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How lighting design can take outdoor water features to the next level

Custom water features have the ability to transform outdoor spaces into beautiful, tranquil places. Done well, they can have a powerfully positive impact on the lives of their owners.

 Exterior lighting design is a key component.

Brian Kuchinski, owner of Peaceful Ponds in Charlotte, North Carolina, believes custom water features tap into people’s need for serenity and their love for natural beauty. Kuchinski has seen water features in action for most of his life: he and his father built their first pond together when Kuchinski was 11 years old, and he never looked back.

“My wife and I bought our home in 2005, and I broke ground on my own backyard pond before we emptied the moving truck,” Kuchinski said. “I love transforming natural landscapes, and I can appreciate the ability of ponds, streams and waterfalls to change my customers’ lives for the better.”

Kuchinski said he recommends lighting design elements as part all of his projects.

“I love lighting the water,” Kuchinski said. “It enhances the experience so much that there’s nothing quite like it.”

Here are four ways lighting takes custom water features to another level.  

1. Great lighting design helps create richer experiences.

Kuchinski said lighting is so integral to custom water features, he considers Peaceful Ponds a professional lighting company. From architectural landscape lighting to underwater lighting, the right fixtures elevate already beautiful outdoor spaces.

“When we position fixtures in a certain way, the light dances on the water and in the trees, and it illuminates the most interesting parts of the house,” Kuchinski said. “The effect is almost hypnotic.”

Outdoor lighting also helps homeowners enjoy their custom water features at night. “If you build a beautiful outdoor living space that’s only usable before sundown, your party will end pretty quickly,” Kuchinski said. “If you’re going to incorporate moving water into your landscape, by all means, light it up at night.” In the fall and winter, when days are shorter, lighting fixtures can be programmed with solar cells. These systems allow homeowners to set their preferences once and not think about them again.

2. Outdoor lighting boosts safety.

Outdoor lighting does more than make backyard havens look beautiful; it also makes them safer. 

“It’s always important to know where you’re going,” Kuchinski said. “If your outdoor living space includes even a single step, lighting becomes necessary for accident prevention. We like to incorporate recessed ledge lights in stairs as a subtle but effective way to help keep homeowners and their kids safe.

“Every outdoor space is unique, but heightening the hardscape with uplights and ledge lights is always a home run.”

Lighting protects people from more than scrapes and falls. Thoughtfully planned lighting schemes also discourage prowlers and pests such as raccoons and possums. “Lighting incorporated into ponds, waterfalls and other custom water features illuminates the yard as well as pathways, fences and walls,” Kuchinski said. “Fewer dark pockets mean fewer chances for humans to commit crimes and animals to cause damage.”

In some cases, mixing water and electricity can be disastrous, but LEDs and low-voltage landscape lights reduce the chance of fire or electric shock. LEDs produce little to no heat. Conversely, a 20-watt traditional housing light can scald people or ignite a fire if it contacts dry pine needles or other flammable items. LEDs and 12-volt lighting systems cannot harm people or fish, even if a live wire comes into contact with water.

3. With LED lighting, designers can create more compelling outdoor spaces.

Kuchinski uses LEDs almost exclusively in his custom water features and architectural landscapes. “Aside from the fact that it uses less energy than other sources, LED lighting is a natural building block of the experiences we want to provide,” Kuchinski said. “They provide beautiful, warm light, and they open the door to lots of interesting options.

“Today, I can illuminate an entire property using a simple, 100-watt transformer. Before LEDs became affordable and easily available, we relied on 600-watt, heavy-duty transformers to achieve some of our customers’ goals.”  

If he is upgrading an existing space with traditional housings, Kuchinski will often replace halogen bulbs with LEDs.

“If I’m hired to plant a tree, put in a paver patio or clean a pond, and I notice the customer has an antiquated lighting system, I’ll always offer to do an LED upgrade for the cost of each unit,” Kuchinski said.

When he starts with a blank canvas, Kuchinski always leans toward LEDs because of their creative flexibility. “I love color-changing RGB LED lights,” Kuchinski said. “They add so much interest, especially when we use them underwater. We can choose any color, and with lighting controls, we can make the lights flash, pulse and strobe – whatever fulfills the customer’s vision for the space.”

But as much as he appreciates bells and whistles, Kuchinski still loves LEDs that achieve the pure beauty of natural, warm lighting.

“There’s nothing quite like a clean, simple lighting design,” Kuchinski said. “Lighting should complement its environment, not overpower it.”

4. Hardscape lighting and landscape lighting complete the look.

If a yard includes any kind of elevation, hardscape lighting becomes an essential element. “We use recessed ledge lights in hardscape steps,” Kuchinski said. “And once we incorporate lighting into one feature, such as a rock wall, we can easily connect it to other elements such as attractive evergreens, red maples or dogwoods.

“Modern lighting technology makes it so easy to add layers of interest.”

Even after nearly 20 years in the business, Kuchinski maintains a sense of wonder. “Every day, I get to take a canvas and turn it into something amazing,” he said. My team and I love building works of art that have a positive impact on the lives of our customers. Great lighting helps us do that.”