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The Truth About Landscape Lighting

Posted by San Diego Landscaper on Monday, 9 October , 2017
San Diego Landscape Lighting

The Truth About Landscape Lighting: Solar, Store-Bought, and Professional:
By James Racine, Lead Lighting Specialist at Juniper Landscape Company in San Diego

As a homeowner, I consider myself rather handy. I enjoy taking on a number of projects from tile backsplashes to replacing the wax ring on a toilet. On top of the cost-saving benefits, there is a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with these projects.

One of the projects that many handy and frugal homeowners consider taking on themselves is landscape lighting. The effects of landscape lighting can be impressive, and if you have seen the stick-in-the-ground solar lights at the retails stores, it seems all too easy, right? So why not?

In this article, I hope to shed some light on the truth about low-voltage landscape lighting as I have come to discover through trial, error, my own experiences, the experiences of others, as well as my years working in the industry.

Store-Bought Landscape Lighting Kits

Professional Landscape Lighting San DiegoFirst, let’s begin with store-bought landscape lighting kits. You might have seen names like Malibu or Patriot selling lights at your local retailer for as little as $3-$4 a fixture. I mean, talk about a screamin’ deal! Entire packages are sold for less than $50, including a transformer, and wire.

Let me tell you about my friend Mike. He initially purchased two store-bought landscape lighting kits ($50 each) for his home and paid a very capable friend some cash ($300) to install them. With a total of 24 fixtures for his front yard, he felt that he had made a great investment and saved himself a lot of money. Within a month of installation, several of those fixtures had started giving him issues. So, he went out and bought some new bulbs ($5). He replaced a few, but also found that some of his issues were more than just bulbs. The wire connections were failing. So then he bought a third set of lights ($50) and started replacing the failing ones. After six months of continual maintenance, problem-solving, replacing more lights ($50), and replacing more bulbs ($5), he had had enough. That’s when he decided to call me, a low-voltage contractor.

When I came out to take a look at the lights, I found numerous issues that should concern anyone. The landscape wire itself was hard as a rock. This happens when there are too many amps (heat) running through the lines. The plastic coating had begun melting and hardening, melting and hardening, like a child’s plastic toy in the oven. The amps continued to increase because of three things; exposed wire connections, no primary fuses, and no secondary fuses. Store-bought transformers and even many professional transformers do not have these critical safety features built into their systems. Clamp-on or direct burial wire nuts are prone to corrosion, and corrosion leads to reduced current, which requires the transformer to work harder. This is a recipe for disaster. I was able to run additional homerun lines, add fused hubs, and replace the poor connections. In the end, my friend Mike has put over $1,000 into his landscape lighting… and he isn’t done. For this investment, he could have had a professionally installed contractor-grade lighting system installed, one that would last him 10+ years, have a far greater impact, and he could have been spared the frustrations, the trips to the hardware store, and the embarrassment.

Solar-Powered Landscape Lighting

Next, let’s talk solar. Wow, do I love the potential of solar power and the possibilities of cutting down on our carbon footprint! As an environmentally conscious citizen, there are few things more compelling to me than solar-powered lighting. These lights are an absolute breeze to install. With no wires or transformer, even my grandmother could install a solar-powered landscape light. So is this the route to go?

The truth is that solar technology and energy cells are still young in their developmental stages. A standard solar-powered landscape light advertises that it will run for “up to 8 hours”. What this really equates to is this. In ideal conditions; receiving 12 hours of direct sunlight, one solar-powered 40-lumen light (the same brightness as your iPhone flash) will run (though slowly dimming), for up to 8 hours, when the batteries are new. But most landscape solar panels will receive an estimated average of 4-6 hours of direct sunlight, and the charge they receive will largely be expended in the first 1-2 hours of output when the photocell (night-sensor) turns the lights on. This means that by the time it is fully dark (6 pm in the winter) your lights might have another hour or two of juice left in them. To summarize, when you want your lights on the most, during the fall and winter, solar lights receive the least amount of sunlight and will be done-zo long before your company leaves your house.

I have been so disappointed by these well-promising lighting products. I have tweaked with the solar panel placements, adjusted the timers, and have still found the results to be lackluster, at best. I wanted them to work, truly, but the technology, at least when it comes to residential landscape lighting, is just not there yet.

Professionally Installed Landscape Lighting Systems

Finally, there is the professionally installed, contractor-grade, lighting systems. These systems, unequivocally, deliver a result that store-bought and solar lights simply cannot. Here are the five reasons I would advise even my best of friends to not throw money at the cheaper options.

  1. Brightness (Lumen Output): A standard 4W incandescent bulb most commonly found in store-bought lighting packages puts out “up to” 40 lumens. This is not only the cheapest option for them to manufacture but also necessary for homeowner DIY safety. Our standard equivalent bulb is rated at 310 lumens but uses the same amount of juice to power it. So what is the moral of the story? “More is not always more.” While Malibu or Patriot might be selling a package of a dozen lights at an attractive price point, it will take eight of those lights to achieve the effect of a single contractor-grade landscape light.
  2. Color (Kelvin Temperature): If you have driven around at night lately, you have seen the myriad of lighting colors in various neighborhoods. I see everything from blinding bright white lights, to holiday-looking blue lights, to faint (is that a candle?) yellow lights. Store bought and solar lights generally come from the lowest bidder overseas, regardless of the color temperature. This means that, while your sidewalk might be partially lit, there is a stark contrast between your interior home lights, your exterior carriage lights, and your landscape lights. To compare, the LED bulbs that we use are engineered for precision color pallets. Our standard kelvin temperature bulb is 2700k, which emulates a classic warm-white halogen bulb. When I illuminate an LED and a halogen/incandescent bulb up against a surface for people to compare, they can never point out the difference. It’s remarkable!
  3. Quality: Quality is vital for landscape lighting, not only in fixtures, but also in bulbs, connections, and transformers. As I described earlier, clamp-on or direct-burial wire nuts will fail. The majority of our service calls are addressing failing points of connection. This is why connections should never be buried! That’s why we utilize something called “the hub method”. Like high voltage wiring, we do not stick a point of connection arbitrarily behind a wall or underneath the ground. Our hubs are dry and accessible. This makes servicing or future expansion a breeze. Furthermore, our fixtures have double O-rings to prevent moisture intrusion. Our transformers have primary fuses, and our hubs have secondary fuses to prevent house fires or other electrical nightmares. These are just some of the qualitative reasons to invest in professional landscape lighting.
  4. Professional Design: Design is important before, during, and after installation. Determining proper placement of fixtures, beforehand, is an art. Even a slight change in a fixture placement can result in a drastically different effect. Don’t believe me? I will come and show you! During installation, a well-thought-out plan is critical to ensure that wiring is appropriately laid out, proper voltages are achieved, and that no area is too bright or too dim. Finally, a proper design is critical for you as a homeowner, long-term. We give each client an “as-built” diagram which outlines where each fixture is located, where the wires are running, and where the power sources are. Whether or not you are currently planning on doing further yard work this document is useful for you, contractors, and future homeowners.
  5. Cost: The upfront cost of a professionally installed lighting system is not insignificant. Some people simply cannot afford it. Thankfully we have a fantastic opportunity for 0% financing. But if you are willing to make the investment, the long-term cost benefits of a low-voltage LED lighting system are numerous. As compared to halogen systems, homeowners can expect to save an average of $300/year in energy savings alone. In addition, the lifespan of our LED lamps (bulbs) is 40,000 hours, that’s between 8-12 years of typical usage! The halogen equivalents were only lasting 2 years on average. This saves the time and cost of replacing bulbs, and it reduces the amount of waste that we put into landfills.

In the end, the investment is certainly worth it. You win. Your landscape wins. The earth wins. We all win! If you are interested in receiving an estimate for landscape lighting, or in a complimentary lighting demonstration at your house, please contact us at 619.334.9464 or email me at james@juniperlandscape.com.

Juniper Landscape Company is a provider of professional landscaping services in San Diego, we strive to make San Diego a beautiful place by doing business with integrity and creativity.

TESTIMONIALS

  • Juniper Landscape Company is great. I have used them for landscape design, and they have transformed my yard into a garden retreat. Now they keep it up every week, and it looks gorgeous. They are the best San Diego landscapers! I would highly recommend Juniper Landscape Company if you are looking to landscape your... Read More
    - Gita Morena
  • Our commercial property is located at 5150-5250 Murphy Canyon Road (the corner of Clairemont Mesa Blvd and Murphy Canyon Road).Please be advised that we have maintained a landscaping contract with Joe Cryns for 16 years. Also, he was the landscaper for our property before the Chou’s purchased it. We have found Joe and his... Read More
    - Judy Westphal - Property Manager
  • I must say that Juniper Landscape Company exceeded my expectations, completing the job in a timely fashion and for a fair price which we negotiated ahead of time, and which did not change even though there were difficulties with the terrain around my home in Stonebridge Estates (Scripps Ranch). Juniper Landscape Company was on-time,... Read More
    - Gregory Berkoff
  • Thanks to the entire team at Juniper Landscape Company for a Great Job!!! It was a pleasure working with everyone…and Gabe did a great job leading the activities on-site. We were very satisfied with how the whole project progressed. The service was great...and we love the finished product! We wish everything could have gone... Read More
    - Laura & Jim Garegnani
  • I had my front and back yards fully redone and wanted them ready for a party at my house. They worked long days and sent big crews to make sure they finished in time. The results were spectacular, and I highly recommend Juniper Landscape Company!!!... Read More
    - Roberta Ganz
  • Jesse and Gabe did a fantastic job in the design and installation of our new backyard! They completed the job on budget and on time. Would highly recommend them to all!!... Read More
    - Brad Bertrand
  • I have a side strip of yard which is on the street. The original landscaping was VERY high maintenance and not attractive. I was always out there cleaning up the leaf litter or be fined by the HOA. I hired Juniper Landscape Company. They came out and actually listened to what I wanted. They... Read More
    - Laurie McHugh
  • Juniper Landscape Company has been fantastic. Before them, we ran through three or four other lawn and landscape maintenance companies who did spotty and sometimes outright poor work, were not always reliable and who ended up creating problems for us in a variety of ways. That experience led us to subscribe to Angie's List... Read More
    - Letz Design Landscape
  • Jesse & Gabe,I want to extend my thanks to you and your crew for participating in the Yard Crashers project the past few days. I know we are all exhausted due to the demands of filming and the logistics of the project with so many people involved.One of the positive elements I found in... Read More
    - Steven Letz - Letz Design Landscape
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