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When it comes to warm summer nights, nothing beats the glow of a full moon for ambiance and outdoor enjoyment. Modern LED technology can’t exactly compete with lunar phases, but it definitely puts on a show of its own.

Used outdoors, light-emitting diodes — LEDs — can transform spaces for safety, security, relaxation and celebration. Mainstream for about a decade and produced in a wide variety of styles and finishes, LED lighting products are available everywhere from big-box home improvement stores to crafts stores.

They’re more energy efficient and use less voltage than halogen or incandescent lights, last longer, are cooler to the touch and offer quality lighting. For mood and ambiance, they are showstoppers.

“The difference is night and day,” said Scott Copple, owner of In Tune Landscapes and Lighting in Sonoma, who now almost exclusively uses LED lighting in his landscape designs for both residential and commercial projects.

The advent of LED lighting “was a big, big game changer,” he said. With so many advantages, and a wide variety of accent, path, post, hanging, step, submersible and spotlights, “There’s really no reason not to go to LEDs,” Copple said.

With creativity, do-it-yourself skills or assistance from landscape professionals like Copple, backyards, courtyards and even tiny balcony spaces can be transformed into beautifully illuminated retreats through the thoughtful use of LED lighting.

While the lights can be more expensive at the outset, they provide a substantial savings in the long run, about 80 percent less than standard incandescent lights, said Ryan Williams, a senior marketing manager with FX Luminaire landscape and architectural lighting, whose parent company, Hunter Industries, works with the California Landscape Contractors Association, a Sacramento-based nonprofit trade organization.

“The payback is quite easy to recoup, especially in California,” Williams said.

Adding even a touch of LED lighting can be transformative, extending views from the indoors and beckoning people outside.

Carefully placed exterior lights can add drama or whimsy, prevent stumbles along pathways and stairs or simply highlight garden features like fountains, statuary or specimen trees.

For those who want to bring some playfulness and fun to barbecues, block parties or potlucks that extend beyond dusk, decorative LED lights are available in numerous novelty forms, from birds and bees to butterflies and flowers.

For Paul Ford of Sonoma Valley, adding LED lighting was a win-win investment. On warm evenings, he and his wife, Gail, often retreat to their front yard patio to enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres and a relaxing ambiance that extends well into the night.

He illuminated their private, fenced-in patio with white overhead LED string lights that add a sense of fun to their home in Creekside Village, an adult community adjacent to vineyards and farmlands southwest of Sonoma.

A do-it-yourselfer who designed his attractive outdoor spaces, Ford installed the lights and also modernized an old San Francisco street lamp he found at Food for Thought Antiques in Sebastopol. He used a waterproof LED floodlight inside the globe, set on a timer, to bring additional lighting and character to the couple’s patio.

An award-winning environmental artist and retired high school art teacher, Ford wanted to follow green practices in his outdoor design, and environmentally friendly LED lighting was the only way to go.

“They’re super energy-saving, very low wattage and you get maximum output for the investment,” he said. “The illumination at night is great. It’s welcoming and it’s fun.”

Copple said a little can go a long way when it comes to lighting residential spaces. “You just don’t want things too bright,” he said. For small yards, even three path lights and three up lights to highlight garden features can make a huge impact.

Costs, including top-quality products and professional design and installation, can average about $200 to $250 per light, Copple estimates. Do-it-yourselfers can cut savings in half. Because of their longevity, LED lights are nearly maintenance-free since bulb changes are so infrequent.

Unlike waiting for plants to spread and mature over several years, LED lighting “is like instant gratification,” Copple said. “Everything looks so good, you just want to get out there.”

For those who’d like to pull out all the stops for a special occasion, Leo James of Techtonic Events in Santa Rosa can transform even the most mundane space “into something really magical.” His business provides customized special event lighting for corporate and social events, including winery programs, weddings, backyard parties and private movie night gatherings.

James uses “almost solely” LED technology for his engagements, bringing warmth to dark winery caves, festive color to wedding receptions and sophisticated lighting to elegant occasions.

For unforgettable events, “I always recommend the more the better,” he said. “The sky’s the limit with it.”

Techtonic Events provides indoor and outdoor lighting, with clients often taken aback by the transformative power of creative LED lighting. “Once you see their reaction, it’s pretty amazing,” James said.

He especially appreciates that LED lighting puts out less heat than standard cans and bulbs, particularly when curious children are drawn to the interesting lights.

“That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about with LEDs,” James said. Plus, he doesn’t have to be concerned about power issues or risks of breaker pops — a big relief for someone providing a magical setting.

His lighting design, delivery, labor and setup services can range from about $300 to $1,000 depending on the scope of the event. Techtonic Events also provides specialties including audio-visual, photo booths, karaoke and DJ services for especially memorable occasions.

Lighting, James said, sets the mood for everything to come.

Even those who want to create a little something special for their casual outdoor gatherings can find battery- or solar-powered options from $10 to $20 at local stores. There are LED candles, from tealights and votives to pillars, to LED string lights resembling Christmas lights, perfect for wrapping around decking or illuminating bushes and shrubs.

Hosts and hostesses can visit event rental businesses for supplies as well. Ron and Jill Champion own Grapevine Party Rentals in Santa Rosa, providing a wide range of products and services for everything from large weddings and events to small backyard dinner parties and celebrations.

They carry several popular battery-operated LED decor items that can add charm and illumination to outdoor gatherings. A 12-inch vintage-style lantern with an LED candle rents for $5; a mason jar with tiny fairy lights gives the illusion of sparkling fireflies for $8; and white five-point overhead stars can be rented with white LED lights for $10 or colored LED lights for $20.

The tabletop items can be personalized when placed atop lengths of ivy or olive branches or surrounded by floral arrangements that lend a theme to the celebration. A week’s advance reservation is suggested during the busy summer months; details are found at grapevinepartyrentals.com

A Google search provides numerous ideas for those with a creative bent. Martha Stewart, the crafty doyenne of home decorating, shares an online tip for enhancing yard spaces: Convert hula hoops with black spray paint, wrap them with mini LED string lights and hang several from trees to jazz up outdoor gatherings.

Home and Garden Television (HGTV) provides easy online instructions for making illuminated grapevine spheres with strands of waterproof LED fairy lights, a perfect atmospheric note for Wine Country nights.

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