Ask the Expert: Outdoor Lighting Blueprint for Success

Earlier this year we discussed outdoor living trends for the year and key areas to focus on now that homeowners are spending more time at home. We’ve learned that outdoor audio has seen a huge spike in popularity this year especially now that more people are at home.

And even though outdoor lighting has been a fast-growing trend for many years, we’re seeing certain aspects really taken off this year. Trends in outdoor lighting including the expansion of lights on the second stories of homes, lighting of the entire property and not just walkways, contactless control systems, and color lighting. We’ve connected with Glen Nyhuis, Central’s National Lighting Director, on what you need to know about outdoor lighting and how you can successfully grow your outdoor lighting sales.

From Glen:

Each season, I spend a lot of time out in the field talking with contractors, onsite troubleshooting issues, helping with complicated installations, and training on how to grow your business with lighting. Over the years, I have put together a comprehensive training guide that covers numerous topics with outdoor lighting. Below is an overview of my blueprint for success with outdoor lighting.

Good, Better, Best Model

LED lighting has been around for many years now and has improved significantly over time. Because of this, the business of LEDs has reached a hierarchy of “Good, Better, Best.” What do I mean by that? The category is expansive enough that there is now a type of LED light for every budget and need. Each level in the hierarchy has its benefits and disadvantages with it. Below is a quick breakdown for each:

  • Good: lamps at this level are considered entry level or used for re-lamping. They are typically drop-in retro fit lamps (bulbs), the color quality and light output may be good or may be bad depending on the lamp selection. The life of these lights is generally unknown because of the heat factor. The benefit of this level is the lamps are generally very affordable.
  • Better: this is typically where you see integrated LEDs. This middle tier LED will have less features and less attention to color than higher-end lights. The benefit of this is again they are generally affordable but offer better quality than the “good” LEDs. You’ll see this level of integrated LED from well-known suppliers as well as startup suppliers.
  • Best: these integrated, premium LEDs are typically DC based with a driver. They will be made by a reputable manufacturer that pays close attention to color. They’ll have a tight binning tolerance and a verifiable life. The cost of these are typically more but you’ll also have more features higher quality.

Why do I go over this good, better, best model with LEDs? It’s important to think about your lighting sales in a similar way. When working with your customers, you should be offering tiered solutions for them to choose from. The “good” option should meet the base need of your customer, while the better will improve upon what they are looking for either with improved fixtures, additional lights, or a control system with better technology. Finally, the best option will improve upon the better option giving options of top-of-the line control technology, high-end fixtures, or more areas of the property being lit. Giving your customer this choice will help you easily upsell the job and let them know what is available if they want to upgrade in the future.

Beam Angle

Beam angle and spread may seem like a strange item to include on a lighting blueprint but I add it because its an extremely important part of the landscape lighting design. If you do not have a good beam spread or the angle is off, the overall look of the lighting just doesn’t pop.

I like to follow these basics when considering beam angle:

  • What is the shape of what you are lighting? Is it tall and skinny? Short and wide? Medium height and width? Whatever you are lighting, make sure your beam matches: tall and skinny trees use a narrow spot, wide and short shrubs use a wide flood, medium sized trees and bushes use a medium spread.
  • Quality of the light output will depend on the quality of the reflector in the lamp. Low quality lamps often have substandard reflectors that deliver poor beam spread and uneven pools of light. Make sure to verify the quality of the reflector in the lamp so that lighting is even and consistent.

So, what is considered narrow, medium or wide?

  • Narrow Spot: concentrates the light in a sliver for pinpoint details and a long light throw. It is approximately 4-19 degrees in width.
  • Medium Spread or Flood: The mid-range beam is the most popular and used in a wide variety of applications. It is approximately 20-35 degrees in width.
  • Wide Spread: Wide spread lamps deliver a large pool of light across a broad, but shallow surface. The beam spread for a wide flood is more than 36 degrees in width.

Color: Temperature & RGB

Originally LED lights were less aesthetically pleasing because they had this blue, very cold color and did not replicate the incandescent lighting very well. In addition, the blue lighting did not allow for very much light output. Over the years, we have seen improvement with the availability of a wide variety of lighting temperatures including daylight and warmer temperatures similar to incandescent lights, and of course RBG color.

It’s common for landscape lighting designers use beam spread, placement, and lumen intensity in designs. But color is also used! The use of color, whether color temperature or RGB color is another important aspect of lighting design. LEDs offer the flexibility to choose the color of white light that works with the illuminated subject matter and can vary color when needed or include RGB color options when desired.

So, what white light should you use on what subject matter?

2700K is considered a warm-white light similar to an incandescent bulb. It is generally used for:

  • Traditional architecture, trees, shrubs
  • Warm wood decks and landscape construction
  • Yellow and orange flowerbeds, wood siding/decking
  • Stone work and Yard art (color)

3000K is also considered a warm-white light but is a little cooler in color. It is generally used for:

  • Contemporary architecture
  • Heavy green trees/shrubs such as pines. It works well with the Blue Spruce (which can also be light using a very cool 4200K to give it an ultra-contemporary look)
  • Blue, purple, red and white flowerbeds
  • White decking
  • Water features
  • Yard art (color)

RGB color lights are often used to accent homes structures, features such as statues or trees for holidays, special occasions, and celebrations. This is all customer preference and I’ve seen every color used red, green, blue, violet and beyond.

Connectivity is the Future [but really now]

If LED is the now, connectivity is the future. Or honestly, with how quickly technology is moving, LED is the yesterday and connectivity is the now. I say this because lighting is becoming automated and customized and people are interacting with lighting differently than ever before. Its no longer just switches on and off in the home. People are using their smart devices and voice activation to turn lights on and off, schedule when lights automatically come on, increase or decrease intensity, and change lighting temperature and color. These connections allow for a seamless and secure use not just indoor but also outdoor spaces.

As we move forward, more people are adapting to these automations and customizations with their lighting, particularly for their outdoor lighting. Landscape lighting is connected with security systems (garage door, door lock, music system and interior lighting system). It knows when the homeowner is in the yard, on the deck or patio. These things will only continue to advance and at a rapid pace.

This is a great opportunity for you and your lighting sales! You have the opportunity to upsell homeowners on systems that can integrate with smart home devices such as Alexa. Better yet, this is an opportunity to target existing customers with upgrades for their existing systems.

Differentiation Yourself Against the Competition

Typically, customers will get between two and three quotes for any home-improvement job. There will always be someone that can work for less or do it cheaper. There is no need to race to the bottom, there is a better way to differentiate yourself. Sell on value, not on price.

It’s really as simple as educating yourself and the consumer, promoting your expertise, telling your story and your company’s story with your own words and your existing customers testimonials, and finally give your customers’ choices with tiered options.

When customers understand the value of products used, value of the features in the products, the value of your expertise and service, and can choose the option that makes the most sense for their needs. You won’t need to sell on price!


Rely on Central to help, whether that’s getting you Back to Basic, helping with an audio or lighting demo/installations, or sharing insight and recommendations on the newest technologies or design styles. We stay at the leading edge of the industry and we’re ready to help you grow!

About Glen Nyhuis

Glen Nyhuis has nearly three decades in the landscape lighting business. He has worked both in the field installing and design landscape lighting, as well as on the distribution side. Beyond that, he has spent many years teaching and working with contractors on how to sell lighting to their customers. Whether it’s a technical or design question, or helping source the right product for a special job, Glen is ready to help you make money and grow your business.