Turf Magazine - July, 2014

FEATURES

Deck the Halls

5 big holiday lighting trends that delight customers
By Tom Crain


Do you desire uniqueness? Many steel structures can now be outlined using lights with a magnetic base.

In recent years, holiday lighting and decorating has become an attractive supplement for landscape firms that traditionally have been shutting their doors after the last fall cleanup or waiting for the snow removal season to get going. It's still a relatively new service in most markets.

A recent industry white paper claims that 63 percent of landscape companies that offer the service have adopted it within the past five years. Also, as the U.S. economy continues to improve, commercial as well as residential clients are spending more on holiday decorating than ever before. Indeed, decking the halls has become a booming service extension for landscapers.

Certainly, customer service, creativity, installation proficiency and electrical safety are all important factors in landing contracts, yet keeping up on the most recent trends will go a long way in positioning yourself as an expert and wowing your customers.

There's no better way to keep up on holiday lighting and decorating trends than by tuning into the buzz on holiday lighting trends in the blogosphere. From the environmentally-conscious solar power and LED lighting options to the art of "outlining" to simplistic sophistication to rustic yet classy nostalgia to novelty high-tech installations, holiday lighting and decorating trends have never been more vibrant.



Adding discrete splashes of color to an otherwise white scene creates focal points and adds uniqueness to a residential display. In the end, most clients want a unique display.
Photos courtesy of Inaray.

Trend One: LED lighting

"Once expensive for home use, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs have one of the most affordable, energy efficient and dynamic lighting options available," says Todd Peace, president of Inaray outdoor lighting, Richmond, Virginia.

Scott Neave, president of Neave Group-Outdoor Solutions, Westchester County, New York, is also seeing more and more displays of LED holiday lighting cropping up.

"These types of lights save a lot of electricity and help cut down on electrical issues, especially for outdoor holiday lighting," he says. "But as this technology becomes more widespread, they're looking much more like incandescent lights, softer and more natural. Before long, you may not even know the difference."

Peace further explains that LED bulbs are improving in color rendering so that it's now impossible to tell the difference between them and incandescent bulbs.

"In addition to their versatility, LEDs have a high resistance to humidity, extreme temperatures and can be turned on and off frequently without suffering damage," says Neave. "These factors make them an ideal outdoor option. Unlike other lighting choices, LED lights can typically be used in close proximity to landscaping without carrying a risk of burning or otherwise damaging trees, vegetation or building materials."

Trend Two: Solar-powered lights

An important second "going green" step beyond LEDs is the use of the sun's energy for power - even in midwinter's cold. Unlike standard outdoor holiday lights that must connect to a traditional electric source, solar-powered lights can now be strung up anywhere in the yard. A small solar panel stakes into the ground up to 7 feet away from the light strand and can power up to 100 bright LEDs for up to nine hours after an eight-hour charge.

"By taking advantage of the sun's energy to charge the batteries within, these classy and ultra-modern lights let you save a good deal of money on your bills for electricity," says Peace. "Solar-powered lights have truly struck a chord for those concerned with the preservation of the world's ecosystems. They are available in a wide variety of styles, so you can easily find the perfect set of solar-powered holiday lights to fit your unique yard."

But, Peace also cautions that there is still a ways to go with their dependability, particularly when more overcast skies in most climates and shorter days are the rule at holiday time.

Trend Three: Outlining and wrapping

Wrapping man-made as well as natural objects found in the landscape with light strands continues to be a top holiday lighting design demand.

According to Ryan Healy, Absolute Home and Garden, Denver, Colorado, the most requested object for light strand wrapping was for trees. Many landscapers agree that light strand wrapping of trees and shrubs can be the highest-impact technique that continues to turns heads. Wrapping fountains, statuary and banisters are also impactful.

Along with wrapping, Inaray also sees demand for outlining buildings such as homes, garages and porches. "When outlining homes in lights, it's also important to consider bulb spacing in terms of where the lights will hang and the viewing points," explains Peace. "Often a second-story dormer or gable will be outlined with bulb spaces 24 inches apart, while the lower roof lines are lined with strands set at 15 inches apart. This creates the final visual effect of all the lights being of similar spacing. If we used all strands with the exact same spacing of bulbs, areas further from the viewer or at an angle would appear as if there were more bulbs per strand. It's a trick of the eye and perspective that we consider throughout the holiday lights design."



Multi-color lighting is popular for the holidays as many property owners feel it reflects the fun and joy of the season. Your primary goal is to please clients.

Trend Four: Simplicity

The simplicity and elegance of monochromatic lighting, particularly using the colors of white and blue, continues to hang in there in recent years, while homeowners have moved away from multi-colored lights.

"Clear, white lights are always in style," says William Koon, owner of Outdoor Lighting, Wilmington, North Carolina. "White lights are very good at creating an overall effect rather than drawing attention to the lighting itself. A roofline trimmed in our classic white C9s is a noticeable, dazzling roofline."

Neave and Peace agree that blue is the next favorite color surpassing the traditional blinking multi-colored lights. In many regions of the country, manufacturers have run out of blue lights the past few years. "Blue is cool and modern, and looks beautiful against a backdrop of snow," says Neave.



Even in more traditional markets whimsey has its place, as seen in Richmond, Virginia's, tradition of Seussian "Crazy Trees".

Many homeowners want the back-to-nature look using natural materials for their holiday decor. Holiday manufacturers are featuring objects created out of twigs, grapevines, gourds, jute and shells that can be wrapped in lights, then hung in trees, doorways, arbors, posts and beams. Aged iron Moravian stars and burnished copper lanterns are examples of rustic yet classy nostalgic lighting accents in high demand.

Trend Five: Novelty lighting

This trend is particularly strong with commercial clients who are celebrating the rise out of the doldrums of the past recession and are willing to put out a little more razzle-dazzle than years past.

New to outdoor lighting are cascading LED tube lights, which create the special effect of cascading water, falling snowflakes or shooting meteors using a built-in digital patterning system. "The effects are most dramatic," say Peace. "We have increasing requests for lighting effects such as cascading waterfalls that spill into a pool on the ground."

A lighting alternative gaining in popularity, also energy-efficient, is fiber optics. With a constant change of colors and patterns, miniature weatherized projectors emit light that mimics falling snow or shooting stars. Favorite holiday displays can now be projected on warehouse doors, roofs, front yards or other areas.

Inaray identifies shining orbs and other fluid organic shapes in demand for lighting products extending beyond the holiday season. "It brings to mind celestial spheres providing the garden with a surreal, fairy-tale quality. You might expect to see an elf or other magical creature hop out of a bush at any moment. Illuminated globes add a touch of romance to the scene, especially when there are several in a row."



Homes and landscapes done in classlic white don't have to be boring. Some homeowners love the "elegance" of monochromatic lighting.

Music synchronization kits are turning front yards into Santa's disco with weather-proofed speakers. For example, a standard 30-amp plug-and-play system divides displays into 16 separate channels. More sophisticated displays run up to 64 channels and include software to program your own show off a laptop. In that same vein, animated holiday scenes are becoming more popular. Wire-frame elves cobbling toys, Santa shimmying down the chimney and leaping reindeer grab attention, especially when they occupy spaces often up to 6 by 10 feet.

Finally, Neave Group says that its commercial clients are excited to be more inclusive in their holiday decorating by celebrating all religions in their holiday displays: neutral holiday lighting, Christmas trees and other displays, as well as Menorahs and other decorations for Hanukkah.

For the past 20 years, Tom Crain, based in Akron, Ohio, has been a regular contributor to B2B publications, including many in the green industry. Comment on this article or contact him at tecrain@goingreenguy.com.