Everything is Illuminated

Monday, November 26, 2012
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Horticultural Technology student Bruce Putnam ‘13 was climbing a Ginkgo tree outside of Barton Hall. This wasn’t for recreation, however; Putnam was gaining some practical knowledge about how to improve the aesthetics of evening landscapes at a Boston Irrigation Supply Company (Bisco) lighting demonstration in Professor of Horticultural Technology Rene Gingras’ Landscape Lighting and Installation class.  “This whole project has been the result of the industry working hand-in-hand with our students,” said Gingras about the event that grew out of the enthusiasm Bisco Landscape Products Sales Manager Jeff Crean has for the initiative and dedication of Thompson School students. “It’s great to have our students realize what we offer is cutting edge information sought after by many people in the industry,” Gingras said.

During the event, Bisco distributor Tony Grieco taught students and professionals mathematical formulas to calculate amps, voltage drop, and how much wire is needed to support the total wattage in a lighting job. Also of importance, participants learned how many lights may be strung on a wire to avoid exceeding amperage capacity and how to avert the hazards of tripping breakers, shorting wires, and even more problematic safety issues.

“The lighting demonstration is what makes Thompson School different,” said Horticultural Technology student Stevie Desmarais ’13 about the special event in this unique seven-week course that goes beyond the basics and fully prepares student to be professionals in the field. “As a class, we are able to do hands-on projects and actually feel confident enough to do it on our own when we graduate,” said Desmarais.

Student clipping a wireParticipants also gained tips for staying within budget in spite of the increasing cost of materials. In addition to implementing hub, spider, and daisy chain wiring techniques, landscapers can also use two pieces of #12 copper wire instead of one piece of #8 to ensure safety while cutting down on total wiring costs. Grieco urged attendees to use high-quality products when it comes to LED supplies. Making the choice to purchase lights with EMI filters to keep them from interfering with garage door openers or pool filters, high-quality capacitor chips that will last longer, and a blue coating within a natural lighting range that won’t burn off quickly will be more economical in the long run. In a business where lighting one tree may cost upwards of $1500, it is of utmost importance to budget wisely in order to use high-quality products. “Using the best materials is going to take a good job and make it great,” said Grieco.

Students had an opportunity to interface with industry professionals during the hands-on lighting demonstration for a variety of applications, including trees, sculpture, and a water feature adjacent to Barton Hall. During lunchtime, hotdogs and hamburgers were prepared on the grill, inset into the stone wall that surrounds the new Thompson School permeable pavement patio. The setting was a perfect environment in which to network while gaining valuable practice in implementing state-of-the-art lighting techniques and products. “It’s nice to be able to mingle with people who are actually using their education in the field,” said Desmarais.

Grieco encouraged the attendees to look around for bad lighting jobs in addition to good ones when they are out and about in the evenings. “If you take care of four things, every one of your jobs will look good,” said Grieco. “First, pay attention to the focal point of the property. Sometimes it’s the home, but sometimes it’s a statue or fountain. After that, focus on practicality, depth and width, and cohesion.” Grieco explained the importance of using lights between windows so as not to shine light inside the home; being aware of illuminating walkways, steps, and other places where people might trip and fall; creating depth and width to the property by getting light out to the far corners; and increasing the value of one’s business by adding plant material, a lighting box, or a rock wall. “Good landscaping plans make your life a lot easier,” said Grieco. “All you have to do is light up what’s there.”

Alliance Lighting Company made it possible for Gingras’ lighting class to move from the use of halogen to LED lights with a generous donation of materials to install in and around the Barton Hall project. Along with Bisco’s interest, this kind of professional support and involvement underscores the importance of the practical hands-on education students obtain through the Horticultural Technology program at the Thompson School. An education in both the classroom and the field with real-world applications enables students to become valuable assets to the industry after graduation.