A low voltage outdoor lighting system is composed of 3 basic components;
A low voltage outdoor lighting system is composed of 3 basic components; a transformer to convert the low voltage lamps to your home’s compatible 120 volts, light fixtures and wire to hook everything together. What I am amazed at, though, is the number of choices available and for the most part, all the manufacturers state that they are part of a great quality system. I have been designing, installing and maintaining lighting systems for many years. I like to consider myself an expert in the field. My customers will agree. Allow me to give you my opinion of what constitutes a quality outdoor lighting system.
It Starts with Knowing What You Want.
By doing a little research on lighting design website or Houzz, you can get a good idea of the style that you would like for your home. Drive the neighborhoods and take a picture with your phone. That gives a lighting designer a point of reference for what you would like. Then it is the designer’s job to help you understand what it will take to achieve that design. Not all homes are alike. I recently completed a design and installation for a home that wanted a grazing effect for the front of their home, but because of the trees and shrubbery being very dense and against the home, we had to do some serious pruning and alter in some areas the desired effect. But the result was terrific.
How Much Should Your New System Cost?
Now that is a very tough question. I find that most customers who do not have a current system, have little idea of what the cost is. And there is lots of variation in cost depending on the system that is being recommended. As you would expect, some contractors will always base there estimate on price and are happy to adjust that price when the client balks at it. Be sure that the contractors who you are considering are able to give you a good idea of how much they may charge and most importantly, what is their methodology at installation. Don’t forget to discuss the warrantee. That is very important.
A Primer on Components and Their Costs.
There are 3 types of fixture construction in the marketplace; composite, aluminum and a metal of some sort (solid brass). A composite fixture is usually made of some sort of a molded composite plastic and the color is part of the composite. An aluminum fixture, be it aircraft aluminum or other, is just that and will have the finish bonded to it. Composite and aluminum fixtures generally have a problem with fading, weathering and their paint (aluminum) will peel with age. Lastly, is a solid metal fixture that is the heaviest and most durable. I generally use variations of a solid metal fixture because of their durability and the way they weather. And I love to use a solid brass raw fixture and let it weather naturally. It looks beautiful at installation and 10 years later it has weathered to that beautiful patina.
Modern lighting fixtures use LED components. They are classified as an integrated fixture or drop in LED bulbs. I do not even consider halogen light bulbs. Dead technology. I generally use drop in bulbs because I like the flexibility to change beam spread, lumen/wattage at will. I also use integrated LED technology for a certain few fixtures that I like to use. While their failure rate is low, if an integrated fixture goes bad, if it is not under warrantee, it can be costly to repair and in some cases it is not worth the expense. Just buy a new fixture.
The transformer is the next component to consider. To recap, a transformer is needed to convert the low voltage lighting system to the regular household current. With the advent of LED lamps and fixtures, a system does not use much power. Older systems that were incandescent used lots of power and required big transformers. Today it is unusual if a transformer is is larger than 300 watts. Controllers (transformers) will turn the system on and off automatically. More advanced systems will allow for multiple programs to tailor to your individual needs. Four types of timers control the on/off mechanism of the controllers; mechanical, astrological, bluetooth and wifi. Stay away from mechanical. They work well but if power goes out you have to reprogram. The other 3 options are the way to go and your contractor will explain which one will work for you.
The Installation Process
The final component of the system is the installation process. Your chosen contractor should be able to provide you with a document that describes what the installation process will be. We provide that to our customers. Without a good installation process, your system that you paid good money for will prove to be unreliable. Our process provides for the burying of wire some 4 to 6″ deep. The connection points of the fixtures to the wire are solid and waterproof leaving a few extra feet of wire at each fixture in case the fixture will need to be moved. We measure voltage both at the transformer and at the end fixture to be sure the voltage needs are not below specifications from one end to the other (voltage drop). The final part of the process is a cleaning of each fixture to be sure that your new lights are bright and shiny.
Maintenance and Warrantees.
The final piece of a quality system is maintaining it just as you would other appliances in your home and being advised of what the warrantee is on that system. I can’t stress enough how important a maintenance plan is for your system. View it like this. If all that gets done is to straighten and clean each fixture, that means that each fixture has been touched. Assuming that the maintenance inspector is good at his job, the act of a touch means that he is aware of any problems that are going on or may go on in the very near future. We offer one year of free maintenance for our new installations. This way we are sure that the system is working well and the same as at day one installation.
As to a warrantee, make sure that there is a warrantee not only on the equipment but on the labor. Typically there should be a 5 to 10 year warrantee on the transformer, 5 years on the fixtures and at least two years on the LED bulbs if that is what is in your fixtures. And equally as important is the warrantee on the installation process (in writing). One year is the norm. If there is no mention of a warrantee, walk away.
Not Just a Bunch of Lights
A quality outdoor lighting system is not just the hardware but all of the parts together come to make that system what you need it to be. The design process, the right components, the installation process and a good maintenance and warrantee program all fit together to make a perfect system for you.
As you would expect, we would be happy to help you navigate the process to design an outdoor lighting system that is perfect for you.
Call me with any questions and arrange a time to start the process.
Chris Meyer, President and Lead Designer 703-623-7561