Is there a correlation between the cost of an outdoor lighting fixture and its perceived quality? You betcha! Let’s explore!
Brass vs Aluminum vs Composite
The basic fixture comes in 3 different materials. A brass fixture is usually “spun” out of a solid brass rod to form its shape of a fixture. Sometimes it is a poured brass fixture. It is usually fairly heavy of weight and very durable. It will either have a natural brass finish which is shinny and will over time patina or weather. Or it is finished with a weathered bronze finish. This is the more common finish. An aluminum fixture is lighter in weight, can be less expensive and is generally has a powder coated finish that can be almost any color you want. Sometimes this finish does not weather well and can fade and peel over time. This generally happens to a less expensive fixture. Lastly, a composite fixture is just that. Some sort of a molded “plastic” fixture almost always in black. It fades pretty quickly and most commonly sold in you big box stores to the DIY clients. It is the least expensive.
The expectation of a good quality fixture’s lifetime is 10 to 12 years assuming that you also do regular maintenance to your system. My choice of fixture material is Brass. It stands up to the test of time, weathers well and its internals stay dry as they are sealed well from the elements. But the key to longevity is regular maintenance. A topic for another time.
Drop In Bulbs vs Integrated Fixtures
If you are not using LED whether it is an LED bulb or and integrated fixture, you should be. The quality of the light source is much better, operates at much cooler temperatures and is much more efficient. A typical LED bulb will use 4, 5 or 6 watts vs the comparable halogen bulb of 20, 35 or 50 watts. I use both LED bulbs lamps and LED integrated fixtures. There are a number of lighting installers that consider an integrated fixture as a premium fixture. That just isn’t so. In many cases, especially the standard bullet light, I prefer to use a drop in bulb because of its simplicity and ease of use. If I need to change out a bulb for a brighter one or one that has a greater beam spread, pop off the top of the fixture and drop in a new bulb. Many of the integrated fixtures now offer a means to dial in the correct beam spread and power usage and they generally work well. However, should they integrated board fail, it can be costly to repair and often it is nearly as expensive as replacing the fixture. I like to use the “kiss” principle (keep it simple stupid). The prices of a good quality fixture that is a drop in or an integrated one are relatively similar. Bottom line? It’s your choice. But don’t be led into being told that Integrated is better than drop in. Oh yea, and I forgot to mention. If you go to an online seller of LED drop in bulbs and the cost of an MR-16 LED bulb is maybe 10 bucks, it’s generally garbage. A good, warranted bulb should cost 25 to 30 dollars.
Wire and Connections
The wire refers to the black or brown wire that comes out of the fixture and connects to the main run wire or, as it is referred by the trade, the home run. It will be specified as 14/2, 16/2, something like that, and is usually copper stranded. My personal preference is 16/2 stranded as this is a “beefy” wire that will not break and is of higher quality that light manufacturers that use 18/2 and higher. The best of the best is one of my favorite manufacturers, Coastal Source, that uses fully enclosed wire (see above) that is connected to the main source with a fabulous water tight connector. If you have been burned in the past with bad connections then this is your connection of choice. Or if you just want the best of the best and a fail proof system.
The typical means for connecting light fixtures to the wires is with a general purpose wire connector that is gel filled to keep it as water tight as possible. I see all kinds and they are usually pretty poorly connected and fail over time and pretty quickly. I use a good connector that is robust, filled with lots of water proofing gel and connects very solidly. Another good method is to use a crimp connector or solder and then melt a rubber tube over it. But nothing beats Coastal Source.
Price vs Quality redux
Did I answer the question of “is there a correlation between price and Quality”? Not sure. But like any consideration when buying a relatively high dollar system for your home, consider your need. If you are buying for longevity and want a system with fixtures that will last for a long time, buy a good quality brass fixture with drop in bulbs or integrated and maintain them as you would any other system in your home. If you are planning on moving shortly and want to use lighting as a means to sell your home, sure, use a less expensive aluminum fixture. And if you want top of the line great quality, great reliability and innovative solutions…use Coastal Source. Not many, if any operators in our area are certified dealers and installers. I am.