Moonlighting. No, it’s not a night job. It’s a night scene. The best version known is created by a full moon on a clear night. But that’s only available a few times per year.
Moonlighting effects can be created by installing outdoor lighting in trees. This effect was originally made popular in Texas over 50 years ago by John Watson, and it is now employed by many landscape lighting firms across the country. Popularly labelled moonlighting, or down-lighting, it arguably offers the most comprehensive and subtle outdoor lighting effects – provided it’s well designed and crafted.
Prior to the advent of LEDs, moonlighting was largely either halogen or mercury vapor. Mercury vapor is a high intensity discharge lighting (HID) technology. Employing ballasts to step up electrical current, exciting the gas (not filament), creating light. This light is a cooler color temperature (approaching 4,000 Kelvin), which yields a blue – green tint that sort of replicates natural moonlight.
One of the challenges of mercury vapor technology is that it requires 120 volts to be run to the ballasts. These ballasts, combined with the larger fixtures and electrical junction boxes required, can at times clutter trees with mechanical products. Further, 120 – volt wiring should be 18 inches underground, in conduit. This can be more invasive to tree roots.
As halogen lamps improved, moonlighting has enjoyed a 12 – volt option for the past 3 decades or so. Smaller fixtures, no ballasts or junction boxes, and less damage to roots have made this a preferred route for some firms. Blue and green lenses on MR-16 fixtures can cool the color temperature.
LEDs continue to evolve. In addition to massive energy consumption savings and huge improvements in lamp life, LEDs are mostly 12 – volt, accruing the benefits of lower voltage. And unlike LEDs from 5-10 years ago today’s versions offer a wide array of lumen output, color temperature, beam spread and more.
Regardless of technology, moonlighting is an essential element of many landscape lighting projects.