Georgia’s Pinnacle Lighting Group has brought landscape designs to life for 21 years
Nearly 20 years ago, Jim & Tricia Burks started Pinnacle Lighting Group with one person and a pick-up truck. Today, Jim and his team work with high-end residential and commercial clients all over the country. They employ 15 people, including nieces, nephews, his brother, sisters, and even their 88-year-old father.
It was actually Jim’s sister-in-law who got him into the business. He was a farmer in Ohio at the time, and she was working with a lighting company in Georgia and needed an extra set of hands. Jim obliged, and after his first lighting job in 1999, he was hooked.
“The first time I turned the lights on a project, I knew that was it,” says Jim. “We worked together for three years and then started Pinnacle Lighting. I’ve never looked back.”
Even though Jim made a big career switch after decades of farming, he had actually been playing around with lighting his whole life. Growing up on a dairy farm, young Jim installed lighting on new equipment and converted the family barn into a make-shift basketball court, rigging up equipment to properly light the court.
Today, his designs are much more sophisticated. Pinnacle Lighting Group uses revolutionary techniques for artistic security lighting, moonlighting, architectural and landscape lighting. Projects range from $5,000 to $1,500,000 for various clients such as estates, family compounds, universities, multifamily complexes, office buildings, golf courses, etc.
“We really take the credit for work we didn’t do,” says Jim. “The main thing we try and do is show off the work of professional landscapers, architects and contractors through the best lighting techniques.”
Jim credits Tom Eaves from Landarc Consulting Group for helping him launch his business.
“Tom helped us close our first 12 projects, and we are still working with him today,” says Jim. “Most of our lighting business comes from referrals within the trade industry, and many like Tom are repeat business.”
The firm recently completed major lighting projects at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“There had been some assaults on other campuses across the country and the donor’s main concern was safety and security,” says Jim. “The campuses were so dark; students were walking around using the flashlights on their phones. And the schools have some incredible trees and buildings you just couldn’t appreciate after dark.”
Pinnacle Lighting spent around a month on each campus. Their lighting installations not only made the campuses safer and more attractive, they cut down on electricity, replacing inefficient mercury vapor and halogen lights with smart LEDs. Wofford College alone saves 44,000 watts each night.
“The one main building at Wofford dates back to1854, and the lighting really set it off beautifully,” says Jim. “Besides architectural lighting, we also installed landscape lighting and moonlighting way up in the trees and played off the shadowing of the limbs. It really has a great effect.”
Pinnacle Lighting employs a landscape architect on staff, and Jim is a licensed electrician, although he prefers to work alongside the homeowner’s electrician. They also provide maintenance to all of their clients, checking on their projects twice a year.
“Our creative process starts with meeting the homeowner or the client,” he says. “A few years into the business, we learned the hard way: if you’re not talking directly to the homeowners, you’re in trouble.”
Their landscape architect does all of the sketches, and the crew goes on site to install the lighting, fine-tuning the tones and brightness at night to get the project just right.
“You can really change the color of a house with the lighting,” says Jim. “The kelvin can bring out the greens or grays, or set off the stone around the pool. It really accentuates the landscaping.”
Jim says outdoor LED lighting projects are extremely efficient, costing residential clients only about $80-$100 a year in electricity to run the lights all night.
Jim has a few favorite projects over the years, from a historic home in New Orleans to a 100-year-old estate in Cleveland. He also helped Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte get ready for TV coverage during the PGA Championship Tour.
“We do whatever it takes, whether it’s a half-day install or a months-long project,” he says. “We wake up and try to serve more people the best we can every day. It’s been a fun ride.”
Jim’s Lighting Tips
- Rather than going for one bright light, install several lower wattage lights
- When moonlighting, lights should be installed 5 or 10 feet from the top of the trees
- Subtlety is key
- Less is more
- Check your work at night
- Lighting should match the personality of the client, not ours
- Avoid using spikes—they are harmful to trees