that turns your yard into a beautiful nocturnal statement. It takes a professional to choose the right fixtures and place them for the greatest visual benefit. The only requirement is a 110-volt outdoor socket to power the system.

You will need a weatherproof socket with a ground-fault interrupter (GFI) to guard against electrocution in wet conditions. Older homes rarely have GFIs and should be upgraded before installing any 12-volt lighting. You must hire an electrical contractor whenever there is work on 110-volt lines or sockets. The electrician will ensure safe installation of new outlets, move or upgrade old ones, and provide proper connection to the electrical panel.