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Homeowners take a shine to outdoor lights

When the sun goes down on Michael and Cheryl Foley's home in Saddlebrook, the lights come up. It's a sight that dazzles.

"People turn their floodlights on the house and it says, "This is where the party is,' " said Dr. Michael Foley, a Tampa physician. But "with landscape lighting, it's lit up like a model house, even if you're not having a party."

The Foleys, like many other families north of Tampa, are following a trend. They are upgrading their traditional security lighting with landscape lighting, an art form that, while expensive, is becoming increasingly popular.

"I did the front of the house first, then the side, then the back," Foley said. "If I'd won the lottery, I would have done it all at once."

The average cost is about $1,000, but night lighting can cost much more depending on what the homeowner wants, said Geoffrey Wells, president of Night Lights Inc., the company that installed the Foleys' equipment.

One of the most popular types of night lighting is moonlighting, which uses a mercury vapor to produce a blue light resembling moonlight. The diffusion of light through foliage is the key.

But "most people like to uplight, it's more dramatic," Wells said. "It's the reverse from nature. It's stunning."

Accent lighting can be used to highlight bushes and pathways. And if a comprehensive system is not feasible because the property has too few trees _ or the equipment costs too much _ then certain features, such as gazebos, grottoes or rose gardens, can be featured.

Wells said it's not unusual for customers to come to his store at 19651 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, pick out various lights and wonder, "How will they look in my house?"

That's when he takes them into the store's dark room and demonstrates various lights, and the effect they have on foliage. The next step is a night visit where, armed with a battery pack, Wells strategically places the lights in the customer's yard so the homeowner can see how they will look.

"Palms are best for lighting, oak trees are fine," Wells said. But "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Beauty is what drove Ted and Connie Bertuca to spend about $1,700 to have outdoor lighting installed at their Saddlebrook home. That was two years ago, and they are still in awe.

"The way the lights point up through the limbs is beautiful," Ted Bertuca said. "It looks like the trees are dancing at nighttime."

Makers of lighting systems say the units can run for pennies a day, and bulbs should last about 1,500 hours. But be warned: Outside lighting bulbs are more expensive than their indoor counterparts.

Low-voltage lighting kits, which makers say deliver both dim and bright lighting for less money, can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer. But Wells cautions against expecting too much from a ready-made kit.

A transformer that supplies too much power will cause bulbs to burn out too quickly, and one that is not powerful enough will fail to produce enough light.

"The difference is quality transformers and fixtures," Wells said. "A couple of hundred dollars less can look like a couple of thousand less."