Make your out-of-doors come alive with the excitement of automation and other technologies. It takes planning, but the results are very pleasing.

When you think of landscape automation, think way past sprinkler controls. This is not to belittle the importance of irrigation. It is quite to the contrary. In fact the sprinkler controls should be included as an integrated part of a landscape automation plan.

Just like the key rooms of a house, the landscape is the center of a variety of activities. And just as you change lighting, sound, and decorations in the house, the same is true for an exciting landscape.

Landscape lighting can range from simple to spectacular. If you have the choice, go spectacular. It really makes your home stand out and adds greatly to the useable space and beauty when the sun goes down. This is not an article on landscape lighting design, so we will leave that to the lighting designers and move on to the automation aspects.

“”Scenes”” are the new word in lighting control. Instead of just turning on a light with a switch, home owners are now turning on scenes. In one scene you highlight the artwork by brightening the art accent lights, taking the down lights to a lower level, and subduing the wall wash lights so they don’t distract – all with a single button push. This happens as a smooth transition that gives the feeling of a scene change on a live stage. In another scene, you go to full bright, and in yet another scene you transition to a low glow on the walls to serve as a night light. In well thought out lighting plans, scenes don’t stop at the exterior walls. They extend the lighting feel and visual effects right on out to the landscape. This used to be hard to do. New products have reached the market that make this quite affordable.

Three companies offering lighting controls that make it easy to get impressive and versatile lighting scene control are Leviton, PCS and Lightolier. These firms offer power line carrier technologies that reliably work with ordinary house wiring. The advantage of using power line carrier as the choice for control is that it does not require special wiring methods that are limited to a specific manufacturer and product line. In most cases, Power Line Carrier products can be easily retrofitted into your existing wiring.

Power Line Carrier control is achieved by using switches that respond to special signals that can be sent on the power line along with the power. Transmitters, usually in the form of buttons, can be positioned anywhere in the house. The transmitters and receiving switches can be programmed to trigger scene movements, or just specific on-off functions.

A big advantage of Power Line Carrier technologies is the ease of expanding or reconfiguring. When you set up special holiday lighting displays, they are easy to include in your lighting control scheme. No special wires have to be added. If the lights are connected to the power line, they can receive control signals. Just like other technologies, there are “”economy”” versions of Power Line Carrier products. The cheap lines are widely advertised. I recommend they not be used by anyone other than the hobbyist. If you like to tinker and troubleshoot, then cheap is fun. If not, go with the professional grade products. The four to one difference in price may look like the economy grade parts are worth a second look, but my advice is stay with quality!

Let’s look at some scene ideas. Include a landscape feature outside the dining area window. Then light it as a part of the Dining Scene. When the activities move from dining to conversation around a fireplace, select lighting scenes that provide an exquisitely lighted landscape background. With scene lighting controls, the change is made with a single button push. Arriving home late at night can be more fun when a simple light show is initiated by a driveway sensor. The driveway lights ramp on, background trees come gracefully into light, followed by entry area lights smoothly rising to a welcoming glow.

Does this sound expensive? New technologies have made this much easier than it used to be. With power line carrier technologies, you can start with a few circuits for key areas, and then add more later without opening walls. The best way to go about this is to work with an electrician who is up to speed on these technologies. Several important improvements have been introduced in the past year or two that make these technologies quite reliable. If you encounter an electrician who is not comfortable with power line carrier systems, find another one who is more up to date on these products. Some brands you can trust are Leviton, PCS, and Lightolier. Lightolier is the newcomer to this technology, and they have done an impressive job of developing a product line that virtually assures the reliability of specially hard wired control systems at a fraction of the cost with the added benefit of simple expansion. When holiday lighting scenes are desired, they are simple to add. When landscape lighting is updated, it is easy to update the controls too.

Add some soft music to the landscape and you’ll really enhance the exhilarating feel. Mushroom speakers that are mostly buried inconspicuously under shrubs, and speakers concealed in hollow rocks, are a wonderful touch and sound great. Several companies offer speakers for landscape use that hold up well through the effects of weather, watering, and general landscape maintenance. Installation is relatively simple. You can find these products at residential technology specialty distributors such as HomeTech Solutions in Cupertino.

HomeTech Solutions is a distributor of home automation products. They carry automated lighting controls, home automation systems, structured wiring products, voice and data wiring products, whole house audio equipment, architectural and landscape speakers, and specialized tools. HomeTech Solutions is located at 10600 South De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino, California 95014. Telephone (408)257-4406 or toll free (888)257-4406. Website: