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Brilliant Ramblings Blog


All LED, All Day

January 9, 2018

When we first dedicated ourselves to solely installing landscape lighting in New Jersey over ten years ago (2007), LEDs (light emitting diodes) were still a relatively new technology. While their revolutionary design was meant to significantly lower operating and maintenance costs, some of our clients were put off by the higher upfront cost of installing a complete LED system than the halogen systems that were the industry standard at that time.

The cost and maintenance saving benefits of an LED outdoor lighting system are more widely known and accepted now (2017), but let’s review them in the case that you are not totally familiar.

LED lights are on average over seven times more energy efficient than halogen bulbs. This means that to get the same output, an LED light would draw 10 watts of power, where a halogen bulb would draw 70 watts of power. This can mean a massive savings of electric consumption to the consumer over an extended period of time.

Speaking of extended periods of time, our LED bulbs have an expected life expectancy of 50,000 hours, which means you need to replace them far less often.

Despite this, the upfront cost led some of our clients to choose halogen lighting. Then there was a huge increase in the cost of copper in 2011 and 2012. This led to an obvious increase in the cost of electrical wiring, and made complete LED systems more affordable, relatively. Here’s how.

LED lights require substantially less power, so therefore the wiring needed to install these systems required less copper to carry the electricity from transformer to fixture.

Since the time of peak copper prices in 2012, it is fair to estimate that 99% of our installations have been complete LED systems. We design our systems with lifetime warranties and our clients understand that means their lighting systems will continue (with regular service) to operate for as long as they are in their homes and as long as the next owners continue with regular service.

This means that over the lifetime of a system, when including the cost of electricity, our clients with 100% LED lighting will save money and continue to have breathtaking architectural, landscape and outdoor living space lighting.

If you have a halogen landscape lighting system and you are tired of high energy bills and replacing lights, please give us a call so that we can provide you with a quote to install a lifelong, energy efficient and beautifully designed LED lighting system. Our number is (908) 369-7791 or you can contact us here.

‘Tis the season

December 21, 2017

We have been installing outdoor and landscape lighting for over ten years and during that time we have built incredible relationships with clients. When we take on a new client, we don’t consider ourselves their outdoor lighting contractor -- we consider ourselves their outdoor lighting partner.

As their outdoor lighting partners, we are often contacted to professionally install Holiday lighting for them. While Christmas lighting leads these requests by a large margin, we also design Holiday lighting for our clients celebrating Hanukkah and Diwali.

Unfortunately, many of our client’s contact us too late in the season, the first time they are considering using our services for Holiday lighting. Here are some best practices for those of you who are considering hiring a professional service for your outdoor holiday decorations.

Make sure you contact us well in advance. If, for example, you want Holiday lighting for Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, you should contact us at least two months prior to the beginning of the celebration. This will provide us with enough to design a system based on your needs, ensure that we have the materials we need and to find a spot on our installation schedule well in advance.

Getting on the installation schedule in time for your celebration is the most important thing. There are only a few weeks each year to perform these installations, and our schedule fills up very quickly. Feel free to reach out to us in the beginning of the year so we can design a system and place you on our calendar. You can never contact us soon enough.

Another thing that is important to consider for any Holiday lighting scene is what type of scene do you want? Is it a classical scene or more whimsical? Do you prefer to have multiple trees wrapped or one tree decorated as a centerpiece of a more subdued scene. Do you want only white lights or colored? Do you want us to outline the roof and gutter line of your home or would you prefer to have your entire roofline wrapped? We can offer suggestions based on your home’s style and your taste, but it’s always a good idea to have some examples of lighting you like ready to assist us in the design.

What is your budget? There is a difference between a properly installed landscape lighting system and a properly installed holiday lighting system. In landscape and outdoor lighting, sometimes less is more. In Holiday lighting more is almost always going to give you the effect you desire. A hard-learned lesson in holiday lighting design is to make your best-possible design and then add about 30% more lights. We always want our Holiday lighting clients to be blown away by our professional designs and to set the stage for a magical Holiday season.

If you’re interested in Holiday lighting at your home for Christmas, Hanukkah or Diwali, give us a call and we’ll see if we can work together. You can submit a contact inquiry or call us at (908) 369-7791.

Design over functionality?

November 28, 2017

Should aesthetics ever be prioritized over functionality?

This is an interesting discussion to be had considering the very nature of our profession is to find the right balance between both of these tenets. Design and functionality. The lighting professional’s yin and yang.

What goes into designing a low-voltage outdoor lighting system that is both beautiful and functional? In short, a hard-earned understanding of lighting design principles and a commitment to the functionality of each aspect of the lighting system. Without one or the other, an outdoor lighting system will never achieve its intended effect.

Some of the design principles of a low-voltage lighting system that we incorporate into every design includes height, symmetry, color, angle (both viewing and spread) and output. These principles of design allow us to deliver complete and custom systems that are predicated on the specific functions of each fixture, vantage point and desired effect.

Finding ways to achieve height and symmetry is one of the more difficult aspects of architectural lighting design, and something that takes experience and vision. When it is done correctly, however, it can make a great lighting design transcendent. Color, which is something that is achieved through various temperatures of the bulb, is something that must be carefully matched based on the material, texture and hue of what is being lit.

Everything mentioned above, is taken into account in the design phase and meant to ensure that each of our systems create a beautiful night scene at our client’s homes. While creativity can help us to overcome any obstacle, there are still some things that need to be taken into consideration from a practical standpoint.

Glare is one aspect of a lighting system’s functionality that can dictate where a fixture needs to be placed, the type of bulb that can be used and where the fixture can be angled. Anyone who has ever been blinded by a light shining directly into their eyes can attest to the importance of reducing or eliminating glare for safety reasons. Whether you are walking up a flight of stairs, pulling into your driveway or sitting on your back deck, glare should always be minimized.

Another aspect of a lighting system that needs to be taken into account during the design phase is longevity. Different types of fixtures need to be installed in certain ways to ensure longevity. There are ways to install a light in a tree to ensure the tree’s growth or sway during a storm doesn’t damage a fixture. There are places to put an uplight and a pathlight and places where those fixtures should never be installed. No one wants to replace a fixture several times a year, when there are various installation techniques a professional can employ to ensure it won’t need to be.

There are also more serious safety concerns anytime you are dealing with an electrical system, even one that is low-voltage. Lines cannot be exposed as they can be accidentally pierced or cut by children or landscapers. They can also be chewed on by animals, including cats and dogs. A lot of systems are also installed in pool areas and in water structures like ponds and streams. Water and electric do not mix and a lighting professional that does not take extreme caution to ensure safety is negligent at best.

A properly designed and installed landscape lighting system is meant to accentuate the beauty of your home and landscaping, but should always be done in a way to ensure safety and longevity. Aesthetics and functionality. The lighting professional’s yin and yang.

Five benefits of Landscape Lighting

November 1, 2017

Typically when we are engaged by a potential client, they already have an idea of at least one or two of the benefits of installing a custom landscape lighting system. Sometimes the reason they want to install outdoor lighting is purely aesthetic, other times it has more to do with security lighting. Maybe they entertain a lot and want to extend the time they are able to comfortably host guests outside. Maybe they prefer the peaceful escape their outdoor living space provides and want to highlight its natural beauty and tranquility.

Whatever the reason that leads them to us, we usually have the opportunity to present them with the many benefits of installing a custom landscape lighting system. I would like to offer you a glimpse into those conversations, should you choose to continue reading. Who knows, maybe there will be something here you did not think about when you began researching outdoor low-voltage lighting systems.

Architectural lighting:

Your home’s architecture is unique. It is unique to the time period it was built. It is unique to your neighborhood. It is unique to the climate of the state that you live in. Maybe you have columns or a front porch. Maybe the exterior of your home has stucco or brick. Maybe your home has shutters or a coupla.

A custom architectural lighting system can add incredible beauty to your home at night. Whether you want a bold design that your neighbors might envy, or you simply want to ensure that your home’s peaks, textures and angles are highlighted tastefully, there is a design for you. Architectural lighting will bring out the beauty of your home, add depth and create warmth on even the coldest and darkest of nights.

Landscape lighting:

When was the last time someone complimented you on your beautiful landscaping. When was the last time you replied, “wait until you see it at night?”

Beautiful landscaping is a major investment for any homeowner. Mature trees interspersed with a variety of shrubs and flowers. Natural stone retaining walls in beds of mulch. These are the unique aspects of your yard that will continue to grow and add personality and beauty for decades. Custom landscape lighting systems add a dramatic and peaceful flare that accentuates your favorite natural retreats.

Outdoor living space lighting:

We operate out of New Jersey and while it is amazing to experience four seasons every year, people in the Northeast understand how precious the warm months are. We do not hide in the Summer, we embrace it. You can often find us in a sweatshirt or coat enjoying the first and last tolerable outdoor nights in early spring and late fall.

Lighting and defining an outdoor living space, whether it is a custom designed patio, pergola, gazebo, deck or pool area is a fantastic option to ensure you are making the most of the warm months. Perhaps you want bistro lights to liven up your outdoor living area and give it an old-world charm. Maybe you prefer the natural beauty offered by a tiki torch and want to install tiki fixtures to enjoy the best of both worlds. Perhaps you are interested in adding dimension to your outdoor wood burning stove and uplighting to your pergola retreat to create warmth and add security. Lighting your pool area and adding underwater lights can create a resort atmosphere in your own backyard.

Whatever your goal is for your outdoor living space, there is a low-voltage lighting solution.

Security lighting:

Multiple studies have concluded that burglary attempts are often opportunistic, meaning the burglar encounters a home that appears to be unoccupied and unsecured and proceeds to burglarize the home. In addition to securing a home with a home security system, the best way to deter a burglar is to take away their hiding places and give the appearance that the home is occupied.

Landscape lighting, especially when fully automated, takes away hiding places from potential burglars and deters them from attempting to enter the home. By illuminating the walkways, entry ways and areas surrounding the home, you are drawing more attention to their presence and forcing them down the road. Automated landscape lighting also gives the impression that the home is currently occupied, even if there is no one home. Interior lights can also be patched into the same system as the low voltage lighting system with relative ease, allowing for maximum protection.


Are you using a floodlight on a motion sensor or a switch to illuminate your walkways and yard? Other than being unattractive, and often blinding, using floodlights in a manner that they were not designed for is also very inefficient. Low voltage lighting systems can be used on timers to ensure a safe and attractive pathway into and from your home while also expending a fraction of the energy needed for floodlights.

Lights can be added above and below your garage doors, around your pathways, embedded into your steps, along your driveway and anywhere else you would need to add light. Our lights can be automated to turn on after sunset each day and easily set for how late you would like them to stay on.

Whatever your reasoning is behind your interest in installing a low-voltage landscape lighting system, you will find yourself benefitting in more ways than one.

Are you interested in learning more about the benefits of a low-voltage landscape lighting system? Please give us a call so that we can schedule a free consultation. Our number is (908) 369-7791 or you can submit a contact form here.

Lighting your home: Architectural lighting

October 17, 2017

When designing an outdoor low-voltage lighting system, a key component to the project is architectural lighting. So, what is architectural lighting and how does it affect the aesthetic and security benefits of an outdoor lighting system?

We’re glad you asked.

A well-designed outdoor lighting system will add warmth and contrast to a home’s landscape and exterior while also adding depth and dimension. Regardless of how beautiful a home’s landscape is, without the proper architectural lighting some of that dramatic effect will be lost. The key to a well-designed system is highlighting the landscaping while also tastefully lighting the home’s significant architectural aspects.

But architectural lighting is so much more than shining lights on a structure.

There is an art to uplighting and each home provides a unique canvas. On a colonial style New Jersey home there are often distinct height variations along the face of the home. There can often be a height difference of as much as two-stories from one side of the structure to the other. This architectural design and detail is beautiful, but presents challenges to lighting design, which is predicated on shining even light across the entirety of the home’s face.

Of course, you could achieve this effect by installing a prison-style floodlight about 100-feet in front of your home, but it might be hard to sleep with all of the light trespass and planes landing in your front yard. There is subtlety and simplicity in the proper design of architectural lighting and that is where our art is found.

When we design our systems we are keeping glare and light intrusion in mind. You won’t need to install black-out blinds to get some sleep after you have a lighting system installed by a true professional. So how do we do it? How do you lighten the entire face of a structure without shining light into a window?

You use multiple fixtures, set at different heights and distances from the front of the home, and you adjust the brightness, spread and color of the lamps. Sounds easy, right?

Well, it tends to get a bit more complicated at this point. You see, there really is only so much you can do from ground and with conventional fixtures. At this point we are probably using a concrete core drill to install special fixtures into the surface of certain areas of your home.

You can also probably catch us on the roof of your second or third floors installing lights to accent your peaks and dormers. When we are done there we may start installing a few recessed fixtures in order to light your porch, entranceway and garage doors, ensuring your home’s architectural lighting system has captured your whole home’s beauty with an even light.

The soffit line is a great tool for designers, as the human eye tends to use it as a focal point to determine where the structure ends. This means it is crucial to have an even light spread across the soffit line, otherwise you risk distracting from the rest of the home and detracting from the entirety of the project. Take our word for it,you really want to nail the soffit line.

Now all that is left is selecting the proper lamps for the fixtures, of which we have about 60 that we play with regularly. All LED of course. The key is finding the proper lumen output in order to keep that even light on the whole home. A white column can’t get the same light as your red brick chimney? We really do paint with light, and we really do have an entire palette to choose from.

Architectural lighting serves more than one purpose as well. While we design our systems to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, we also account for security. According to numerous sources, a well-lit property and home is a key component in preventing burglaries, as the added light takes away hiding places for would-be burglars. Makes perfect sense, right?

Uplights and downlights, which are more concentrated beams of light, are like a landscape lighting designer’s multi-tool. They can be adjusted for lamp temperature and spread to highlight unique spaces on the home’s exterior.

For example, uplighting the space between two windows allows us to emphasize the shape, peaks and textures of the windows while also adding contrast in the backdrop of our lighting design. The same is true for columns, and dormers, which bring the structure to life and out of the darkness.

Another tool we use is downlighting, which can creates a much more dramatic effect than uplighting on its own. Downlighting can be installed in a number of ways and on a number of areas on your home, with the right technicians. Properly designed downlighting will ensure that your home’s dimensions stand out in the night, while also allowing your designer to create fantastic effects with light and shadow.

To see if S&M Landscape Lighting might be the right contractor for you, please submit an inquiry at our contact us page or call us at (908) 369-7791.

Fall Lighting Principles

October 4, 2017

As our summer installation season begins to wind down, our focus shifts from lighting backyards and pool areas almost exclusively, to returning to our normal mixture of outdoor living-space lighting, architectural lighting and landscape lighting. Though the temperatures are still soaring, New Jerseyans know that the shorter days and longer nights of autumn are near.

Lighting in the late summer and early fall is a fun time for us, especially in a year that we saw a lot of rain. Our client’s landscaping is still in full bloom, which allows us to set fixtures in their most impactful positions, and with just enough time to capture the beauty of fall foliage. It also means that our clients will be able to enjoy the peaceful settings we create for them even longer, with the sun setting earlier and the cool nights inviting them outside.

Tree lighting in the fall creates a magical scene. As leaves turn crimson and gold and rustle in the cool wind, spectators can truly take in the majesty of mother nature and the warmth of a glowing light radiating outward. While we know that the leaves will return spring, there is a sense of finality in autumn’s foliage and there is no better way to appreciate is than with a beautifully designed landscape lighting system.

Architectural lighting once again becomes the most important aspect of an outdoor lighting system. The further into the cold seasons we approach, the more important it is to have architectural lighting to warm your home from the outside in. Your home’s architecture will also be the backdrop to a lighting system and pulling into a properly illuminated home offers a feeling of comfort and resilience to even the coolest blowing winds.

Proper walkway and entryway lighting will also be worth its weight in gold in the cooler and darker months ahead, adding security and safely guiding you and your family into your home.

Outdoor living spaces, such as decks and patios will also be used more in the dark as the sun sets earlier in the day. Make sure you get the most out of your retreat with proper lighting for the nights when you want to stay just a little longer before retreating to the warmth of a fireplace.

Every season is special for one reason or another. Don’t miss out on the most beautiful time of year just because the sun has set.

For more information on lighting your home, please contact (908) 369-7791, email or visit

Three Pillars of Landscape Lighting

August 3, 2017

Three of the most important elements of a professionally installed landscape lighting system are design, craftsmanship and functionality. These three things should be the pillars on which any outdoor lighting system is built upon. Without all three working together, one element would detract from the other and the benefits of an outdoor lighting system would be greatly reduced.

A properly designed outdoor lighting system will bring your property to life at night. It should bring out your home’s most unique features,. It should add depth and warmth to it’s architecture and landscaping while also providing security from nighttime hazards and burglary.

Knowing how to light a home, its architecture and its landscape specimens is something that is learned through time, trial and error. In our over ten-years of installing landscape lighting we have encountered many different types of homes, specimen trees, waterscapes and hardscapes and we have created some truly stunning scenes. Our experiences lend us the ability to design a better landscape lighting system and to also have the installation techniques and tools necessary to design the absolute best-possible system.

This leads us to craftsmanship. When an outdoor lighting system has been properly and professionally installed, everything should work seamlessly. Craftsmanship is the greatest differentiator between a beautiful and lasting system and something that a homeowner or inexperienced contractor might install.

Craftsmanship can be determined in a few ways. The first way is by the actual quality of the fixture, the lamp and the underground materials. Cost can be saved by using lesser quality materials, but in an outdoor system, lesser quality materials can never last as long or perform as well as high-grade commercial materials, like those used by S&M.

Another way to determine craftsmanship is by the quality of the installation, including specialty fixture placement like tree downlights, core drilled lights, driveway or belgian block lights, Bistro lights or waterscape lights. Most contractors won’t even attempt the installation of these lights because of the experience and the tools necessary to do it right. When it is done right, however, these lighting techniques can be transformative.

This finally brings us to functionality. Some contractors will try to fit a square peg in a round hole, so to say. Whether it is through ignorance of the types of fixtures available and their benefits for lighting certain areas, or through laziness and not wanting to keep specialty fixtures in stock. Others might not understand how certain specialty fixtures need to be installed, like step lights on a railing, which need to be positioned in a way to spread even amounts of light without creating glare for safety reasons. Pool and landscape lighting. Pool and landscape lighting.

Sometimes what a client wants may be detrimental to the safety of those who are approaching the home, walking down a flight of stairs or the location of a certain fixture would lead to problems with landscapers and lawn services damaging the fixture. A responsible and qualified professional landscape lighting contractor will explain the reasons why certain decisions were made in a properly designed outdoor lighting system and also explain the solutions that are available to keep the client happy and the system safe and functional.

There are a lot of ways to light a home, but there is usually only one “right” way to do it. Find yourself a contractor that can design the right kind of system, customized for your home.

To see if S&M Landscape Lighting might be the right contractor for you, please email us at or call us at (908) 369-7791.

Local landscape lighting contractor or national brand?

June 28, 2017

Should I use a local landscape lighting contractor or national brand?

Choosing a landscape lighting contractor can be a difficult decision, with so many things for homeowners to consider. Some of these things we discussed in a blog post recently, that glosses over some of the more important things for homeowners to consider when selecting a qualified contractor. You can read that blog post titled “Selecting a landscape lighting contractor” here.

Something that our previous post does not touch on is the choice homeowners have between selecting a national or franchised landscape lighting contractor over a local, independently run company like S&M Landscape Lighting.

So what are the differences that a homeowner can expect when sourcing a local, dedicated landscape lighting contractor over a national franchise?

When we started S&M Landscape Lighting over ten-years ago in Hillsborough, New Jersey, we did so with the intentions to become the premiere landscape lighting contractor in the country. We studied lighting techniques, we sourced hundreds of manufacturers of fixtures and lamps, we created a culture that would never allow us to rest on our laurels and we committed to creating unique and awe-inspiring night-scenes at each of our client’s homes.

These commitments have been the driving force behind the growth of S&M Landscape Lighting and our ability to consistently gain market share in an industry that is overrun with DIY manufacturers, national franchises and landscape or irrigation companies that sell their existing clients on their ability to create something unique, but often under-deliver.

S&M will never have the type of marketing budget that a national franchise will have. In fact, we do very little marketing. We also only use photos of our own actual work when we are consulting with potential clients and on our website. The fixtures we use have been created with our input, specifically for us and without a contract. This means if the quality of the fixtures we use ever falls below our standards, which are the absolute best, then we will find and create another line of fixtures with a different manufacturing partner to ensure our clients never need to install another lighting system. This is how S&M Landscape lighting does business and why we are a growing independently owned small business that is dedicated to outdoor lighting.

Most franchised landscape lighting companies are given a template website, photos of projects designed and installed by other contractors operating under their franchise and given instructions on how to sell, design and install outdoor lighting systems. They have little to no say on the fixtures they use, which are manufactured in a way to help them sell more jobs by cutting costs instead of being manufactured to last. Their marketing budgets are massive, which allows them to gain audience with prospective buyers, but this also means they need to sell as many jobs as they can to help them pad their earnings for their marketing and franchise payments. The “contractors” that have purchased these franchises do not need to have any experience at all. Even in New Jersey where you need an electrical license to install low-voltage lighting, you don’t need any electrical experience whatsoever to purchase a franchise. Do you have the money to purchase a franchised landscape lighting company? Congratulations, you are now a landscape lighting designer.

When homeowners are considering which landscape lighting contractor to hire, they should consider asking their contractors for pictures of their own work (along with proof it was them who installed it), how long they have been designing and installing landscape lighting for their company (and how long the person who owned it before them did it), if their fixtures come with any warranties and contact information for satisfied clients.

Unfortunately, a large part of our own business is redesigning, reinstalling or replacing entirely cookie-cutter installations with sub-par fixtures, sometimes only a year or two after they were installed by our franchised competitors.

S&M Landscape Lighting will continue to perfect the art of landscape lighting with our experienced and dedicated technicians and elevated standards, ensuring that our clients will never have to install another lighting system in their home.

To learn about how S&M Landscape Lighting can help to transform your home, landscaping, pool, patio, deck or outdoor living area with a tastefully designed low-voltage lighting system, visit our contact page here or call (908) 369-7791.

S&M Landscape Lighting has been operating out of Hillsborough, New Jersey and serving clients in the surrounding areas for over ten-years.

Home Security Lighting

May 19, 2017

Your home should be your safe place. It is a shelter for the most precious things in your life from the outside world where there is both beauty and danger. Its very purpose is to provide you and your family with safe place to rest and interact.

Most of the time when people drive down the road and see one of the homes that we installed a complete low-voltage outdoor lighting system, they think about how beautiful the home looks at night. The ambient lighting running up the driveway, the landscape lighting that defines the space and throws off a moon-light glow, the pathways that are clearly defined and the home’s architecture, peaks and dormers that capture the warmth of our radiant lighting.

There is, however, a whole other group of people that are thinking something different entirely. Those are the people that are looking for targets to burglarize.

Our lighting systems are designed to bring out the most beautiful aspects of your home and landscaping, but also to help protect the most vulnerable parts of your home’s security.

By lighting the areas that burglars would use to case, approach and enter your home, you are taking away their ability to use darkness as a cloak. A clearly lit perimeter will deter a burglar from entering your property from the rear or sides. A well-lit driveway and pathways will take away the opportunity for them to park a van or enter your enter your home from normal access ways.

Architectural lighting will deter a burglar from entering a home through the ground level windows or attempting to scale your home for access to a second story window or balcony.

Along with a home security system, a video surveillance system or a smart doorbell with video and audio components, you will take away a burglar’s opportunity for easy access to your home, its contents and its inhabitants.

Send burglars down the road with home security lighting by shining a light on your home and property. To learn more about the security benefits of a complete outdoor lighting system, contact S&M Landscape Lighting to set up a consultation. Submit a contact form here or call us at (908) 369-7791.

To schedule a free outdoor lighting consultation,
please call us at (908) 369-7791 or submit an online request.

New Jersey State Electrical License Number 34EB01721900