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jnewton
08-19-2008, 11:23 AM
I just finished my first lighting project for a paying client. Iíve tried to do my homework with tons of reading (here and Nate Mullenís book), experimenting with my own home, and taking a few manufacturersí classes. I have a full-time job that I canít leave (for now) but I'm lucky because I feel like I've got some time to develop my design before I make any permanent decisions.

This job ended up being 22 fixtures in all, with 16 uplights, two downlights and 4 path lights. The homeowner wanted me to focus exclusively on the home, but I think theyíve gotten enough positive comments from neighbors and friends that theyíve aleady started talking about lighting selected trees, foundation plantings, etc. The home is in a very visible location and, this being a smaller town, Iíve gotten three requests for estimates. One demo has been in place for 3 nights and that couple has already called with the green light to proceed.

The photos make everything look quite a bit hotter than it looks in real life. Iíll have to re-read some of Steve Pís Photoshop advice and tone them down. Anyway, thanks to you guys for sharing your knowledge. I have tons to learn, but Iím getting a little more confidence every day. This stuff is fun.

Thanks,
John

irrig8r
08-19-2008, 11:48 AM
Nice start.

I would probably have emphasized the trees a bit more and the house a bit less...

Also, does your state require any kind of contractor's license or other qualifying experience or certifications to do this work?

Are you following local codes throughout? Have you ever talked with an inspector to see how they interpret codes that might apply?

How about liability insurance... do you carry any?

Just a few things to consider....

JoeyD
08-19-2008, 11:57 AM
Very nice JNewton!! Looks great. I think emphasizing the house and downplaying the landscape was a good choice. To many times the House gets left out and in reality that is what the customer paid all the money for! I love the approach of lighting the home first and the landscape second. Although I feel those trees will look great with lights, as a starting point working with the home was the right choice!

Keep up the great work and let me know if I can help in anyway!!

jnewton
08-19-2008, 12:09 PM
Thanks for the suggestions, Greg. I'm certain that there's no state licensure requirements, but I'll visit with a city inspector and make sure I'm not running afoul of local codes. Insurance is another issue. I carry a big personal umbrella, but I have no idea if it will cover me in situations like this. As for the overall lighting design, I agree, but the client was insistent about the house being the sole focus of the lighting. I explained to the couple the concept of creating a scene that gradually ramped up the light level so that the eye is led to the focal point of the home (in this case, the outcropping with the three Mission-style windows). But that's probably something that's better demonstrated than explained across the dining room table. Maybe that's why they call it a demo? :)

JoeyD
08-19-2008, 12:13 PM
I will tell you that if you were able to light that big canopy that is behind the home in the picture on the left you would provide a tremendous amount of depth to the home! Just FYI

NightLightingFX
08-19-2008, 12:30 PM
John,
I think that is a GREAT JOB! I agree with Joey. I think it is good that you focused on the house. If you have nice architecture I always address that first. I would like to see more pics when it is darker out.
~Ned

jnewton
08-19-2008, 01:45 PM
Thanks, Ned and Joey. I struggled with one thing: the area directly above the front door (far left side of the house). I chose to leave it dark, because 1) unlit, it seemed to add some depth to the scene, and 2) there's not much to see there; just two double-hung windows. I still kind of debate it, but I think it would have been fine either way. Joey, the canopy on the back left would be spectacular, I agree. I hope to be able to work that in when Phase II comes around.

One fun thing: It was one of those beautiful, cool, summer nights when I finished and brought the homeowners outside to show them the finished product. In the half hour we stood out there and talked, we must have had 15 cars slow down or literally stop in the street and gawk. One guy pulled up and said, "Which one of you did the lighting?" I kind of raised my hand, and he said, "That looks awesome, man. Nice job." It was a pretty good moment, and I think the homeowners felt good about hiring me. You guys probably experience this all the time, but it was a first for me and I'll remember it for a long time.

NightLightingFX
08-19-2008, 01:57 PM
Yea,
It is a great feeling when you finish something you put your heart and soul into and it looks great. And then the owners are blown away by it, and then they write a check for a finished job. It is all a good feeling

JoeyD
08-19-2008, 04:23 PM
Thanks, Ned and Joey. I struggled with one thing: the area directly above the front door (far left side of the house). I chose to leave it dark, because 1) unlit, it seemed to add some depth to the scene, and 2) there's not much to see there; just two double-hung windows. I still kind of debate it, but I think it would have been fine either way. Joey, the canopy on the back left would be spectacular, I agree. I hope to be able to work that in when Phase II comes around.

One fun thing: It was one of those beautiful, cool, summer nights when I finished and brought the homeowners outside to show them the finished product. In the half hour we stood out there and talked, we must have had 15 cars slow down or literally stop in the street and gawk. One guy pulled up and said, "Which one of you did the lighting?" I kind of raised my hand, and he said, "That looks awesome, man. Nice job." It was a pretty good moment, and I think the homeowners felt good about hiring me. You guys probably experience this all the time, but it was a first for me and I'll remember it for a long time.

Thats the feeling we have all had at some point or another that made us want to be lighting guys. It is a great feeling!!! You go home feeling like you have really done something worth while!

Lite4
08-19-2008, 05:36 PM
Uh oh! Someone is getting the "lighting" bug. Nice job, good pics too. Keep up the good work.

Chris J
08-19-2008, 05:59 PM
You are already one step ahead of most newbies (and a lot of pros) by lighting up the second story. Most guys won't bother, and just accept the shadows cast onto the second level. Great job! You might want to play with some lenses to get rid of those funny lines at the base of the walls. A frosted lens will take care of that promptly. Again, nice work and welcome to the club!

Litewerks Expert Lighting
08-19-2008, 06:33 PM
Looks really good! I agree with Chris J on the upper level lighting thats something I see a lot of Lighting Companies leave out. I think that some shadowing is okay. What I always look for is how uniform they are. The pictures you put up look great, you got me whooped on the photography thing. lol I will be trying my hand at taking some pics again tonight, we'll see how they turn out with a tripod. Nice job though!

Mike M
08-19-2008, 06:44 PM
If you are as good of learner with everything else, see if they want some water features, pavers, and maybe a putting green. Is the lawn irrigated?

The Lighting Geek
08-19-2008, 09:40 PM
NICE JOB! I would not have guessed that was our first job by the way it came out. Like Chris said, you are ahead of many lighting companies by illuminating the 2nd story. Most would not have done the homework like you did. This is awesome start for you. Be sure to keep studying and never quit learning. All of us are still learning everyday. Get a yard sign in the yard to keep the momentum going.

By the way, you have been infected with an incurable disease, and the only way to ease the discomfort is to light like crazy! :)

klkanders
08-20-2008, 12:05 AM
Lookin good Neighbor! After you light Newton you can move to that slightly larger market to the West! Should be a few good jobs there as well. Good Luck!

Keith

jnewton
08-20-2008, 02:27 AM
Stop it some more, guys. I really appreciate your kind words, especially coming from a bunch of guys who really know what they're doing and don't mind giving a new guy a hard time.

Aside from the time when people were stopping in the street, the next coolest time was the hour or so that I spent fine-tuning the job with the homeowner. The husband had a surprisingly sharp eye for this kind of thing, and he kept pointing out little things and asking good questions. Because I'd spent, oh, about a zillion hours reading and re-reading your posts here, I actually knew how to fix everything he brought up. By adding lenses, changing transformer taps, switching beam spreads or re-aming lights, we got it dialed in pretty well. It helped having a homeowner who was engaged and was able to communicate what he wanted.

I think I got a bad case of that bug. And on top of everything else, I got paid. Who would have thunk it?

John

JoeyD
08-20-2008, 09:42 AM
Stop it some more, guys. I really appreciate your kind words, especially coming from a bunch of guys who really know what they're doing and don't mind giving a new guy a hard time.

Aside from the time when people were stopping in the street, the next coolest time was the hour or so that I spent fine-tuning the job with the homeowner. The husband had a surprisingly sharp eye for this kind of thing, and he kept pointing out little things and asking good questions. Because I'd spent, oh, about a zillion hours reading and re-reading your posts here, I actually knew how to fix everything he brought up. By adding lenses, changing transformer taps, switching beam spreads or re-aming lights, we got it dialed in pretty well. It helped having a homeowner who was engaged and was able to communicate what he wanted.

I think I got a bad case of that bug. And on top of everything else, I got paid. Who would have thunk it?

John

Another thing you just said that a lot of guys make the mistake of not doing......................Spending the final hour adjusting! You would be amazed at the amount of guys installing lighting that never even go back at night to see the work they have done.........Final hour is key!!

jnewton
08-20-2008, 11:26 AM
Maybe it's because I'm new to this stuff, but to me, one of the most personally satisfying things was that I knew enough to knock each little issue out of the park when the homeowner brought it up. For example, he pointed out that the second story lights on the side of the house seemed to be a little "colder" than the matching lights on the first story below. I pulled out my job notes and saw that I had 12.04 volts going to the first light on that second story run. So I went over to the transformer and moved that home run wire down one tap. It evened out the color temperature perfectly, and I knew we'd be OK with 11.04 volts going to that run. On another run, the beam spread on one particular light (in the middle of a wall) was more defined than the other lights that were on corners. The homeowner asked about it, so I pulled out a linear spread lens, turned it the right way and the lines just disappeared into the wall. I know that's really simple stuff, but there was a certain satisfaction about knowing what to do and feeling like I wasn't just flying by the seat of my pants. That's what I've gained from LawnSite, thanks to you guys.

Mike, thank you, but I think I have my hands full with the lighting. And if we shook hands, you'd realize right away that I don't get to spend enough time digging in the dirt. :-)

Litewerks, I shot those photos with a Nikon D-50 on the regular old automatic setting, with a tripod. If they turned out OK it's because Nikon has some really smart people.

Keith, that bigger town to the west (Des Moines) is a tempting market, but as long as I'm doing this on a moonlighting basis -- no pun intended -- I'll be sticking around Newton. I'd have to get a lot more organized to be able to pull off an out-of-town job.

NightScenes
08-22-2008, 10:49 AM
I sure wish I could claim a project like that as my first project!! If you keep up like that you will surpass most of us by next year!! There are a few adjustments that could be made and I'm sure you can think of things that you might have done differently but all-in-all that is a great first job.

You have a "bright" future ahead in this industry, good luck!!

cgaengineer
08-23-2008, 10:29 PM
Wow! I think you did a great job! I myself have caught the lighting bug and have been soaking up information like a sponge. Hopefully my next lighting job will be a customer instead of my own house.

jnewton
08-24-2008, 12:53 AM
Thank you, Paul and Chris. I sold my second job two nights ago and am pretty pumped about getting the chance to do this again. I have no delusions that I know what I'm doing yet, but there's a fire in my belly that hasn't been there for a while and I'm rolling with it for now.

I've let myself daydream a little the last few days and the realities are already starting to seep in. How could I do this for a living? Where would I get health insurance for myself, wife and kids? What do I do when the ground is frozen in December, January, February and maybe March? I've got almost no overhead right now, but the next step involves insurance, marketing, payroll, workman's comp, vehicles, lawyers, etc. Just a few weeks ago I was having a hard time understanding how you got to $225-$250 a fixture, but it's not so hard to imagine now. Yikes....

INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting
08-24-2008, 08:10 AM
Well, for one thing, STOP charging such ridiculously low prices for your work! I mean really.... you deserve better!

Too few small business owners really understand the cost of their operations. We are too fast to figure out the cost of materials and labour and then apply some type of margin to come up with a number that seems right. Then at the end of the year, when the frost is going in, you look at the accounts and wonder where all the $$$$ went.

Do yourself a favour... work out a business plan. If you have to, do it with your banker or an accountant, or even better find an established complimentary trade who has been in business for a while and pick his brain. Work out a feasible biz plan and I bet your prices will see a substantial increase. Remember.... Pay yourself first.

Regards.

jnewton
08-24-2008, 11:31 AM
James, your point about the business plan is well taken. But unless I've suffered a small stroke or something, I don't recall sharing with you how much I charged for my first job. I charged somewhat less than a full-service lighting firm would have in this market, because the homeowner knew it was my first project and, quite frankly, I wasn't completely sure how things would turn out. But my profit was substantial, and the homeowner understands that he got a good deal.

This stuff is wayyyy too much work to give away, and I have no intention of undercutting the profession that you guys have built. I am good enough to charge what the market brings, so I'll be doing that.

Chris J
08-24-2008, 06:31 PM
Your doing the right thing Jnewton. You are very young in this, and you are doing it on the side as well. Until you start buying trucks, graphics, advertising, employees, etc.. your overhead will be almost non-existent. When you make this a full time thing with all the associated costs that go with running a biz, you can then worry about profit margins and such. Have fun at it for now and learn all you can while establishing a name for yourself. You're off to a great start.