Destination: Documentation

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Lighting, for many builders, is among the last considerations for a backyard pool project. It's thought about only after the hole's been dug, the pool's been put in and plumbed, and it's been surrounded by sod or cement. Sometimes, this last-minute lighting will be as rudimentary as a floodlight on the side of the garage blasting the backyard. Other builders use a more subtle approach, with an uplit tree or two and light placement that's meant to highlight certain backyard elements. But even some of the best builders have little or no training in lighting, and most don't fully understand its importance in a landscape setting, according to Janet Lennox Moyer, an internationally renowned lighting designer who will be making her second speaking appearance at the AQUA Show in November. 

Even the principals of the Genesis 3 Design Group, who recruited Moyer to speak at the show last year, needed a little guidance in lighting their own projects, she says.

"They had done some lighting in their careers as pool designers — or watershapers — but they realized they didn't know everything that could be done," Moyer explains. "And the more they were seeing what could be done, the more they realized that lighting design itself is a really big area, and they wanted to bring the highest level of information not only to themselves but also to the people they teach.

"What I presented at AQUA last year was general conceptual design. This year I'm going to talk about documentation in landscape lighting, and people that are just beginning in the field can learn a lot from that, too."

Documenting Change

"Documentation, in my opinion, is extremely critical because landscape projects never end," Moyer says. "Even though a pool or water feature is a relatively static thing, the landscape around it is not."

For example, say you put in a Roman-ended pool that's 18 by 36 feet. Ten years later, the pool won't have changed (probably), but what about the landscaping around it? That river birch sapling the landscaper planted will easily have doubled in height and spread, and if it's lighted, that will need to change as well.

"Landscaping is changing from one season to another, it's changing from one year to another as the garden plantings mature," Moyer says. "And it changes as the owners and the garden designers decide to add this or change that or move this plant or add a water feature over here or a sculpture over there.

"And because the nature of the landscape is continually changing, people need to pay attention to the impact of all that change on lighting and how lighting needs to respond to all those changes. So therefore, understanding what's there in a lighting system becomes critical, and that's where documentation becomes really important."

According to Moyer, there are three basic types of lighting documents: conceptual-design documents, which are used to show clients what you plan to do with the lighting; contract documents, which show what needs to be purchased and installed and can be used to get competitive bids from lighting contractors; and record documents, which show what was actually installed. Even builders who work with landscaping contractors should know something about these documents, why they're important, and how to use them. For builders who do their own landscaping and lighting, they're especially important to be aware of and understand.

Conceptual Design

In a conceptual-design document, you want to show a client what you're thinking about in terms of lighting, such as the fixtures you plan to install and what they're going to be illuminating. It's similar to and can even be incorporated into a pool design or landscape design rendering.

"You want to show the techniques you're going to use and how those go together in a project, as well as the kinds of fixtures, whether they're low voltage or standard-voltage, incandescent or high-intensity discharge, etc., along with a preliminary budget," Moyer explains.

For the average builder, this may seem a bit beyond them. No need to worry, Moyer says.

"It can be a simple hand-drawn sketch all the way up through a very sophisticated CAD drawing, and in the class I'm going to show essentially the whole gamut," she says. "So one of the first things is to not be intimidated by the idea that you have to produce drawings or documents, because it can be very simple.

"And I'm going to show how you document what lighting you want to be installed so that either your team, if you're installing it, or the contractors that are installing it for you understand what you'll be purchasing and installing where and how they're supposed to be connected to transformers, for example."

"People can just pick the ways they're most comfortable with," she says. The important thing is to get something down on paper.

Contract Documents

For the contract document, you need to take things a step further and fill in the details of the planned lighting installation. A contract document will show exactly what fixtures will be installed and exactly where, along with information on the transformers used, the control system, what needs to be purchased and how it needs to be installed.

It's at this point that it's especially important to have a little foresight.

"You have to look at ways to show not only what's going to be done today, but how to make it easily updatable for the future," she says. "And example of that would be when I'm thinking about lighting, I will think, OK, the tree that I'm lighting here — this little Stewartia for example — is only 10 foot tall today, but it's going to be 60 foot tall eventually, so I'm going to size my wiring and my transformer to accept either more wattage in the fixtures we put in initially and/or the addition of more fixtures to keep that tree looking the way we want it to over time."

Record Documents

A record document is, essentially, a continuation of the contract document. It has all the elements of the contract document, but it's continually updated to show what changes are being made to the landscape and or pool and the way it's lighted.

"After everything is installed, you have to make sure that these documents are updated with all the changes that occur, and lots of changes occur due to decisions that are made as the garden is installed and about the lighting when it's being installed.

"Record documents are only as good as the information that's on them, so they have to be complete and accurate and have to be updated all the time."

Moyer returns to the example of the Stewartia. It's one thing to anticipate its growth, but what about other potential changes. "It may be that the tree doesn't do well or it dies, so the client takes that one out and puts another tree in," she explains. "And if it is the same tree, say the same genus, species and variety, it still is going to have different characteristics because each plant grows differently from another one.

"One of the examples where it becomes really important is, let's say we've got that Stewartia, and in the beginning we put in three fixtures with 20-watt lamps," she adds. "A couple of years later those 20-watt lamps are not strong enough to light the tree, so we up it to 35-watt lamps.

"Looking at the transformer schedule, we can see that the size of the transformer is 300 watts. We had three fixtures to begin with, that was 60 watts. Now we're making it 105 watts, so we're fine." Five years later, however, the tree may have grown to the point where not only are the 35-watt lights not bright enough to light the tree, but three fixtures won't get the job done either.

"So we go back to the transformer schedule (on the record document), which says, OK, right now you've got 105 watts on it, and you can go up to 300," Moyer explains. "So not only can you increase the wattage in your existing fixtures, but you can add fixtures easily. If we hadn't planned that from the beginning, then the garden would have to be torn up to add the fixtures later, and another transformer might have to be added."

Perhaps that's the most important reason for good planning and record keeping. A lighting design that doesn't take into account inevitable change could result in not only having to rip up a client's backyard, but it will end up costing them more, too. On the other hand, it doesn't cost any more to have a 300-watt transformer sitting unused but ready for future lighting upgrades.

"For the customer to buy it at that point and have it be ready is a real benefit that we can offer our clients," Moyer says.

Despite the obvious benefits of documentation, it's often not done, according to Moyer. "Typically on a landscape there are no existing drawings," she says. "So one of the things I'm going to show people in the class is that we can produce documents that can help everyone understand what we're doing with lighting relatively simply.

"It's something you're going to have to learn. One of the first things is to not be intimidated by it. It doesn't have to be difficult."

By The Book

Even if you're not able to be at Janet Lennox Moyer's session on documentating landscape lighting at the AQUA Show, you don't have to be, well, in the dark, about the subject. The second edition of Moyer's The Landscape Lighting Book was recently released by John Wiley & Sons. The 402page tome includes a chapter on documenting and installing landscape lighting.

The book goes well beyond that, too. It covers the entire process of lighting a client's backyard, providing detailed descriptions of everything including project development, composition, materials and technology and lighting applications.

The last section of The Landscape Lighting Book provides a primer on the elements of lighting design, guiding the reader through plant selection, seasonal changes in gardens, sculpture, water features and more, giving detailed instructions on lighting for each element.

The book's overall tone is on the technical side (it's no Lighting For Dummies ), but Moyer stresses that what's covered is within the ken of most pool builders who have a little familiarity with landscaping and lighting.


The Landscape Lighting Book By Janet Lennox Moyer John Wiley & Sons ISBN: 0-471-45136-3

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