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Outdoor Living: Heat and Light

With outdoor living projects growing in both scope and scale, lighting and temperature considerations require more attention than ever.

authors  | November 19, 2018

Outdoor rooms today often must function like indoor rooms. That is why outdoor kitchens are now equipped with identical capabilities as indoor kitchens. It is why audio and visual media on porches and decks are as good (or better) than those found in great rooms. The same is true with comfort in outdoor spaces. Remodelers today are putting even more thought and planning into light and heat considerations.

Qualified Remodeler research this year gauged the most desirable outdoor living products. It revealed varying levels of interest in many types of lighting—from security flood lights to accents like bistro-style string lights. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest need, the average scores varied—under-rail lighting (4.4), sconce lighting (4.7), solar-powered lighting (5.3), path lighting (5.9), spot-lighting (4.7) and accent lighting (5.7). Security and flood lighting scored the highest at 6.5.

Treve Johnson Photography

In short, it’s important to prioritize which products and how many to specify, says Lisa Parramore, a project designer at Harrell Remodeling in Mountain View, California. In recent years, the company has seen a spike in the number and scale of its outdoor living projects.

“I ask a lot of questions about entertaining,” Parramore explains. “And I ask what they want to see out their window in a scene, or if they care if it’s dark outside. I tell them the negatives of not including landscape lighting. You can end up with dark areas or dark corners that look very much out of place. But on the other hand, if you overdo it, it can start to look like Las Vegas with too much light. So I try to balance the lighting so that it’s definitely going to serve the needs in places where you’re entertaining. Then as you go out towards the edge of the property, a more scaled-down approach and maybe one LED fixture instead of a six. Bringing down the wattage the further away you get from the main outdoor living spaces is important.”

Bernard Andre Photography

Parramore, along with the company’s product specialist, Marian Carlomagno, act as a team when it comes time to design lighting for one of their many Northern California outdoor spaces. The first step, they say, is to establish which lights will be high-voltage and which will be low voltage. High-voltage lighting circuits are typically run to a central location such as a dining area under a gazebo, or to a covered pavilion that may require electricity for other needs. From there, two or three circuits are set aside for ambient lighting, especially in the dining area.

“When it comes to structures that you might dine under, ambient lighting is more important. That’s where a post can support a wall-mounted fixture or sconce, and the lattice or top of the trellis can support recessed lights in the beam,” Parramore says. “And further on from there, some people might string holiday lights up above. Sometimes they’re called bistro lights or market lights. So there are a variety of ways that those spaces for outdoor entertaining are lit up.”

Jennifer Donahue, 2018

In recent years, the color range of low-voltage LED options have grown dramatically. These low-voltage options also have the added benefit of not requiring permits and can be installed by anyone. Low-voltage wires need to be buried only 4 inches in depth, while high-voltage wires are required to be buried 18 inches and must be wrapped inside of an approved conduit.

Dean J Birinyi Photography

Jeff Titus, owner of Titus Built, LLC, in West Redding, Connecticut, reiterated many of the same low- and high-voltage considerations cited by Parramore and Carlomagno. And like Harrell Remodeling, his company is seeing a growing demand for large-scale outdoor living spaces, particularly those with covered spaces because of a colder eastern climate.

For one recent project, a three-seasons room was added to a grand-old mansion. It was designed to create living space that transitions from an outdoor pool area to the inside of the home. The room looks as if it is fully outfitted living room—and it is.

“I was hoping they would opt for glass to be added instead of just screens, so they could occupy the space almost year-round,” Titus says. “But they only wanted screens.”

Dean J Birinyi Photography

For Titus, a room like this naturally lends itself to natural light via skylights. Those are complemented by a series of “can” LED lights controlled by a dimmer. A central focus of the room is a dramatic direct-connect gas fireplace, which creates ambience and throws off heat when the temperatures drop after dark.

For the Harrell team, wood-burning firepits are a natural source of heat, but they are not permissible in California due to air-pollution standards. So their recommended heat sources are those that can be supplied by propane tanks or via a direct gas-line connection. The gas lines require permits and plumbers. Propane can be used in ubiquitous rolling heat lamps, or they can be stored inside cabinets to supply propane heaters that are installed. Electric linear heat lamps, which sometimes resemble bug lights, are less aesthetically pleasing with their grills and orange, glowing heat elements, but they get the job done, Titus notes. Decorative options for heating include stylish fire bowls or tabletop fireplaces that are typically supplied by a gas line.

Jennifer Donahue, 2018

Fire features is a huge category, Parramore explains. “I would say it’s a larger category than electric heat. When I talk to clients about these choices, I offer both low-tech and high-tech. Low-tech would be to purchase a fire pit from Home Depot. The next level up high-tech-wise would be to get something with a propane tank. Now the propane tank might fit in the appliance itself, or it could be hidden in a piece of outdoor furniture. Manufacturers of these elements are getting more creative about tables and stools that house a propane tank. Then there’s the high-tech convenience of having it plumbed in run from the gas line. That’s a little bit more expensive. It requires an inspection and trenching. So that’s where the investment starts to get higher, but there are plenty of people out there who think it’s worth it just to turn to get the key and have the fire come on.” | QR

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