The emotional impact of landscape lighting and water features

March 18, 2020 -  By
Water feature (Photo: Atlantic Water Gardens)

Appealing to feelings Lighting design often depends on the mood a client wishes to convey in a space. (Photo: Atlantic Water Gardens)

There’s more to a striking landscape design than carefully selected plants and hardscape materials. Water features and lighting can enhance a design with minimal effort and maintenance.

“Lighting is one of the biggest profit sectors of the green industry — there’s not a lot of overhead in it,” says Tommy Johnson, Ohio Valley Great Lakes sales manager for Hunter and FX Luminaire.

“If you’re out building a retaining wall or a water feature or an outdoor kitchen, you can just run wires as you go — and you’re there doing two or three jobs at once,” he explains. “You’re able to make more money than you would without adding lighting.”

According to Johnson, a key element of selling water features and lighting is appealing to the feeling that the client wants to convey in the space. “It’s really an emotional sale, not a technical sale — it’s not like something (the client doesn’t) see, like an irrigation system,” he says.

Johnson recommends not treating lighting as an afterthought. “It’s initiating the conversation from the very beginning of the project itself,” he says.

“As you’re walking through the site with the client, present (lighting) as part of the design. ‘We’ll throw a little bit of light on there,’ or ‘Wouldn’t that Japanese maple look beautiful with a splash of light?’ Having the conversation during the walk-through is how it needs to originate,” he adds.

Water features are also a high-value detail for landscape companies because of their ease of installation. Frayne McAtee, director of sales for Atlantic Water Gardens and Oase Living Water, says, “It’s very doable because you’re basically digging a hole, putting a basin in, putting some sort of a decorative feature over the top, filling it up with water and plugging it in.”

Some types of water features include fountains in basins, bowls, basalt rock columns or vases; formal spillways that include wall spouts, waterwalls or waterfalls; and water gardens or ponds.

McAtee says a basalt column water feature might take three or four hours for one or two people to install, with a cost of $3,500 to $5,000 to the client — not a large expense in light of an extensive backyard renovation.

According to McAtee, the calming effect of flowing water, water’s ability to dampen the sound of a busy environment and the water feature drawing more nature into the yard by attracting birds and other wildlife are some benefits contractors can share to upsell these features in a landscape design.

From upsell to upkeep

New LED landscape light fixtures have the benefit of not needing as much wiring as traditional lighting to install, Johnson says. Despite LED lights being easier to install and lasting up to 15 years in some cases, there’s still some upkeep involved.

“It’s just like a car — it’s only as good as the person who maintains it,” he says. He recommends visiting job sites once or twice a year to check fixtures, clean lenses, modify timing settings or adjust uplighting in cases where a planting may have grown or changed. Depending on the size of the project, a typical rate for that service might be $75 to $225.

“You can incorporate that into a spring and fall cleanup or a yearly check,” he says. “If they’re going with cloud-based technology and color-changing fixtures, they’ll spend a lot of money — and they’ll want to make sure that it lasts them 10-15 years. The only way you can do that is if you have a maintenance contract.”

For water features, new equipment and designs have made maintenance very simple and easy, McAtee says. Pond-free or disappearing water features are, by design, very low maintenance. And, the maintenance for open water features like water gardens or ponds can now easily be handled with self-cleaning filters and pond vacuums.

Overall, McAtee says that for a skilled design and install company, there’s a lot of opportunity. “If you want to be the expert in your area, there’s a lot of business for people who really dive into it and are creative and make beautiful features.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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