Today's backyard is the place to be, to relax, to entertain, to enjoy yourself spring through fall. That means even after dark and when the big game is on.
In the Chicago suburbs, known for less than ideal weather? Yes, we appreciate great, balmy days because they are rare, and we want to stay outside as long as possible, said Jeff Dross, director of corporate education and industry trends for Kichler Lighting.
Contact information ( * required )
Kichler Lighting, landscapelighting.com.
Littman Bros., littmanbros.com, 845 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg, (847) 895-5155
Michael Anthony, 1 Design Group, Inc., 1designgroup.com or (214) 356-8751.
Northwest Electrical Supply, northwestelectricalsupply.com, 600 East Rand Road, Mount Prospect, (847) 255-3700; 2414 West Route 120, McHenry, (815) 363-1800
Ore, Inc. orecontainers.com or (801) 936-0499,
Outdoor Lighting Perspectives of Chicago, chicago.outdoorlights.com/ or (630) 754 - 8850.
SunBriteTV, sunbritetv.com or (866) 357-8688
To make this a reality you need lighting, especially to help guests navigate safely around the deck or patio and in and out of the house, and to let you have a clue whether that steak is done. And you know sports fans won't linger unless you have a television set running. On the other hand, if it's romance, friendly conversation or a lively teen party you're looking for, an audio system is a good idea, too.
Of course, recreating your home outdoors can be pricey -- quickly moving into the thousands of dollars, so advance research is a good idea.
To see or not to see
While companies like Kichler make outdoor lighting in all kinds of styles designed to be seen for their beauty or disappear into the background, a strong trend is invisible lighting -- you don't see the fixture, only the light it emits.
The main thing is people should not see the bulb, said Thomas Reindl, commercial lighting manager for Northwest Electrical Supply in Mount Prospect and McHenry, because that creates a glare. What you want is reflective light or a glow.
Believe it or not, our eyes work better at night in less light, Dross said. Think how your eyes react when you first turn on the lights in the middle of the night.
But it is also important to consider how your fixture will look in the daytime, Dross said. Select either a design you want folks to see or one that disappears into the background.
Dominic Caliendo, director of operations for Outdoor Lighting Perspectives Chicago, said natural metals that achieve a patina, especially copper and sometimes brass, are the most popular.
Watch your step
Steps should be lighted with fixtures either beside the steps or on the risers. Or the staircase can be lighted from below if it's open.
Is this the MLB?
You want to avoid that stadium, floodlight look and go for soft, ambient lighting, Caliendo said.
If you want a decorative design for your walks, you can even choose figures such as frogs, leaves or nautical elements, Reindl said.
Lights for this familiar use demand both safety and aesthetics, said Caliendo. He suggested looking for fixtures that can point up or down and come with taller stakes for wider areas and shorter ones for narrow paths.
If you can't get the gang to the stadium or movie theater, gather around your television. SunBrite TV has a Pro Series starting at just under $2,000 that is protected to 40 degrees below zero.
Think how much more convenient this is than taking the big screen in and out all the time, said Michael Anthony of 1 Design Group in Clarendon Hills. He installed not only a television but also surround sound in the backyard he designed in Plainfield for Yard Crashers on the DIY Network.
"If you are hanging out around the grill or bar you still want to see what's going on," he said.
One warning: Anthony does not like mounting televisions on fireplaces whether indoors or out because the heat can harm the set.
Now we're talking necessity! Several companies make a flexible light to attach to the side of your grill so you can swing it to check the meat on the fire or on the side. Midnight kebabs anyone?
Reindl says if you have a gazebo consider a chandelier or fan. Outdoor worthy fans cost only $150 more than their indoor cousins.
And the readers or conversationalists among us might choose outdoor floor or table lamps, Dross said.
Caliendo likes to light trees from below because putting fixtures up there can make maintenance more difficult. However, it might be easier to comply with municipal lighting ordinances by directing light down from the trees.
Anthony concentrates on creating shadows on walls and illuminating specimens such as favorite trees or yuccas.
And of course, there's that light glow you are always looking for, say under the cap on top of a seat wall.
Light-emitting diode fixtures are a boon to outdoor lighting because the bulbs last eight to 10 years. That means it's a long time before anyone has to climb up in a tree to change one.
Besides this, Reindl said, your fixtures will stay better sealed if you are not opening them to change the bulbs. In fact these lights are made to be thrown away when the bulbs burn out.
These are more expensive at the beginning but save in electricity costs because they take about 20 percent of the energy to produce the same light as an incandescent bulb, Reindl said.
LED bulbs come in many colors these days, but most people like warm whites, he said.
Caliendo warns that LED lights need the right fixtures to dissipate the heat emitted in one small spot, and Reindl said beware that inexpensive LEDs will not glow throughout the night. Often the light produced by low-quality lights is very, very blue, he said.
Of course waterproof lights can shine from the sides of ponds or water features, but imagine the effect of light shining up through your waterfall with the sprays dispersing the beams.
Anthony likes the lighted aluminum planters from Ore Inc.
You want your landscape lighting to be low voltage because it is safer and easier to install since it does not have to be buried in a pipe, Reindl said.
The lights that create that nice ambience can be tied into your other lighting, such as a coach light and even indoor lighting. You can make these lights dim when your landscape fixtures turn on. This is wireless and can be set to allow you to change the timing from your smartphone or with a remote control. The price is about $500, Caliendo said.
Of course Anthony thinks it is most important to design an overall scheme to be sure the finished product is attractive.
• The Daily Herald is publishing finalists in our Get Your Summer On backyard makeover contest. Two winners will be chosen and they will receive prize packages valued at about $15,000. Winners will be featured in Home & Garden on June 10. To see more backyard makeover ideas, special Web page at www.dailyherald.com/entlife/homegarden/summer.