Landscape lighting is a perfect opportunity to use recycled and quality materials in interesting ways! Most of what is available today is either cheap and disposable or hundreds of dollars per fixture. When I set out to create some path lights for our place, neither route appealed to me. Instead, I decided that this would be a good opportunity to see what could be created from recycled materials and easily sourced objects.
The creative process started when my wife found a box of gin bottles at our local recycling yard. Someone undoubtedly thought they were too pretty to destroy and left them aside, so she spirited them away. The square profile and light blue color of this bottle is indeed a beautiful combination. I realized that with a little modification they would make perfect post lanterns.
After some trial and error I discovered that the bottle thread was actually the right diameter to twist into a 1″ PVC exterior electrical conduit. It’s not a precise match and for some reason it only worked in about 50% of the female fittings that I tried, but for the ones that worked it fits snugly and provides a solid connection.
Ideally, path lighting should be close to the ground. That reduces glare and keeps the light intensity where you need it – on the walking surface. In order to accomplish this, I used a standard copper 4×4 fence cap. The copper tone provided a nice compliment to the light blue glass and the overhanging pyramidal cap added some design flair to the lantern. To attach the cap, I used a strip of double sided glazing tape around the perimeter where it overlaps the bottle. That filled in the 3/8″ lip and made for a secure connection.
Staking the unit to the ground was easy. With the electrical conduit fitting attached to the bottle end, I simply cut lengths of 1″ conduit at a 45 degree angle and drove them into the ground to act as a support stem. A small hole bored into the side of the stem allowed for routing the electrical feed wire through the interior, underground and out of view.
The lights are 12 volt (1 watt) LEDs which I sourced from an auto parts seller along with the electrical whips for connecting to the transformer feed wire. The lights are exceptionally bright, last a long long time, and use almost no energy. After testing them out, I realized they were in fact too bright! They needed a diffuser of some kind to reduce the glare and spread out the light more evenly. After experimenting with a bunch of different media, I opted for another waste product – shattered tempered glass. It’s easy to come by. I got mine from an auto glass shop, but there’s plenty of it around. The small glass beads are free, perfect for diffusing and refracting the light, and their use keeps them out of the waste stream.
One of the best things about this solution is its adaptability. Round bottles and caps could be used. The parts are qualitative (glass and copper), so the end solution doesn’t feel cheap or temporary. And finally, the parts are easily replaceable. If you’re lawnmower happens to throw a rock through one of your path lights, have a few gin and tonics and you’re all set.